Ari Bell (MLA '25) is this year's national CELA Student Creative Scholarship Award Recipient

Ari Bell

The UVA School of Architecture is pleased to announced that Ari Bell (MLA '25) recently received the Council of Educators in Landscape Architecture (CELA) Creative Scholarship Award. This year, Bell was one of three students, across national schools with accredited landscape architecture programs, to be recognized with this honor for outstanding scholarship. 


Bell's recognition was based on work developed for LAR 6010, co-taught by Leena Cho and Matthew Seibert, titled Ecological Études

Concept collages showing shared forms, but differences in tone and material composition, between Legno and Ponticello, two instrument-like landscapes, which invite forest-goers into a deep trench and grotto, radically transforming the site's acoustic properties and drawing attention to a shifting soundscape. Images © Ari Bell

He described: 
Approaches to landscape architecture typically emphasize the visual, sidelining the power of sound to provide a more intimate and nuanced understanding of site. By centering acoustic ecologies, the invisible becomes perceptible and a deeper empathy for more-than-human life emerges. To this end, Ecological Études utilizes methods from music, acoustics, landscape architecture, and soundscape ecology to develop new ways of designing and to propose landscape interventions that make audible the soundscapes of Observatory Hill, a mixed-use forest on the edge of UVA grounds.  

Bell's design resolved as two instrument-like landscapes, Ecological Études, which invite forest-goers into a deep trench and grotto, radically transforming the site’s acoustic properties and drawing attention to its shifting soundscape before welcoming them back to an inviting lawn. The siting of these spaces amplifies the forest’s acoustic signatures, which reflect its hidden worlds, its biological diversity, and its health. 

Concept collages depict "Ponticello" on left and "Legno" on right. "Ponticello" invites play and music-making, turning visitors into active participants in Observatory Hill’s acoustic ecology. "Legno" offers a serene space for listening, tuning visitors’ attention to the forest soundscape. Images © Ari Bell

The northern site, “Ponticello,” is constantly exposed to anthropogenic noise and bridges the forest with urban Charlottesville. Situated along a power cut, the site is also a favorite among birds who favor shrubby edge habitat. In contrast, “Legno” sits nestled in a fold in the topography that subdues anthropogenic noise and inspires focused attention to the forest’s sounds.

"Legno" planting and material plan. Bell's project draws on a deeper engagement of a site's acoustic ecology, noting David Dunn's description, "In this time of ecological crisis we need to embrace every tool we have to remind us of the sacred. Not only can aural and musical metaphors provide us with a means to describe the world in ways that remind us of our physical connection to the environment, but the physical act of using our aural sense...can become a means to practice and engender integrative behavior." Drawing © Ari Bell

Reflecting on CELA's recognition, Bell shared how his background in music guided his approach to this project. 
"Coming into the MLA program at UVA, I was at first very doubtful that my music background would be relevant to landscape architecture. To my surprise, my ear training turned out to be an excellent tool for site analysis and, with Leena Cho's help, I was able to find effective tools for translating this auditory awareness into a primarily visual medium.  

It's been incredibly rewarding to connect with other faculty and students who are breaking disciplinary boundaries and exploring new ways of approaching design.  

Since LAR 6010, I've had the pleasure of continuing this trajectory by studying eco-acoustics with Matthew Burtner and expanding my research to include the intersection of theater and landscape."
This summer, Bell, who was recently named a Benjamin C. Howland Travel Fellow, will be studying amusement parks in Europe. This project, along with future opportunities in the landscape architecture curriculum, gives Bell a chance to dive deeper into independent research — and he noted, "hopefully [the opportunity to] draw more on my performing arts background as part of a thesis project."
Congratulations to Ari Bell!

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