Landscape Architecture Student Earns Top Marks For Treasure Valley Project

Tuesday, September 21 2010

Written by Amanda Cairo

MOSCOW, Idaho – Married and with a young family, Johnny Sweet envisioned his life beyond building “McMansions” in Idaho's Treasure Valley. After 10 years in the building industry, that vision is paying off for the student at the University of Idaho.

Sweet, a senior landscape architecture student in the university's College of Art and Architecture, recently earned second place in the Wayne Grace Memorial Student Design Competition, a national competition.

“I was doing construction and all of the old guys told me I needed to go to school. I guess I finally listened,” said Sweet.

The Nampa native and father of three was recognized for his student work by the Council of Landscape Architectural Registration Boards for his final junior studio class project last spring. His assignment was to create an ecologically rejuvenating and educationally functional landscape design at the University of Idaho Caldwell Research and Extension Center.

“I really wanted to pull in the region and bring nature to the people,” said Sweet. “There was so much there that wasn’t being used in the right way; really, it was an ecological mess.”

At first the project didn’t excite him; he was done with the Treasure Valley after working in the conventional construction industry there. But, as he began working on designs for the Caldwell site, he found natural features to utilize and began to enjoy the challenge, and the possibility of bringing new life to a site lost from nature.

“It is so easy to see the worst of a site, and to be critical of those who had manipulated it before you. So, I tried to find the positives in the region; the natural area is so beautiful,” said Sweet. “I tried to envision what it could be and looked for a balance of what it was and what it could be.”

In his design, he highlighted the canyons of the Snake River and manipulated Indian Creek, which runs directly through the south end of the site and was the site’s strongest natural feature. He also provided a comprehensive native plants palette and used recycled and reusable materials to make the site sustainable for future generations to enjoy.

Sweet was using nature as a form of art for the site, so he also wanted to incorporate the artistic nature of the Boise area by placing sculptures on the grounds. The design has been given to the university's Extension staff, who will review the project for elements to possibly implement.

When Sweet finished the design – about a 200-hour project – his professor, Toru Otawa, encouraged him to submit the project to the competition. Sweet wasn’t sure he was going to enter, but a last minute decision has its rewards.

Sweet was thrilled to earn second prize nationally, which includes a $2,000 cash prize, but he is the first to say everyone in the College of Art and Architecture works hard and deserves recognition for their work. His advice: they just have to put it out there. Nonetheless, being singled out with this award hasn’t changed Sweet’s sense of himself; he’s just glad to have something to help build his resume, and when the time comes, to help find him a job.
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About the University of Idaho
Founded in 1889, the University of Idaho is the state’s land-grant institution and its principal graduate education and research university, bringing insight and innovation to the state, the nation and the world. University researchers attract nearly $100 million in research grants and contracts each year. The University of Idaho is the only institution in the state to earn the prestigious Carnegie Foundation classification for high research activity. The student population of 12,302 includes first-generation college students and ethnically diverse scholars, who select from more than 130 degree options in the colleges of Agricultural and Life Sciences; Art and Architecture; Business and Economics; Education; Engineering; Law; Letters, Arts and Social Sciences; Natural Resources; and Science. The university also is charged with the statewide mission for medical education through the WWAMI program. The university combines the strength of a large university with the intimacy of small learning communities and focuses on helping students to succeed and become leaders. It is home to the Vandals, the 2009 Roady’s Humanitarian Bowl champions. For more information, visit

About the University of Idaho
The University of Idaho helps students to succeed and become leaders. Its land-grant mission furthers innovative scholarly and creative research to grow Idaho's economy and serve a statewide community. From its main campus in Moscow, Idaho, to 70 research and academic locations statewide, U-Idaho emphasizes real-world application as part of its student experience. U-Idaho combines the strength of a large university with the intimacy of small learning communities. It is home to the Vandals. For information, visit