The Conway School


Our Story

Walter Cudnohufsky wasn’t satisfied with the status quo. He had received a Master’s degree in landscape architecture from Harvard in 1965, spent eighteen months traveling, and was teaching design at a large university. He was frustrated with traditional design education, which he considered too compartmentalized, inflexible, and theoretical.

He had explored design education in his graduate thesis and had been reading progressive education theory. He wanted to try a new way of doing things, with hands-on learning, more like a working design office. He thought it should be student-based, not institutionally organized, and he wanted it to be a shared experience that emphasized teamwork. He wanted to start a new school that would turn design education on its head. And he did.


Although he hadn’t envisioned a design school in a rural setting, for reasons of economy, Walt began the school in his Conway home and peripheral buildings—a sugar-house and a converted barn. He secured an $8,000 personal loan to pay for renovations and float the school in its first year. Construction took place over the summer of 1972, in anticipation of the first class—seven men and two women, mostly from Massachusetts.

Classes were held every day, at times with studio also every day. There might be an impromptu stone wall building demonstration or other invitations to “learn by doing.” Chores were always part of the sharing, potlucks and games part of the fun. Communications always was and still is an important focus of the school.

Walt’s belief was that if you can’t explain your ideas in writing and speaking, then you’re not in charge of yourself or what you’re doing.


Don Walker, who would prove to be a major force in the evolution of the school, came as a student in 1978. He already had two degrees in landscape architecture and much experience in teaching and practice. He, too, was disillusioned with his teaching experience and the persistent pressure to do research. With Don’s addition to the staff came a gradual shift in focus from teaching traditional landscape architecture to encouraging design that is environmentally sound. Increasingly applicants were seeking this new way of looking at design.


The New England Association of Schools and Colleges granted full accreditation effective 1989. In 1992, Walt left the school to put into practice the things that he had been teaching. He began what continues to be a thriving private practice, one that has many ecological and community building dimensions. Today he regards the Conway School as his greatest lifetime contribution, while giving credit to the people who are carrying the school forward.

Don Walker became Director in 1992, a position he held until his retirement in 2005. Don and staff oversaw the move from the school’s thirty-year home to a nearby wooded hilltop. The 34.5-acre campus is being planned as a learning laboratory for sustainable design.

Conway’s third director, landscape architect and conservation planner Paul Cawood Hellmund, is committed to the school’s unique teaching approach and to sustainable design. He also has a strong interest in expanding the school’s perspective to global environmental opportunities. In the school’s lively history, some things, such as its outward appearance and personnel, have changed. Other things, especially its focus on individualized learning, will always remain as constants.


We explore, develop, practice, and teach design of the land that is ecologically and socially sustainable.

In the process we:

  • provide graduates with the basic knowledge and skills necessary to practice the planning, design, and management of the land that respects nature as well as humanity;
  • develop ecological awareness, understanding, respect, and accommodation in its students and project clients;
  • produce projects that fit human use to natural conditions.

The school’s mission guides decision-making at every level: who is hired, what projects are undertaken, how courses are structured, and what offices and sites are visited on field trips. While the program is thoroughly based on ecological knowledge and practices, Conway’s educational focus is on design of the land rather than environmental science.

Why Conway

Climate destabilization. Food + water insecurity. Species collapse.

The future wasn’t supposed to look like that!

Help re-invent the future. Work toward a better planet using ecological whole systems thinking. Help ensure healthy communities and productive landscapes for future generations.

Equip yourself to:

Fix what’s broken. Save what works. DESIGN THE FUTURE!

Conway is ten months of intensive, specialized graduate study that will prepare you to work as a designer/planner on important real-world projects by . . . (ready for this?) working on important, real-world projects—as a student, with the support of teachers who are seasoned professionals.

For forty years it’s been happening at Conway: real world, real results.

10 Reasons to Apply

These big ten will speak to applicants, but they also say why project clients should consider the Conway School. Ditto for anyone interested in supporting design and planning innovation for the planet.

  1. Work on real projects for real clients, right from the start. That’s what we mean by “Real world. Real results.” And the results have been proven for forty years.

  2. Get the tools you need to build a sustainable career…and a better world through the most innovative program of its kind anywhere.

  3. Learn in small classes with lots of individual attention. Forget about grades! Instead focus on learning to do the work, and do it well.

  4. Collaborate, don’t compete. Each person or small team has its own project and everyone offers help to the rest of the class.

  5. See the big picture and pay attention to the details. That’s the path to sustainability and resilience.

  6. Graduate with a design process you can put to work right away, and with the skills to be a life-long learner. That’s a fast forward for you if you are anxious to get to work making a difference.

  7. Create a portfolio of professional projects with references from real clients.

  8. Be part of a school that is fully committed to exploring, developing, practicing, and teaching planning and design of the land that is ecologically and socially sustainable. Our mission is for nature and for people.

  9. Form a tight-knit band of change agents, together for ten months, in touch for life.

  10. Work side by side with teachers who are experienced practitioners and also caring instructors.
This school offers programs in:
  • English

View master programs »


This school also offers:


Graduate Program in Sustainable Landscape Planning and Design

Campus Full time September 2017 USA Conway

The Conway program is a lively mix of classroom instruction, applied studio work, student and visitor presentations, field work, site visits, and informal discussions in the collective kitchen. [+]

The Conway program is a lively mix of classroom instruction, applied studio work, student and visitor presentations, field work, site visits, and informal discussions in the collective kitchen. Sketching in the field Students learn from faculty, from each other, from guests, and from their explorations of their project sites and the communities where those projects are embedded. The environment is personal, collaborative, and rigorous—learning is driven by motivated students working for real communities to solve real and pressing problems. The Conway program is built around those real projects for real clients. The projects raise issues, questions, and challenges—from technical questions about site engineering, to ethical issues about community involvement or wise use of resources, to practical questions about how resilience can be built into systems in the face of uncertain futures—that drive the classes, discussions, and field and studio work that make up the rest of the fully integrated, multidisciplinary program. Class assignments—graphic, technical, and written—support project work. A Typical Week at Conway We’re small. That means we can change the schedule on a moment’s notice–load up the van and go on a field trip to see what happens when a dam collapses; visit a project site during a community street festival; add a class to introduce new software that suddenly became available. We do, though, have a regular weekly schedule. Projects Each Conway student works on three projects, one per term. In the fall, students have their own site design project, typically a couple of acres or less—one student siting a new home on an undeveloped site, adapting a built site to new owners or uses, designing an educational center or market garden for a small farm, or working on a pocket park or small land trust property. Through this first project, students learn the basics of the design process: site reconnaissance and assessment, defining/refining the project goals and client needs, and exploring solutions that work with the natural systems on site. Small teams of students work on—and are responsible for managing—winter and spring projects. Winter projects are larger land use planning projects, such as a food security plan for a town or region, a management plan for a land trust property or regional park, a campus master plan, or a farmland preservation strategy. Spring projects are also at the community scale, but with greater detail, such as a streetscape design, a park or recreational facility, or a restoration plan for a former industrial site. Students also learn from their regular exposure to other student projects—30 to 35 different projects at three distinct scales. All are real projects for real clients. Students are also exposed in this way to potential employers in land trusts, town and regional planning departments, community organizations and non-profit agencies. Classes Classes in design theory, graphics, computer skills (such as InDesign and GIS), site engineering, and humanities support and draw from students’ experiences in the projects. Student Presentations Students give weekly presentations to faculty and classmates, becoming more and more comfortable articulating the narrative of their projects and making compelling arguments for particular design and planning solutions. Near the end of each term, students give formal presentations before a jury of three outside professionals—experienced designers, planners, and ecologists—who offer advice that students can then incorporate in the last two weeks of the term. Studio Faculty go from desk to desk on studio days for individual and team consultation. After the faculty go home, students continue to learn in the studio from each other. Visitors At least once a week, an outside expert in a relevant topic–for example, environmental law, green building design, wildlife habitat, or environmental justice–gives a lecture at the school. They often stay for the group meal that follows, and sometimes spend time in the studio to talk with students about projects. Field Work The week ends with a trip in the van–to a constructed wetlands, a regional planning office, a quaking bog, an innovative parking lot–or with field work, to learn about stonework, green roof construction, or pond building. [-]