Spotlight: Maize and blue make green

(Photo by Marcia Ledford, U-M Photo Services)

As spring struggles to turn into summer, the U-M campus becomes a kaleidoscope of purple, pink and white blossoms nestled in countless shades of green. The man responsible for designing this array of colors is Kenneth Rapp, U-M’s landscape architect.

For Rapp, spring is one of the busiest times of the year. “We are usually working on 12-15 projects at a time, so I spend a lot of time bouncing from one project to another,” he says.

Rapp keeps on his toes. In his 15 years at U-M, he estimates he has worked on 500-600 projects around campus.

“With campus being so large, there is constantly something that needs to be done. We work our way from one end of campus to the other. Once we finish it is time to go back to where we started,” Rapp says.

Most people don’t realize the magnitude of plant matter that grows at the University, he says. For example, the University has 7 million square feet of grass that must be maintained.

“If you were to take a push mower and go in a straight line for that distance, you would walk from Ann Arbor to New York City,” Rapp says.

Not that Rapp has to do it all alone. “I work closely with the University Planner, the in-house architects, outside consultants and the grounds department,” he says. He collaborates most often with the horticulturists and foresters. “Twice a year I go down to Ohio, where we can get plants at wholesale, with the head forester and we personally tag the trees and shrubs we want,” Rapp says.

While the U-M landscape has an abundance of foliage native to the state, such as oaks and maples, there are a few hidden gems around campus, Rapp says. Plants to look for are a Korean Evodia by the Michigan League and a Japanese Skimmia at the Institute for Social Research.

Away from the office, plants play a large role in Rapp’s recreational activities as well. He teaches a landscaping design class at Matthaei Botanical Gardens, and is an avid gardener. He also is a season ticket-holder for U-M basketball.


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