Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs

Elizabeth Dean Hermann

Elizabeth Dean Hermann

Professor of Landscape Architecture, RISD
Founder of DESINE-LAB, RISD

Lili Hermann is a Professor of Landscape Architecture and Architecture at the Rhode Island School of Design where she teaches interdisciplinary courses on the urban built environment; transdisciplinary design in the context of social and economic development; urban water issues, poverty and land rights; sustainability and resilience; and critical cartography looking at issues of displacement, place and identity. She is Founder and Co-Director of DESINE Lab, an applied research lab where faculty, students and alumni from RISD, together with students from Brown, work with partners in South Asia, Africa, Latin America and the US to develop and implement design-based integrated multi-scalar social and economic strategies for under-resourced, post-conflict, and post-disaster societies. The work covers the arenas of human capacity building, livelihood development, women’s empowerment, entrepreneurship, education and institution building, and the built environment and sustainable practices.

Hermann has been a visiting professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Brown University's Watson Institute for International Studies, Harvard University and Washington University St. Louis. She has been a Social Innovator-in-Residence and a Visiting Scholar in Babson College's Social Innovation Lab and Entrepreneurship Program; and a SPURS Fellow in Urban Studies and Planning at MIT.  She is a Research Fellow in the Collaborative for Inclusive Urbanism, University of Oregon; a Professional Fellow in Economic Empowerment with the US State Department; and a Fellow of the American Academy in Rome.  She has served as a senior planning consultant for the new Asian University for Women founded in Chittagong, Bangladesh and as a consultant for the new Aga Khan Islamic Art Museum in Toronto.

Hermann received her Ph.D. from Harvard University where her work focused on the urban built environment in the medieval Muslim world and changes driven by medical and political responses to pandemic disease and associated environmental upheaval. She received her MLA from the College of Architecture and Planning at Cornell with a focus on the urban realm.  Prior to her design and urbanism studies, she did graduate work at the School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University where her research focused on tropical diseases in Latin America and their relationship to settlement patterns and densities; choices of building materials and the interior environmental conditions of homes; and the socio-economic well-being of disease-impacted rural communities.

Much of Hermann’s professional practice has focused on South Asia and the countries of Bangladesh, India (West Bengal), and Sri Lanka.  In post-conflict regions of Sri Lanka, the DESINE Lab team is helping to develop a center of design and sustainable practices to assist in building local capacity in creative problem solving, a DIY culture and local entrepreneurship. Hermann’s current research focuses on urbanization through conflict-driven displacement in Sri Lanka; the role of the creative industries in the redevelopment of the war-impacted parts of the country; and ideas of community participation in government-led land-use and urbanization planning processes in the Eastern Province, with particular attention being given to the region’s unique (for Sri Lanka) matrilineal land inheritance system and its implications for a greater role for women in decision making processes.