Jill Primak provided a unique perspective to the many paths that landscape architects can pursue. However, I did not expect to talk with someone who deals exclusively with one type of design. While many of the landscape architects we have talked to do many types of landscape design, how Primak deals with only playscapes demonstrates how a singular focus can yield a multitude of results and rewards.
Although she worked in a traditional landscape architecture firm, the stress of the firm coupled with her mood disorder did not foster a healthy environment for her. After moving back home to Nebraska, she connected with Nature Explore in a serendipitous transition. As she stated, her lack of knowledge about playscapes was intimidating at first, but over time she adapted to the complexities of designing playscapes. This was particularly encouraging to hear because as many entry-level designers enter the work field, there is trepidation about not being equipped with the necessary skills. Therefore, hearing her admit to the her initial lack of knowledge put to rest some of my anxiety as I begin my summer internship. All the challenges that Nature Explore face, such as regulations with safety and risk, making conceptual designs very clear in order to mitigate risk, and keeping the fluidity of design by doing conceptual designs via the analog requires a patience and attention to detail that is not practiced in all design.
Although her path in landscape architecture may not be as sexy as some of the work done in New York or Boston firms, the quality of work and clients that Primak and Nature Explore cater to are just as important and necessary.
Kevin Burke is a man of a high pedigree. With a long-list of experience as a landscape architect, I was not surprised that he is the overseer of the Atlanta Beltline’s construction. However, it is his long-list of diverse experiences that raises questions about the evolution of his career. As he stated, he graduated university at the end of the oil recession, when business was booming. After working at his first job, he started his own group because he thought he could do his former firm’s work, but better. Unfortunately, economic disruptions caused him to close down his firm. Further down his career path, he seemed to be in and out of firms rather rapidly. Whatever the reasoning for his short-term appointments were, one thing that stuck with me about his was his intrepid personality.
His knowledge and abilities as a leader were demonstrated as he discussed the process of the Beltline’s construction. With a goal of 30 miles of streetcar transit and 46 miles of improved streetscapes, overseeing the design process from the client’s side demands a skill that not all designers possess. Although he does not operate too much under the design side, he is very skilled at seeing the overall day-to-day design operations of such a massive project. I’m glad we had the opportunity to sit down have a conversation with Burke. Although I do not have an immediate desire to be a project manager of such large-scale, it is encouraging to see the various career paths that landscape architects can explore down the road.
Upon immediate departure from Knoxville to Philadelphia, I came to the realization that I had not seen many “high caliber” landscapes. Aside from walking along the High Line during my year in New York, many of the precedents that I have studied during my time in the MLA program have been examined only through the digital. After cataloguing the various firms and projects that would be covered during our trip, I began to remember why I chose to study landscape architecture: experiencing movement within the landscape. Now that I am equipped with a more critical mind for design, my excitement about the trip’s itinerary intensified.
As primer for the site visits, hearing from and talking with OLIN studio, Andropogon, and WRT established a deeper connection with their superb Philadelphia-based projects, as well as nation/world-wide projects. A benefit from these visits was their deconstruction of various projects. During the OLIN visit, hearing about the process of reusing excavated land to construct a parking lot by the Philadelphia Museum of Art gave a fuller understanding of projects specificities. Moreover, I think the benefits of OLIN’s in-person process presentation provided excitement to a project that might have been an otherwise banal overview online.
Furthermore, I was somewhat surprised by the diversity of the offices that we visited. While the projects ranged in aesthetics and location, the workplace feel of the offices ranged in demeanor. At Andropogon, there was a warmness to the office and the employees. Exposed piping and hanging plants gave a familiarity to the open-floor plan of the office. The welcoming aesthetic of the office also showed amongst the employees. This was exemplified when a principal stopped in during our visit and talked candidly with us and showed us around; they blended the high quality work with high quality attitudes. Transitioning from Andropogon to OLIN Studio was a gradual shift in office culture and work quality. Situated on the top floor of a business building overlooking the Liberty Bell, OLIN’s studio represented a hybrid between Andropogon’s vibe and a more contemporary, corporate environment. Other than the overall atmosphere of the office, I enjoyed the thoroughness of their project presentation.
Thomas Woltz’ exuberant personality is wildly contagious. From his fashioned suit to his elegant words, his presence is greatly reflective of his personal and business success. After his life’s overview, three things stuck out from his speech: saying yes, transparency, and generalism.
Saying “Yes!”, is such a loaded demand. In the field of design, where nothing is certain, the act of accepting challenges and taking less travelled paths can be frighteningly daunting. But to hear Woltz describe that his tuning as a landscape architect was a result of saying “yes” to the uncertain–such as when he started under Warren Byrd’s sole reign–told us that it is ok to be uncertain about a designer’s path.
Secondly, he describes a necessity for transparency within landscape architecture. From his own firm, he believes that NBW stands for something unique, and because of that, its clients know what they are getting. To Woltz, transparency stands for its openness of mission statement and permeability of skills and employees within the office. As he describes, his firm is “one big happy family.”
Lastly, a transparency within NBW leads to his attraction to generalism. As important as a highly specialized professional can be, the ability to research and understand something at a breadth of levels is crucial in design. Between the historical deep-dive of a site and maintaining intentional relationships with clients, there needs to be an awareness and understanding of context in both realms.
Learning about Sasaki’s history and office culture from Laura Marett provided an introduction to the dynamics of a larger, multi-departmental office. What tethers the divisions in the office, such as the research and project sides, is the collaborative framework laid by Hideo Sasaki when starting the firm over 60 years ago. As Sasaki quoted, “we do nothing alone”, I found to be particularly resonating in my attraction to the field. By allowing intentional collaboration across divisions, a sense of medium specificity is avoided within the firm. Moreover, while Marett was drawn to a particular project by Sasaki when deciding to work there, she also stated a similarity in the collaborative nature of the firm to that of the culture during her graduate schooling at the GSD.
Considering Sasaki’s big focus on campus development, it ties into the collaborative ethos of the firm. Working with academic institutions echoes and structuralizes the firm’s desire for socially permeable landscapes. Not just in a project development form, but that collaborative ethos is seen in Marett’s own work as an adjunct at various universities while maintaining status at Sasaki. How Sasaki has created a bridge between academical and practice cultures shows that a symbiotic relationship between the two can yield great benefits in the struggle for landscape architectural relevancy.
Although presented at an accelerated rate, Monchaux’s breathless lecture portrayed his knowledge and work in an appropriate fashion. The first part of the lecture Monchaux presented the exhibit that he has recently become notable for, “Local Code”. Looking at San Francisco’s unaccepted / undocumented streets, the resurfacing of unseen or forgotten nodes in San Francsico produced a thought-provoking exhibit that coincedentally helped give clarity to my current studio work. Moreover, Monchaux’s “Local Code” demonstrates a shift in the field of [landscape] architecture toward an awareness and understanding of emerging technologies. Specifically, as parametric modeling and GIS software is becoming more efficient than existing practices, “Local Code” demonstrates the positive applicability that these new technologies can accomplish, such as understanding space and quantifying vast, individual activities across sites into a singular database.
In the second half of the lecture, Monchaux thoroughly investigates the influences of today’s parametrics by investigating the life and work of Gordon Matta Clark. Although initially difficult to understand how the extensive recap connected to Monchaux’s own work in “Local Code”, I think that Matta Clark’s notion of being the “anti-architect” opened the field of architecture to an unconventional way of thinking about form and space. Thus, through this evolution in architecture brought forth by Matta Clark, eventually the way architects began to physically formalize these ideas give rise and prominence to the ways parametrics can effectively engage and answer these ideas/questions.
A realm of academia that is seldom discussed is the history of a professor. Moreover, how and why a professor got to be where they are today seems to evade the discourse between faculty and student. One thing that I related to in the lecture was Collett’s initial interest in the built environment as an experience of positive engagement. Moreover, Collett’s lecture reached out past the classic sense of design by engaging the unseen facets of a landscape architect. This was explicitly demonstrated in the courses and projects that Collett has been involved in at the University of Tennessee. Whether it’s engaging various communities and agencies along the Tennessee River in his River Studio or engaging other professionals in the practice of landscape architecture in his Professional Practice class, one thing that remains at the core of Collett’s pedagogy is an iawarenss for improving environmental quality and how various outlets can achieve that goal. Collett’s involvement with publications, such as “Hydro Lit”, echoes his passion for increasing environmental quality – in this case by means of an East Tennessee water study – and how this extension of research can be developed into a real-world application. Collet’s consideration of the macro and micro of landscape architecture enriches the field and strengthens the quality of curriculum and students at UT.