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In Memoriam: Mark Simmons

on September 21, 2015 at 1:05 pm under

By Christine Thuring

Dr. Mark Simmons, director of the Ecosystem Design Group at The University of Texas at Austin Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, died August 31, 2015 in Austin, Texas due to complications from battling leukemia.


Dr. Mark Simmons. Photo: The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at The University of Texas at Austin.

Within the trans-disciplinary green roof community, Mark Simmons held the torch for Ecology.  With degrees in Environmental Science (BSc University of Lancaster), Botany (BSc and MSc, University of Cape Town), and Rangeland Ecology and Management (PhD, Texas A&M University), his perspective of all landscapes was unwaveringly ecological.  As an ecologist, botanist and environmental consultant, Mark brought unique insights to the professional circles in which his expertise was valued.

When asked to design a green roof that would blend a private home into the landscape, the project was taken as a challenge in habitat creation: to successfully replicate the rare Blackland prairie native to this region. Bercy Chen Studio collaborated with the Lady Bird Wildflower Center to reintroduce over 40 native species of wildflowers and grass to preserve the local ecosystem on the Edgeland House.

Edgeland House, Austin, Texas. Photo: Bercy Chen Studio.

Similarly, Mark and his team assisted Michael Van Valkenburg Associates on the landscape surrounding the Bush Presidential Center, maximizing not only the beauty and recreational value of this 1,500-acre landscape but also the environmental benefits: native plants and turf, restored plant communities, wildflower meadows, rain gardens, biofiltration basins, wetlands, bioswales.


Bush Presidential Center, Dallas, Texas. Photo: Bush Presidential Center.

Mark Simmons made important contributions to our understanding of extensive green roof performance in arid climates.  In addition to researching the usual metrics of stormwater and thermal performance, he worked towards the development of a green roof substrate comprising sustainable materials and screened many native plants.

“He was a lovely man and he made important contributions to our understanding of extensive green roof performance in arid climates.” ~ Steven Peck, Green Roofs for Healthy Cities

At the University of Texas at Austin and Texas A&M University, Mark taught university and professional courses on ecological landscape design and restoration ecology. For the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), he wrote the Sustainable Sites protocol, and won the Honor Award from the ASLA 2013 Professional Awards for developing a native seed mix as a sustainable alternative to traditional lawns (“The Lawn is Dead — Long Live the Lawn“).  Dr. Simmons led the study comparing bermudagrass to seven native grass species at the University of Texas at Austin’s Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center; click to see the press release.  He has also demonstrated the value of prescribed fire for restoring landscapes.

InMemoriam-DrMarkSimmons-NativeTurfStudy-The LadyBirdJohnsonWidlflowerCenter

Photo: The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at The University of Texas at Austin.

Beyond his contributions to science, society and the natural world, Mark’s greatest gift to us may be his example of making the most of life.  Anyone who has met Mark in a social setting will recall his engaging communication skills, whether philosophizing or story-telling, not to mention his terrific laugh.  His love of music, fearless pursuit of health and vitality, appreciation for art and design, awe of the beauty of nature, and general joie-de-vivre kept him young at heart.  His untimely death is an urgent reminder of the briefness of our precious human life.  For those of us imbued with passion to make the world a better place for future generations, Mark would undoubtedly be pleased to serve as inspiration and motivation to drive us towards realizing these dreams and visions.


Dr. Mark Simmons. Photo: The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center has a lovely In Memoriam for Dr. Simmons; here’s an excerpt:

“A dynamic leader, Mark led research and design projects at the Wildflower Center focused on restoring landscapes and urban green spaces to improve their environmental benefits. Among his research accomplishments were the most comprehensive study of the impact of commercial vegetated roofs…Mark was passionate about the role that landscapes can play in improving our lives, particularly in urban environments. In November 2013, he delivered a TEDx talk on the topic. One of his goals was to bring prairies into the city, and he worked toward the day that our cities would be home to the largest expanse of Blackland Prairie, a highly endangered ecosystem.

He is survived by his wife, two sons and two daughters. He will be sorely missed. To share your memories of Mark, please visit HERE.” ~ Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Watch his 16:12 “Eco-metropolis: Deploying the Power of Nature: Mark Simmons at TEDxCongressAve” below:

Publisher’s Note:  Mark was an extremely talented individual who will be sorely missed by his family and colleagues, and we send our condolences to all.  Along with Christine Thuring, Mark participated in our second Greenroofs and Walls of the World™ Virtual Summit 2013.  Their 3:00 Inspiration Nook video proposed:

“Now that we are an urban species, we are ever more compelled to create and regenerate urban ecological function to maintain global sustainability, human health and our relationship to the natural world.  But is ecological function really being prioritized and implemented in our cities?  Are methods and technologies like green roofs, living walls, water sensitive designs and natural green space being as widely used as they could be?  If not, what’s holding it up?

This short video gives a brief introduction to urban ecology and presents a case for collaborative ecological urban design towards an optimistic future for our cities and planet.” ~ “Upping the Urban Green.  What is the Actual and Potential Role of Ecology in our Cities?” by Dr. Mark Simmons and Christine Thuring

Watch it below:

We invite you to share your impressions and memories of Mark – please add your comments, too.

In memoriam,

~ from Christine, Linda, and the community



8 replies to "In Memoriam: Mark Simmons"

  • I didn’t know Mark very well but there was a long existing common respect and admiration for each other and for the green roof work we, as ecologists, were both into.

    I met him the first time in real at the World Green Roof Congress in Copenhagen 2010. I remember this moment very well because in a very short time we exchanged our philosophies and visions of a more ecological world – it was a wonderful moment of sharing. I will keep it in my mind and heart.

    Mark rest in peace and tranquility.
    Nathalie, urban ecologist, Zürich University

  • What sad news. I met Mark serveral times, and appreciated his great knowledge in biodiversity and research. His death is a great loss to the green roof research community.

  • A leading applied ecologist who will be missed. Our thoughts are with his family.

  • Mark Simmons was a star. I invited him twice, once to London and once to Copenhagen His enthusiasm, knowledge and sheer vitality was a pleasure to be with. Being English he and I could share a pint and chat that only english people can. the fact that we had a common interest in native plants on green roofs wherever in the world made our chats even more invigorating. Sadly I was in Mexico when I heard of Mark’s untimely death. I had planned to visit him on the way. It didn’t work out. However travelling the arid regions of Central Mexico his thoughts on deserts and green roofs were on my mind.

    My thoughts are with his family and close friends/colleagues. He will be greatly missed in the world of green roofs. And the world of biodiversity.

  • Mark was a great collaborator with far-reaching Ideas. He will be missed.

  • Mark was one of those people I’ve known that captured my heart and mind! His contributions to the earth and those of us still on it are invaluable. Although I live in the Pacific Northwest, landscaped rooftops are almost always irrigated. Surprisingly, one of our common interest was to find designs that do not require irrigation. His work and that of the Wildflower Center of finding plant/soil associations for non-irrigated vegetative rooftops must continue. My heart goes out to his family.

  • Very Very sad to receive this news today… Have been offline a bit as of late. Mark was a wonderful man. I was lucky to have shared several magical evenings of intense and thrilling discussion and debate, hours on the phone sharing ideas, and a much shared philosophy. It was lovely to meet another human constantly inspired by the inquiry. He was always willing to blur the lines and between us and them- nature, human, animal, matter and culture. He was a lover pleasure and all things of beauty and always reminded me of our humanness involved in every experience.
    Love to his family and may his spirit continue in the work and thoughts of his colleagues.

    Much Love!

  • I miss my father so much. It means so much to me to happen open this page today and read about him and see photos. Thank you so much for posting this!
    all my best,

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