Landscape Architecture is a broad discipline requiring a vast professional skill set to be successful. You must be able to analyze and respond to everything from knowing how people walk, bike, and drive around to what views will exist 20 years from now when trees mature. You need to be able to predict what people will use a space for while simultaneously appreciating the aesthetic that will appeal to the end user. You must be able to understand landscape design from the scale of regional neighborhoods and adjacent cities down to construction techniques of a seat wall and know how changes in the details will relate to the whole. It is to say the least a complicated profession.
It is not uncommon for some of these skills to go unused in day to day activities in a busy Landscape Architecture firm. Not due to anything intentional, but more to the speed at which work moves through the office and the various people that have a hand in it. One person does the planning, another does the design, and yet another handles the details of implementation. At K&W this is no different. It speaks to the success of the company and the client relationships we have built.
One way for us as practicing designers to keep our senses sharpened is to participate in design competitions. So we come to the Portland Stitch competition. It was a small charette to design a concept for a small park capping a sunken highway with the intent to reconnect long disassociated neighborhoods. It was an exercise that seemed to have a simple outcome, design a park, see if you win the competition. But in truth it had a much broader more important purpose and result. It made us realize how much we don’t necessarily know the skills and talents of the people we work with. While we see them every day, team style hierarchy can keep us from really knowing the person at the next desk.
So we met once a week, first bringing together our research to understand the history and culture of a neighborhood and city unfamiliar to us, then to share various concept designs, and finally to flush out our ideas into a presentable project. We remembered those lessons from school about site analysis and design themes that we’d tucked away and we reactivated our collaborative brains. The end result is a team of designers that remembers the importance of making sure the details we pour over fit the design intent of the spaces we work in and a greater appreciation of the people we work with everyday.
The process wasn’t simple. Of course if the solution were an obvious one, anyone could be a landscape architect. The competition was open ended with very little direction. We were given a site size (200’ x 200’), told the general motivation for this particular park space, and given the rules for the final product (6 – 11”x17” sheets max). The vagueness of this set of directions meant we on the team spent much of our time discussing how much feasibility should be a part of our design. Can this be built? How much would this cost? How conceptual should our final product be? We decided to find a middle ground between feasibility and completely conceptual design.
The main feature of the design…”the creek bed”, started as a glass floor that you could stand on and see the highway traffic moving under the park. This would capture movement and connect the history, reality and future of the space. As we discussed feasibility, it was decided to pull that back slightly to an under-lit glass tile that would allude to the history but be much more build-able in another example, during the research phase of the project, we learned that the neighborhood had a history of being home to Chinese immigrants that would often have vegetable gardens for growing vegetables they had brought with them. This was a concept we followed for a while looking at Chinese vegetables as landscape plants and designs that paid homage to a patchwork of garden plots. But as this was developed, it felt too specific to meet the needs of the current neighborhood and the need to reconnect to downtown.
Of course as we look at the project in its entirety, we do what all good designers do and see things we could do better. These projects highlight areas in our personal and group skill sets to continue developing. That, of course, is the entire purpose of this type of work. We are striving to connect with colleagues, develop under-utilized skills and to grow professionally. Portland Stitch served for us as a first step in doing just that.
A little about the Author of this post – Peter Caldwell
Having shared in the joys of marriage and fatherhood, Peter now wades through the vast layers of knowledge attributable to a career in the most misunderstood of professions. Somewhere between a lawn mower and a master planner of the universe, he now sews the seeds of future landscapes and community in which he designs for…
Humor aside, joining Kudela & Weinheimer Landscape Architects in March 2014, Peter came to us from Purdue University in Indiana. Peter recently completed his Master of Ecological Sciences & Engineering, which compliments his BSLA (Bachelor of Science in Landscape Architecture), both from Purdue University. Peter has an entrepreneurial spirit having had his own real estate appraisal company, co-founding “World Help Solutions” (currently based in Kansas City), and starting a dog grooming salon with his wife Andrea. Father of two sons Noah (14) & Ian (6), the three of them are Lego fanatics and love building & launching model rockets. Peter is a lifelong student and loves observing people around the world to learn what is common and celebrate what is different. He is settling into his new home and life here in Texas and spends his weekends with the family exploring dog parks (for their 4 dogs) and visiting local restaurants, parks and activities.