Architecture prize goes to woman who reclaims toxic dumps Julie Bargmann, the first recipient of the Oberlander International Landscape Architecture Prize, redesigns waste dumps, landfills, Superfund sites — places she calls "the gnarliest."

She reclaims toxic waste dumps, and she just won a major landscape architecture award

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Next, we have the story of a landscape architect who specializes in unattractive landscapes. She's received a major new prize for her work, and that includes her work with toxic waste dumps. NPR's Neda Ulaby has more.

NEDA ULABY, BYLINE: Julie Bargmann is drawn to unloved places, polluted and gnarly.

JULIE BARGMANN: The more gnarly, the better.

ULABY: Why?

BARGMANN: I am from New Jersey.

ULABY: Bargmann is a professor at the University of Virginia who founded a design firm called D.I.R.T. - Dump It Right There. She's always liked slag heaps, smelly quarries.

BARGMANN: I had a raw, kind of instinctual attraction to them, you know, of landscapes that literally no landscape architects were paying attention to.

ULABY: Bargmann pays respectful attention to rusty twists of railroad tracks and acid treatment ponds, which she uses as design elements when turning, for example, an old Pennsylvania mine into a public park. She does not want to cover up these battered scars. She wants to honor history.

BARGMANN: You know, it's the next cycle of that landscape. That landscape doesn't have to be muted. But it does need to become healthy.

MAURICE COX: It's a smart move by this jury.

ULABY: That's Maurice Cox, Chicago's commissioner for planning and development. He says Bargmann, the first winner of the new Oberlander Prize, is both radical and generous, a collaborator with historians, hydrogeologists, community activists and coal miners with whom she feels kinship - the latest laborer in places defined by hard human work. Once, Bargmann was crawling around a deserted coke oven in a rotting old Ford factory in Detroit with the plant owners.

BARGMANN: We found a pair of these clogs, you know? And I'm like, what's up with these clogs? They're wooden clogs. And they said, oh, they used to strap those on to the bottom of their boots so the soles of their boots wouldn't melt. I'm like, what (laughter)? And I just - I think that fuels my mission, my push to do right by them.

ULABY: The first-ever winner of the Oberlander Landscape Architecture Prize, she says, is here for the next shift.

Neda Ulaby, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF KYLE MCEVOY AND EZZY'S "GARDEN")

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