Spring is here with sunshine, greening trees and foliage blooming everywhere! As we spend more time outside, the thoughtful work of our Land Planners, Landscape Architects and Arborists is on full display. Let’s get to know the christopher team that meets the challenges of site constraints, permitting, and budgets, while addressing the user experience and making each project unique and creative.
We asked them a few questions and here’s what they had to say:
What led you to pursue a career in land planning/landscape architecture?
Colin: I have been obsessed with Frank Lloyd Wright since I was a kid, and in my second year as an architecture student at VT I learned about landscape architecture and talked to the Dean. I love the idea of sculpting the land and creating work that is dynamic and can improve over time, as well as change with the seasons, as opposed to buildings, which are typically at their peak condition right when they are constructed, and in a constant, slow, state of decline thereafter.
Jana: I always loved outdoors and nature, especially trees. Growing up in our small town, we had an English park where I loved to go and spend time with my friends. My favorite trees in this park were very large oaks and sycamores. Also, I had some influence from my family. My father, uncles and my brother are engineers, some of my cousins went to medical school and some to Technical University. Ultimately, I went to Technical University where I studied land planning and landscape architecture.
Tess: As a kid, I loved being outdoors, building forts out of whatever I could find and pretend foraging for wild things. As I got older, I stayed interested in the outdoors and wanted to go into something design-related, which led me to landscape architecture. In college, I was amazed by all the possibilities for careers that I never knew about like industrial design, welding, agroforestry, or art history. I considered changing my major a number of times, but what kept me in landscape architecture was the realization that it can actually include all of these professions! So much complexity goes into the design of the world around us, being a landscape architect means I can be a perpetual learner.
Steve: My entry into the field was somewhat happenstance as I didn’t study landscape architecture or urban planning in college. My career started in local government land use regulation where I realized I’d prefer to work on the private side where creativity was more useful and I could be proactive in developing the community I lived in – as opposed to be on the government side and the work entailed being more reactive to the market.
Jason: I am fascinated by how landscape architecture and planning has an impact on the way people experience the environment they inhabit every day. It is a highly subjective craft that is beholden to many different rules and regulations, making it a great challenge, and a bit of a puzzle. Being able to work on design puzzles for each unique site is a challenge that I never tire of taking on.
Allison: I was really inspired to pursue an arborist career after taking a dendrology class when I was at Virginia Tech. My class spent hours every week tromping through the forests around Blacksburg. I loved learning everything that there was to learn about trees, and have continued to enjoy educating myself. I have also always enjoyed spending time outside, and a career in arboriculture allows me to do that regularly!
Laurie Beth: I learned about Landscape Architecture when applying to universities and knew it was a great fit that combined many of my interests. Art, design, and plants were my greatest interests growing up and I still have a few of my own garden designs and floorplans.
Josie: I became a Landscape Designer because it is really interesting to discover different types of projects and plants, using varieties of layouts to present the best way to design the project.
Garrett: Growing up I always loved driving by an open field and imagining the possibilities that could be developed. One of my main passions is golf so typically I always visualized a golf course upon the land. I decided to go into design and started out in architecture with the idea that I would pursue a more focused discipline in landscape architecture at a masters level.
David: The opportunities of landscape architecture led me to my present career in the field. We can develop a variety of projects such as urban design, public parks, open spaces, residential design, restorations of environments and mixed used/commercial designs. I love the fact that we can bring creativity and sustainability into each design while meeting the unique needs of the community and the client.
Lou: I am not a land planner or landscape architect. I was educated as a civil engineer and licensed as a civil engineer. However, working on the engineering aspects of land development projects I quickly became aware that it is important for an engineer to have a working knowledge and understanding of the land planning and landscape architecture portion of a project. When I first started at christopher we didn’t have in-house land planning/landscape architecture. We generally worked with other consultants for these specialties. While we worked with some very good companies, there wasn’t always a good understanding and appreciation for the other disciplines criteria, especially true when communication was lacking. Once christopher brought the land planning/landscape architecture in-house I think our clients and projects benefited immensely from having all the capabilities under one roof.
Which project are you most proud of?
Jana: It is hard to pick just one project, but one of the biggest planned development/rezoning projects I worked on was in Loudoun County that involved over 3.8 million square feet of commercial office and retail buildings, residential units, fire and rescues station, schools, automobile service station, hotel, theater and 54 acre lake. This site is also very unique because our development plan converts 335 acres of existing quarry into massive mixed-use development and provides environment where people can live, work and play.
Tess: A while ago I worked on a new neighborhood development that had a preserved stone house from the 1800s on the property, and I got to help design a park around it. I got to research the history of the building, where I found out it used to be a kind of tavern where people got together to eat and drink! What a perfect thing to turn into a new gathering place for the community. I also got to look into historic materials and fencing that really brought this park to life and created the unique space that this feature deserved.
Josie: I joined christopher consultants for only a few months but I have already worked on several projects since then. The first project I started with is still my favorite. It is really fun to do several layouts to meet the final goal.
Jason: I am most proud of a rezoning project that involved immense regulatory and social obstacles to overcome to get the proposed residential development to work. It was a real challenge to not only create a design that worked and was accepted, but was also to create a place that people would want to live.
Steve: At christopher, my favorite project would have to be a major mixed-use development with student housing next to the GMU Sci Tech campus. The groundbreaking is April 22nd, which corresponds with GMU’s 50th anniversary. A great deal went into this project – lots of coordination with other consultants, county staff, client and lots of plan preparation, meetings, etc.
Garrett: I am relatively new to the professional world so it was also extremely gratifying to see one of the maps I created for a project shown in InsideNoVA.
Laurie Beth: I have worked on several affordable and workforce housing projects, in various roles, and it is always fulfilling to be part of a project that benefits underserved communities.
Daniel: There was a residential neighborhood in Great Falls, VA that involved a long and winding approval process, requiring over a dozen submissions and numerous meetings with the citizens of Great Falls. In the end, the process produced a project that was improved throughout each iteration with great amenities for not only new residents but existing residents in the vicinity of the project.
What is something people don’t know about land planning/landscape architecture?
John: Photographer Charles O’Rear’s image Bliss, from 1996, was used as the default image for the Windows operating system in 2001. The photo was from Sonoma County, California, and is probably one of the post popular landscape photos.
Daniel: The breadth of the profession probably isn’t well understood. Even within our team at christopher, we have professionals who are exceptionally skilled at interpreting zoning ordinances, excel at designing hardscapes like plazas and pool decks, and others that are certified arborists skilled in tree identification. We are often involved in every stage of the project, from initial concepts all the way through construction, so we touch every part of a project on a regular basis.
Colin: That just a fraction of what Landscape Architects do is planting design. We’re creating places for people to live their lives by turning our clients’ visions into reality. That means leading the design on projects large and small, forming a relationship with the client and giving intensive thought on how to achieve their proposed program, consideration of who will be using the space and how they will be using it, and integration of both natural and man-made systems. On most projects we’re involved in, we become the jack-of-all-trades on a project; having a bit of knowledge of each discipline positions us to be able to tie together the site planning, architecture, exterior spaces, site engineering, and other consultants such as structural and electrical engineers, and ultimately the GC as we move into construction.
Tess: I feel like the biggest thing that people don’t know is how broad landscape architecture can be and how much expertise it can encompass! Landscape architecture can be anything from designing little pocket parks in cities that regulate humidity levels, create positive microclimates, and give a nice place to sit down for lunch; to the design of large nature preserves that consider the technicalities of animal migration, river flow restoration, and prescribed burns.
Jason: Most things! I would say that it is all around us all of the time, but for most people it is often only noticed when it is absent from a place. There is something fundamentally necessary about having aspects of nature (i.e. landscaping) embedded in the places we live, work and recreate. Land planning is critical in this process as well as ensures that the foundational design of a place can reinforce and accentuate the landscaping and natural elements there.
Allison: Trees can live for an extremely long time if they are never damaged by external factors such as disease, drought, or weather; there is a bristlecone pine in California that is almost 5,000 years old!
Josie: My friends always ask me what do you usually do during your work? Planting trees? Yes! Conceptual layouts? Yes!
Jana: Land planning is a complex process where lots of regulations have to be followed based on the jurisdiction where the site is located. First, we start with analyzing the site’s existing conditions and make sure environmentally sensitive areas are preserved. We have to meet jurisdictional requirements, adhere to the development goals of the city/county, and meet client needs.
Garrett: I always think about how when I was in architecture, we were told that the client budget would be used on the building (the main point of decision for this practice) while whatever was left could be used on some simple landscaping. I feel in many cases while the building may house the primary program of a site, the outside aesthetic of the overall site typically should outweigh some of that from the interior. While the interior may make a client the profit desired, the exterior makes the perception of the overall project for the average viewer.
Do you have a favorite LA/urban design project that you’ve seen while traveling or in photos that has been inspiring?
John: During travel, one of the most picturesque experiences for me was driving through 17-Mile Drive, which is a scenic road through the Monterey Peninsula and Pebble Beach which is adjacent to the Pacific coastline, that passes various scenic attractions, residential mansions, golf courses and vegetation preserves.
Jason: Lately, I have been inspired by an urban planning project called “Culdesac Tempe,” to be constructed in Tempe, Arizona. The design team, Opticos, has beautifully molded land planning, architecture, and landscape design into seemingly one congruent whole. The design is a clean sheet look at how a dense infill residential development can be structured in a way to prioritize the pedestrian, as opposed to the car. I think the way the site was analyzed, and the design conceptualized is inspiring for even more simplistic projects, because it illustrates how important the connection is between land planning, landscape and architectural design – if one of those elements is missing, you cannot successfully implement the others.
Allison: One of my favorite places has always been Muir Woods, outside of San Francisco. The sheer size of the redwood trees is incredible! (It’s not something I would classify as a ‘project’ but provides me with similar inspiration that a landscape architect would find in a landscaping project).
Steve: The Big Dig in Boston is an impressive project, though massively over-budget, that reclaimed a tremendous amount of public space and vastly improved the city streetscape.
Josie: I would like to say High Line is my favorite project in US. It keeps the history, connects with the city and uses landscape design to make New York city more livable.
Lou: Again from an engineers standpoint one of my all-time favorites is the Golden Gate Bridge. I have the pleasure of driving over that bridge twice a day for 3 years. Thinking about what it took to build it initially and seeing how majestic it looks today was and is inspiring.
Garrett: I have never been, but one of my favorite projects is CityDeck in Greenbay. The project basically formed seating overlooking the Fox River in the way of bending the wood deck into different configurations for various ways of seating. I actually tried to incorporate this concept in a bench project I did in Buffalo where I took this idea and used pallets to reconstruct it in the form of a singular bench.
David: My favorite LA/urban design project is Cheonggye River Source Point by Mikyung Kim Design. I did not have a chance to visit there but it was great to see their process, design and final construction through their website. They really brought the culture, community needs and environment restoration all-in-one within a limited area.