Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC

Esmeé Bellalta (in memoriam)

Posted: Oct 04, 2021

Statement: Esmeé Marian Cromie de Bellalta (1927-2007) was a landscape architect and teacher whose work advanced environmental ethics and justice through design. She moved from London to the United States to attend Harvard where she was among the earliest female graduate landscape architecture students (1952). She then moved to Chile where she was among the first female landscape architects to practice in South America before returning to the United States in 1976 following the Chilean coup d'état in 1973. She was an accomplished international landscape architect, Professor at Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, and Associate Professor Emerita at University of Notre Dame where she taught landscape architecture and architecture.

Her work includes the competition-winning design for the Benedictine Monastery of the Holy Trinity in Santiago de Chile in collaboration with Jaime Bellalta, her husband. Their strategy for the building's relationship with a dramatically sloping site guided the growth of the monastery for decades and their celebrated exploration of indirect light in the landscape and the buildings influenced later buildings on the campus. She also designed streets, ecclesiastic gardens, school grounds, and gardens which were characterized for their social and ecological richness.

She was an inspiring teacher who challenged her students to design for justice in underserved neighborhoods and migrant communities; for children and blind or disabled citizens. She was Associate Professor in the School Architecture at the University Notre Dame from 1976-1995 and Associate Professor Emerita in 1995. She developed and was Coordinator for the Justice Education Program at St. Mary's College from 1981-1997. Esmeé was Visiting Professor at Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile in 1997, at Harvard University Graduate School Design from 1993-1994, and at Ball State University College Architecture & Planning from 1978-1993. She was Professor of Landscape Architecture at Universidad de Chile from 1974-1976 and Professor of Environmental Design at Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, 1973-1976. She was teacher at Centro National Familia in Chile from 1968-1975, at Calvert School 1968-1970, and at Art Santiago College from 1955-1975. 

Her activism led her to serve as co-director, starting in 1972, of the Institute for Research and Development of Holistic Design Ecology in Evanston, Illinois. She was member of the Diocesan Liturgical Art & Environment Committee of Fort Wayne-South Bend from 1985-1991, and a member of American Society of Landscape Architects for which she was elected member-at-large by the Indiana chapter where her work received a Merit Award in 1981 and a Special Award in 1980.

She was my very first design studio teacher as an undergraduate architecture major at Notre Dame. She was generous with her knowledge and challenged us to see the world through the eyes of others. Without having learned from Esmeé, my sense of what is beautiful and what is just would be impoverished.

                   —Ron Henderson, October 1, 2021

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