Remote Learning and Coronavirus

Kate Orff '89 to be recognized as Distinguished Alumna

Severn School is pleased to announce the 2020-21 Rolland M. Teel Distinguished Alumni Award recipient is Kate Orff, Severn Class of 1989. This award, named for the founder of Severn School, is the highest honor the school bestows upon an alumnus/a. The award recognizes alumni who have demonstrated outstanding service to humanity, service to the community, professional achievement, or service to Severn School. Ms. Orff is the 40th individual member of the Severn community to be inducted.
In 1983, Kate enrolled in the sixth grade at Severn, and rapidly distinguished herself as a strong student and active community member. To minimize her family’s financial burden, she spent grades 8-9 in public school, returning to Severn in the Upper School, where she was president of the Z Club, played varsity soccer and varsity lacrosse, and was a member of student council and the National Honor Society. After graduating from Severn in 1989, Kate attended the University of Virginia, where she majored in Political and Social Thought and played lacrosse for three years. As a student at UVA, Orff explored the intersection of women’s studies, environmental studies and issues of social justice through a political lens and developed an independent thesis on ecofeminism. After graduating with distinction from UVA, Kate went on to receive a master’s degree in landscape architecture from Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design.

In 2007 Kate founded SCAPE, a landscape architecture and urban design studio based in New York and New Orleans. SCAPE believes landscape architecture can enable positive change in communities through the creation of regenerative living infrastructure and public landscapes. At SCAPE, Kate leads complex, creative, and collaborative work processes that advance broad environmental and social initiatives. Projects range from massive coastal adaptation infrastructure to the design of city pocket parks, and museum exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art NY,  and the Venice Biennale. Through her work, Orff aims to reimagine public spaces in order to illuminate the hidden ecosystems within our built environments, and inspire citizens to become engaged stewards of their natural surroundings. Her research and design practice focuses on the challenges posed by urbanization and climate change through in-depth collaborations with ecologists, engineers, educators, artists, and community members that aim to make urban habitats more adaptive and resilient. 

Kate was awarded the prestigious MacArthur Foundation Fellowship in 2017, the first given in the field of landscape architecture. In 2019, she accepted a National Design Award from the Cooper Hewitt, National Design Museum, on behalf of SCAPE, and was named a Hero of the Harbor by the Waterfront Alliance. She was a 2012 United States Artist Fellow, dubbed an Elle Magazine “Planet Fixer,” and has been profiled and interviewed extensively for publications including The New York Times, The Economist, National Geographic, and more. In 2019, Kate was elevated to the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) Council of Fellows. She is also Professor Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation at Columbia University and Director of the Urban Design Program. 

Reflecting upon her Severn foundation, Kate shared,
“For me the best part about Severn was that students were encouraged to be well-rounded. Academics were just part of my total experience. I was working after school in the drawing studio with artist Charlotte Berry, practicing plays on the lacrosse field with Coach Cathy Hewitt Carper '81 and our team, defending the goal in soccer with Coach Wagner, and just interacting with an amazing group of peers and teachers without any pressure to succeed. Severn was a rigorous but flexible environment that set me on a path of discovery and sparked a desire to connect the dots between things rather than specializing or fearing the unknown. I’m really grateful for that.”

Kate and her family reside in New York City.
You can learn more about Kate Orff ‘89’s research and work on the MacArthur Foundation’s website:

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