Skip to Content

Legacy Circle: Clara Couric Batchelor ASLA

Clara Couric Batchelor ASLA
Principal and founder, CBA Landscape Architects (CBA)

Professional and philanthropic interests:

Much of my work focuses on the design of public and quasi-public open space. These spaces often are relatively small and intensively used. As a landscape architect, I try to ensure that each space—be it a playground or a plaza—has a unique sense of place. I use as much plant material as possible in order to create a more dynamic environment. My goal is to soften and enrich the hardscape with added color and texture. The manipulation of the ground plane is another thing I love about creating landscapes. 

For the last eight years, I have served as a Park and Recreation commissioner for the Town of Brookline. The commissioners are the stewards of the town's municipally owned open space and advocate for its care and protection. Our responsibilities include overseeing the design of new parks and the renovations of existing parks. (As a commissioner, I get to be the client!)

What are you working on now?

Municipal parks in Boston, Chelsea, and Maynard, Massachusetts; urban plazas in Kendall Square and Cambridgeport in Cambridge, Massachusetts; multifamily housing developments and libraries in various Massachusetts municipalities; and a few single family homes. I love working on a variety of project types. Each has its own rewards and frustrations.  

How did you explain to your mom what you do for a living?

My grandfather was an architect so no explanation was needed. (My mother proudly reported that her dad “cared very much about the landscape.”)

What inspired you today?

Spring, seeing the trees leaf out in the most glorious shade of green.

What are you reading?

The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration, by Isabel Wilkerson.

Has your career taken you anywhere you didn't expect?

I am lucky to get to work and collaborate with a diverse set of individuals from many walks of life. They have enriched my life in ways I never imagined. I have designed schoolyards for inner-city public schools and suburban private schools, public-housing developments and Martha's Vineyard beach houses, urban playgrounds and suburban art museums. 

One of the most impactful design experiences of my career was creating the Harriet Tubman Park in Boston's South End. CBA was hired to create a small, contemplative park that included the placement of two bronze sculptures. One was a new sculpture entitled “Step On Board” by Fern Cunningham. It celebrates the life of Harriet Tubman. The second sculpture, “The Emancipation,” originally sculpted in 1914 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, was cast for the first time for the Harriet Tubman Park. Both are by African-American sculptors.

What inspired you to support the BSA Foundation as a member of the Legacy Circle?

The BSA Foundation does a lot of work bringing the various components of the design community together to promote environmentally sound building practices and resiliency in the city's neighborhoods. What particularly attracted me to become a Legacy Circle member was the outreach the BSA Foundation does with school-age children. Learning about design and its impact, and in turn how one can influence one's own environment through design, is a very powerful lesson to understand at an early age. Hopefully some of the kids will grow up to be architects and landscape architects, but I really hope others grow up to be politicians who will understand the impact legislation can have on design.

How can the Foundation harness the power of collaboration and design to help build a better Boston?

By serving as a forum for ideas about the built environment, the BSA Foundation can bring designers, policy makers, scientists, etc. together to develop and publicize better strategies for the development of Boston, and they can stress the urgency of proactively addressing the impacts of climate change and aging infrastructure.

Can you remember the first time you understood the relationship between design and quality of life?

Growing up outside of Washington, DC, my family did a great deal of sightseeing and museum visiting. I think this made me aware from an early age that the setting and the surroundings of a building or monument have a great deal to do with how one experiences it. Think about the National Mall, the Tidal Basin, Mount Vernon, etc. I also loved taking walks along the towpath of the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal. (I read in her Legacy Circle member profile that Laura Wernick FAIA, also raised in Northern Virginia, was taken to Washington Dulles International Airport soon after it opened—I was there, too! It's a real lesson not only in architecture but in planning. When I visited Dulles Airport, it was in the middle of nowhere and was almost completely empty. That's foresight for you!)

Who deserves the credit for your success?

My parents, husband, children, and clients—it takes a village. I actually received my first playground project with Harvard Real Estate because one of my children was in a Harvard-affiliated daycare facility.

If you could give the you of 10 years ago (or longer) advice, what would it be?

No matter how hard you try, you will never complete everything on your “to do” list. Make shorter lists. 

What do you love about Boston?

Boston is the perfect sized city: big enough to get lost in, but not too lost.

If you could sum up your outlook on life in a bumper sticker, what would its say?

When my siblings and I left for college, my mother always threatened to embroider on a pillow (although she did not do embroidery), “In your heart, you know Mom's right!”  In hindsight, pretty good advice.