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 were 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 the design.