Gwendolyn McGinn studied at the Rhode Island School of Design before attending the University of Virginia to pursue her Masters of Landscape Architecture. She studied horticulture at Central Piedmont Community College and has worked as a gardener.

As a William R. Kenan fellow, she is researching the ground condition of the Academical Village by tracing the different plant roots that have altered and shaped the site. This study of the ground developed from her previous work as a research assistant, where she developed prototypes through parametric modeling of alternate approaches to site specific slope stabilization.

Her research often includes documentation of the quotidian to explore the ways subtleties of the vernacular alter perception of the built environment. This has included a study of puddles, alleyways, and plant roots.

McGinn Cellular Forest


She is currently pursing a thesis that describes tree roots as entities that transform and create the spaces that surround them. Although qualities of the ground are an active part of the discourse of landscape architecture, the root systems of trees and their intense interaction with the ground are often ignored. By describing the logic of the interactions between tree roots and soil, an intensely dynamic part of the landscape can be revealed. By synthesizing research from the fields of botany, horticulture, forestry, and arboriculture, knowledge of the dynamic morphology of root systems can become a tool for landscape architects to design from the ground to the canopy.

If 80 percent of all landscape tree problems start below ground, then an informed understanding of subsurface conditions is imperative to prevent the expense of tree loss. This research will serve as a practical guide to visualizing possible adaptations of root systems to ground conditions. But it will also provide a reminder about the beauty in the complexity of the ecologies below ground. Roots will not be treated as a problem that need to be fixed, but as an opportunity to reconsider relationships between the designer, the soil, and the plant.

She has also considered the role of roots as an actor of the ecology of the ground. In many ways the ground is a quintessential Other. Roots mediate between the terrestrial and the ground. Roots communicate with each other in an emerging concept of minimal cognition.

McGinn Root Diagram

McGinn Insect