Design School professor awarded Educator of the Year for landscape architecture

The American Society of Landscape Architects Arizona chapter awarded professor Paul Coseo for his work in sustainable design, community involvement

When Paul Coseo, a landscape architect and an assistant professor in ASU's The Design School, first moved to Arizona from Chicago, he said he felt out of his comfort zone.

But having an outsider's perspective, Coseo said, gave him insight on the state's unique geographic and climatic characteristics that have influenced a large part of his work here.

"I think we live in a really amazing location on Earth in the Sonoran desert and I think we need to design with the desert and not design against the desert," he said.

Coseo is now an active member of Arizona's landscape architecture community and has recently been named Educator of the Year by the Arizona chapter of American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA)

Coseo, a sustainability scientist and licensed landscape architect who is currently in his fifth year teaching at ASU, said his main areas of focus are ecosystems and sustainable design, landscape architecture and green urbanism.

In a state experiencing a decades-long drought, he said making "desert adapted" design choices is important because resources are scarcer here – a focus of his work that played a part in his being named for the award. 

Coseo began working as a landscape architect when he lived in Chicago in the early 2000s, he said, and has been a member of ASLA since around that time. 

The Arizona chapter of ASLA's mission statement is “to lead, to educate and to participate in the careful stewardship, wise planning and artful design of our cultural and natural environments,” according to the chapter's  website.

Valerie Ahyong, the public awareness chair for the Arizona chapter, said she nominated Coseo for the Educator of the Year award because of his involvement with the community, among other factors.

“I really thought he was well deserving of it, especially (with) what he’s done for the landscape industry and the community education outreach that he does,” Ahyong said.

More recently, Coseo has been involved with a research project about green roofs, which he has been working on with Ahyong and other members of ASLA Arizona. 

A green roof is a roof of a building that is covered with plants or vegetation, which provides natural insulation for the building to reduce energy costs. Coseo said he has done work researching the compatibility of green roofs in hot arid places like Arizona.

He said he works at “the intersection of landscape and climate” and that his work in sustainability crosses over into design through his approach to landscape architecture. 

“When you design a landscape, you are putting in saplings for trees, and you’re putting in a lot of small shrubs and things like that, but a landscape can take years to mature,” Coseo said. ”You are thinking about these decades-long cycles in terms of the way in which you are planning and designing.”

Ahyong said she had been invited to sit in on some of Coseo’s studio reviews in The Design School, which involves students in the school's studio classes to receive feedback from faculty like Coseo on their designs. 

She said she believed he was a good candidate for the Educator of the Year award because she has “seen the quality of work that has come out of his studios.” 

Ahyong said she believes educators like Coseo are rare and important.

“He’s very passionate about what he does and his students and what he’s teaching,” she said. “It’s not every day that you come across that.”

Coseo said he takes an “active learning” approach to teaching.

“I learn a ton from my students, and so I try to create exercises and activities in the class so that everyone is present, everyone is contributing and we’re all learning from each other,” he said. 

Jose Bernardi, an associate professor of interior design at ASU, has been on multiple study abroad trips through Europe with Coseo. 

Bernardi said he has gotten to know Coseo through these trips and has developed a great amount of respect for him as an educator. 

“Paul is really good at human interaction and paying attention to each student,” Bernardi said. “He really knows what he is teaching.”

Coseo said teaching and promoting lifelong learning is very important to him.

“We’re always being educated, and we always should be curious about things and do research on things that we’re passionate about,” he said.

Reach the reporter at or follow @EndiaxRain on Twitter.

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