Urban and Regional Planning’s Beginnings at UF

The modern rendition of UF’s urban and regional planning program owes a special debt to one faculty member in particular, Emeritus Associate Professor Orjan Fredrik Wetterqvist. In 1973, at the request of the chair of the School of Architecture, Arnold “Arnie” Butt, Wetterqvist was asked to prepare a proposal for a new Master of Arts in Urban and Regional Planning. Although the School of Architecture had previously launched a Community Planning program in the late 1940s that enabled architecture students to secure either a concentration or a full major in planning, the departure of key faculty in the mid-1950s resulted in its demise. With the recruitment of noted planning consultant, Carl Feiss in 1971 to explore the possibility of an interdisciplinary urban studies program, there was new momentum to fashion a professional planning program. The task for this was given to Wetterqvist.

He had been recruited to teach at UF beginning with the 1969-70 academic year, having spent the previous ten years working in architecture and planning for a variety of institutions in New England. Wetterqvist was trained in architecture and urban planning at the Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm, Sweden, where he received various student awards and served as a graduate assistant for Professor G. Pleijel. While still a student there, a UF assistant professor, Dan P. Branch, met Wetterqvist through his mentor Pleijel while doing research at the Royal Institute of Techology in 1957, and then reconnected with Wetterqvist in Boston when the Swedish architect/planner was serving as the Director of Planning in Manchester, New Hampshire. Branch’s glowing recommendation helped to confirm Wetterqvist’s appointment as an Assistant Professor of Urban Design in our College of Architecture and Fine Arts. Within four years on the UF faculty, Wetterqvist had been promoted to Associate Professor.

The yearlong process in 1973 of preparing the proposal to create the Master program in Urban and Regional Planning involved a committee of School of Architecture faculty but Wetterqvist certainly did the heavy lifting. This included a whirlwind road trip to examine the curricula that other top planning programs offered. His visits included Georgia Tech, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Cornell University, the University of Pennsylvania, Virginia Polytechnic University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University. It was determined that the niche that the UF program should fill would be in physical planning and design, a natural given its home within a design-based college, and to complement the already operating program at Florida State which was decidedly oriented to the social sciences side of planning. The case was made that the demand for planners in Florida far outstripped the capacity of FSU to meet the needs, but also that so many of the challenges facing its communities were tied to appropriate physical development approaches.

For his part as one of the faculty in the new program that launched in 1975, Wetterqvist brought substantial applied research experiences, and drew upon these to create studio experiences that enabled students to address issues on the UF campus, in the Gainesville-Alachua region, and for other Florida communities. Wetterqvist was an avowed environmentalist who taught his students about the necessity of sustainable urban and regional development long before these concepts became commonplace in planning curricula. He was also instinctively an inventor, who created a land use modeling system which he called Dynaspace Systems, which anticipated the computer-based land use modeling so prevalent today. He produced and presented papers on “DYNASPACE As A Land Use Policy Tool” for the Lake County Commission in 1975, “DYNASPACE: An Energy Policy Analysis Tool” for the State’s Legislative Committee on Energy and Growth, and presented “DYNASPACE As A Man Power Policy Analysis Tool” to the State Florida Manpower Council that same year, among a steady stream of publications and presentations during the 1970s and 1980s.

Wetterqvist’s respect for nature within land planning was evident not only in his teaching but also in his practice of architecture. The three-story international style house he designed and built in 1974 for his family (and which I have the honor to reside in today) was situated in a dense forest that he and his son surveyed prior to construction to ensure that the existing canopy that shaded the future home would not be disrupted. He bestowed the philosophy of planning with nature (rather than in opposition to it) to the hundreds of students he taught over the thirty year academic career. And through his own research based approach to planning practice, he ensured that students understood the necessity of basing their approaches on systematic data collection and analysis. This was especially important for the vast array of students he guided through their thesis projects.

It is important to recognize that the highly acclaimed urban and regional planning program that UF offers today had its origins within the School of Architecture, which also boasted a landscape architecture program, and how this legacy infused a distinct set of values on how students should be prepared for practice. And when we consider that distinct legacy, it is ever so important to acknowledge and celebrate the major role that emeritus Professor Orjan F. Wetterqvist played in making the planning program possible at UF, and in how he participated in forging that legacy of the past four decades.

Christopher Silver, PhD, FAICP
Professor, Department of Urban and Regional Planning

Scroll to Top