New faculty profile: Kristin Thorleifsdottir looks at behavioral impacts of planning and design

SONY DSCKristin Thorleifsdottir joined the UW faculty this past August. She has a split appointment as an assistant professor in the Department of Landscape Architecture in CALS and the Department of Design Studies in the School of Human Ecology.

Briefly describe your career path—up to this point.
I was born in Reykjavik Iceland where I have lived most of my life except for a few shorter periods of living and/or working in other countries including England, Germany, Bulgaria, The U.S. and Turkey.

I hold a Ph.D. in Design (Community and Environmental Design) from North Carolina State University (2008), a master’s degree in Landscape Architecture from North Carolina State University (1999) and a BA in Fine Arts-sculpture from Auburn University, Montgomery (1994).

After eight years of work and study in the U.S., I returned to Iceland in the fall of 2002. While completing my dissertation I took on an assistant professor position in Environmental Planning at the Agricultural University of Iceland in 2003. From 2005 to 2014, I had an affiliation with the Department of Design and Architecture attached to the Iceland Academy of the Arts where I taught various courses including Environment and Behavior Studies (EBS), landscape analysis emphasizing natural, cultural and experiential factors in urban and rural contexts, sustainability and ecological design, visual aspects of the urban landscape (particularly public open space and townscape), and children’s environments. I have also taught courses on the history of public open space and an introductory course to city planning with an emphasis on fundamental planning theories.

In 2005 I also started working part time as a registered landscape architect at a leading architecture and landscape architecture firm in Reykjavik until I open up my own design and research practice in 2008 mainly focusing on the design of children’s environments, environments for senior citizens, projects related to the growing tourism industry in Iceland, and spatial/ecological planning of neighborhoods. From 2010 to 2013 I also worked part time as a project manager at the Association of Icelandic Architects where I led a large EU project on sustainable architecture and edited four books on the topic. Since 2008 I have also been a member of the Board of Editors for the journal Arkitektúr issued by the Association of Icelandic Architects and the Federation of Icelandic Landscape Architects and the editor in chief since 2012. My initial job on the editorial board was to lead a change in the journal’s structure and invite all the different design-related fields to the table. As a result, a new biannual (twice a year), cross-disciplinary journal on Icelandic design will be published for the first time this fall.

What is the main focus of your research program?
My primary area of interest lays within the area of Environment and Behavior Studies (EBS), in particular issues regarding aspects of daily life in urban environments and the influence environmental design and urban planning have on a population’s behavioral patterns, attitudes, use, function, health and wellbeing. My doctoral dissertation, Neighborhood Design: Associations between Suburban Neighborhood Morphology and Children’s Outdoor, Out-of-school, Physical Activities is founded on the basis of EBS research and my MLA thesis focused on the identification of townscape characteristics and the development of conservation criteria. Identifying specific characteristics or indicators for activity or behavioral stimulation is a topic still very dear to me, and I currently lead a research project focusing on the analysis of morphological/visual/experiential quality of small towns and villages in Iceland.

What drew you to UW-Madison?
I had heard great things about the university and the city from fellow Icelanders who have studied and/or lived here and since teaching and conducting cross-disciplinary EBS research have been my core concerns, the position (with a focus on EBS issues) and work environment sounded very interesting to me – a unique opportunity that probably comes only once in a lifetime and a place where I hope my experience and academic focus may be put to good use.

What do you like to do outside of work?
I’m interested in a lot of different things. I love to hike and take nature walks, bike in the city and explore urban open spaces especially when there something going on such as out-door markets, music festivals etc. I also love to spend time with my family; my husband, two adult children and two dogs. On the more artistic side, I am a fan of classical music, jazz and blues and I have been an active member of a choir that focuses on renaissance music and Spanish flamenco.