It’s not every day that Walter Hood gets to go by the name “genius.” But today (Wednesday, Sept. 25) is that day: Hood, a UC Berkeley professor of landscape architecture and of environmental planning and urban design, was just named a 2019 fellow of the MacArthur Foundation, which is awarding him what’s known colloquially as a “genius” grant.
“I was shocked,” Hood, 61, says. “I was at my desk when the phone call came. And the voice at the other end says, ‘Can you go someplace quiet to talk?’ I didn’t know what to expect.”
The foundation announced its 26 fellows early today, all of whom will receive $625,000 to use in any way they wish. The unrestricted fellowships go to extraordinarily talented and creative recipients as an investment in their potential. Recipients have been writers, scientists, artists, social scientists, humanists, teachers, entrepreneurs or those in other fields — with or without institutional affiliations.
The Charlotte, N.C.-born Hood was recognized by the foundation for “creating ecologically sustainable urban spaces that resonate with and enrich the lives of current residents while also honoring communal histories.”
Architecture and urban design professor Renee Chow, who is acting dean of the College of Environmental Design, said the college is “thrilled to congratulate Walter on receiving the MacArthur Fellowship. His innovative work reimagines urban environments that honor their layered histories and enriches the social fabric of their communities.
“His work and teaching reflect the best of sustainably responsible environmental design that we promote throughout the college. We are honored to have this valued landscape and public artist as a member of our community.”
Hood, who has taught at Berkeley for 27 years, specializes in landscape design, community development and citizen participation, particularly with ethnic groups. Along the way, he’s garnered a number of awards and recognition. Last June, he was named a 2019 Knight Public Spaces Fellow by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. He won a 2017 architecture award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. In 2016, his Hood Design Studio won a People’s Choice Award at the Bi-City Biennale of Architecture/Urbanism. And in 2014, he received the Dean’s Medal from the University at Buffalo School of Architecture and Planning and also was nominated to the President’s National Council On the Arts.
But the MacArthur Fellowship, Hood says, is “the pinnacle. It gives you the opportunity to really be free to pursue whatever you want, without having to beg anyone for money.”
The MacArthur genius grant, awarded annually by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, typically is given to between 20 and 30 individuals.
Since 1981, 942 people have been named MacArthur Fellows; they have ranged in age from 18 to 82. The award has been called “one of the most significant awards that is truly ‘no strings attached.’” To date, the genius grants have been awarded to 30 Berkeley alumni, professors and others with connections to the campus. Hood was this year’s only Berkeley awardee.
Hood, who is currently designing “ancestral gardens” for the International African American Museum in Charleston, S.C., says he hasn’t decided yet how he’ll use the MacArthur stipend, but he says he knows this much, for sure: “Now, I’ll have a bit more space to hear myself think and be more introspective.”