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Bob Dugan Plays a Leading Role in Integrating Art into Our Community

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It might have been preordained that Robert M. Dugan would become a landscape architect, but serendipity also played a hand in the Rochester, N.Y., native’s ultimate career path.

“I could always draw a little bit,” Dugan explains. “My mom has a background in biology and is pretty artistic, and my dad is real mechanical; they were strong influences. Most landscape architects are part botanist, scientist, artist, and engineer,” he adds.

Thus predisposed, Dugan happened upon a brochure from the State University of New York at Syracuse – and in it, found inspiration. “The words ‘landscape architecture’ struck a chord. There are a lot of great estates in Rochester, like the George Eastman estate, with outstanding architecture and gardens. The types of projects that landscape architects are involved in always appealed to me as a kid - the spaces and places.

He graduated from SUNY-Syracuse with a bachelor of science degree, cum laude, in 1977 and had the good fortune to be hired by the Fort Lauderdale office of EDSA, an internationally respected firm with expertise in planning, landscape architecture, urban design and graphic design. He is now a principal in the firm and – for the second time – a member of the Broward Cultural Council’s Public Art and Design Committee, where he readily shares his knowledge of exterior construction and offers guidance for public art sustaining the natural elements of South Florida.

Dugan arrived in a community that was vastly different from the one we know today – and while he is modest about his involvement, he has played a significant role in its transformation. “In the late Seventies, Fort Lauderdale was still almost exclusively a beach town. There was never any reason to go downtown; there was a Burdines department store and not much else,” he recalls.

“But by the late Eighties, there had been a huge amount of activity and development in the downtown area. It was also a formative time for the cultural landscape,” Dugan continues, citing the Broward County Main Library, the Museum of Art | Fort Lauderdale, Nova Southeastern University, the Broward Center for the Performing Arts and the Museum of Discovery and Science (MODS) as examples. EDSA created the library’s public plaza, streetscape and water feature, as well as the streetscapes and outdoor educational spaces for MODS.

Simultaneously, he adds, “The front yard to downtown on the river was starting to emerge.” The concept of utilizing the land along the New River as a unifying feature had been around since the early Seventies. EDSA was responsible for the production of the master plan, public consensus-building, design guidelines, detailed design and construction for four distinct construction phases of the Riverwalk. By 1995, the project’s first phases had attracted hundreds of millions of dollars in investment into the city’s core and received the National Landscape Award for public space from Hillary Clinton.

One of the reasons for Riverwalk’s success is that it is attractive, inviting and functional – demonstrating what Dugan calls “integrated art.” Another noteworthy example in the county is Martha Schwartz’ “Flying Saucer Grove” at the BankAtlantic Center. Dugan was on the Public Art and Design Committee when her commission was approved, and he helped bring the project to reality as part of EDSA’s design team. (He recused himself from the vote.)

“As landscape architects, we like to think that everything we do is integrated art; not to mention that” he says. The flying saucers at the arena and the wave-themed walls along the Fort Lauderdale beachfront (also conceived by EDSA) “become an essential part; they help brand the project and give it a strong identity,” Dugan observes. The successful achievement of this kind of integration, of course, is one of the primary goals of the county’s Public Art and Design Program.

Dugan rejoined the committee in 2008 and is enjoying it as much now as he did a decade ago. “It’s been a pleasure to be involved because I’ve been there before and we’ve been around a lot of these projects,” he says. “Even though much of our core practice is overseas, the projects we work on in Fort Lauderdale and Broward County mean a lot to us as our home environment.”

Locally as well as nationally, Dugan believes, there’s been an increase in the public’s expectation that community development projects will include great streetscapes and public spaces. “This emphasis has created a great venue for public art,” he says. “People tend to look for what’s rich about a city more than they did in years gone by. There’s an expectation that if you go to a certain city, you’re going to have a dynamic environment to experience.”

The irony, though, is that the economic environment is very challenging. “The mentality of the public is more favorable for public art, but a lot of programs are really fighting for their lives,” Dugan observes. He hopes that enlightened community leaders will resist the urge to distribute dollars elsewhere. “It would be a convenient dismissal to say we don’t need public art programs, but it would be a huge mistake to let them go by the wayside.”

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