Professor’s talents will be remembered

Robin Huiras

University architecture professor Catherine Brown, who was recognized twice by the New York Times as one of the most valuable thinkers in American urbanism, died of cancer April 12. She was 47.
A coordinator of special projects and senior fellow at the University Design Center for American Urban Landscape, Brown was lauded for her vision in creating urban design projects and was known to push the limits in her field.
“She worked to build an interdisciplinary academic unit to bridge the gap between theory and practice underneath the umbrella of urban design,” said Carol Swenson, a research fellow who worked with Brown for nine years at the design center.
Brown’s involvement at the University began with the opening of the design center in 1988. While there, she worked with students and colleagues to connect landscape and city policies.
Brown encouraged her students to engage in work that challenged creativity, explored new possibilities and examined options best applied to theories of urban design, Swenson said.
In addition to instructing at the University, she directed a team that explored the physical design issues of public housing projects in Minneapolis. Brown actively participated in the community as a member of the Minneapolis Federal Courts Master Plan Committee.
“She was a very talented, dedicated, tenacious individual who had strong ideals,” said U.S. District Court Judge Diana Murphy about working with Brown to plan the new federal courthouse. “She set goals for herself and fought hard to hold on to them.”
Brown is best known for her master plan of the 1987 public arts program in Phoenix, Ariz., and her contributions to the Public Arts Works: The Arizona Models. Her book, “Planning To Stay,” is based on Minneapolis and is a guide to citizens interested in neighborhood planning.
“She knew that design is an important way to help people see what their city could be and wanted the best environment for people to live in,” said Gina Bonsignore, a research fellow who worked with Brown for the past six years.
In 1990, to learn more about cultural and environmental factors affecting urban design, Brown helped organize the Expedition of the Fourth Coast. The intensive eight-week study examined towns and landscapes along the Mississippi River.
“Brown loves the history of our profession and wanted to carry the tradition into the future,” Bonsignore said.
Brown earned her bachelor’s degree in landscape architecture from Louisiana State University and her master’s degree in landscape architecture and urban design from Harvard.
“She was an important figure in architecture in Minneapolis and made a big impression on the community,” Murphy said.
Brown is survived by her husband William Morrish, director of the University’s design center, and her mother Ruth. Her ashes will be scattered in her home state of Louisiana.