Landscape architects transform spaces into places

What’s your favorite outdoor place? A park or playground? The shore of a river or lake? Maybe a hiking or biking trail? Your own backyard?

When we think about these places, we anticipate the joy they bring. Moments of respite and renewal. Playing with our children and hanging out with friends. Taking the dog to play fetch or getting a little exercise ourselves. But rarely do we consider all the pieces that had to come together to create them.

SCJ Studio’s Mark Garff, PLA, ASLA, helped a Mercer Island resident transform their waterfront estate. The design includes spaces to both relax and entertain and according to the client “took our waterfront property from an unimaginative, hard-to-use yard to a beautiful, serene space where we can enjoy the outdoors in any weather!”

April is World Landscape Architecture Month and we’re celebrating the critical role landscape architects play in transforming spaces into the places we love.

A landscape architect’s role is much broader than many realize. Beyond choosing which plants should go where, these talented professionals design rainwater storage and subsurface drainage, research and choose the best hardscape (think paths, walls, and benches), create riparian restoration zones, and can provide valuable insight to the site planning process. Whether developing plans for entire communities or creating intimate spaces for a family, they provide thoughtful designs that are sensitive to the community, the site, and the budget.

Chris Overdorf, ASLA, PLA, understands firsthand the magic his profession brings to a project. As our Wenatchee principal landscape architect, he says, “We are a dynamic profession that can read landscapes, understand the multitude of ecologies at play, respect the cultural histories and values of all parties, and see connections other professionals might miss.” Our teams create places people love to be drawn to – places that love them back.

SCJ’s landscape architecture team members provided extensive site development design services for Salish Middle School in Lacey. They designed a sustainable landscape and irrigation system, the main entry plaza, student gathering areas, and hard-court play spaces, among other features.

How do they do this? They work with clients to understand their hopes and desires for a space and then spend time learning the dynamics of the geophysical processes at work there. Where is the water going and why? How do the wind and other elements create microclimates? What is the sun doing as it moves across the landscape? What flora and fauna live, have lived, or want to live here? These are some of the questions they consider as they ensure that the places they help create are as functional as they are beautiful.

Collaboration and integration with other SCJ disciplines is key to designing and creating successful projects. Angie Vos, ASLA, a landscape designer in our Lacey office, shares, “When I came to SCJ Alliance, I was thrilled at the prospect of collaborating with other disciplines. There are so many talented people here – the potential is enormous.”

East Wenatchee Gateway Park design.

The earlier an architect is included in developing a site, the more benefit they can provide. Alyse Wright, ASLA, landscape designer at SCJ Studio in Ballard, stressed, “That’s the best way to ensure seamless interaction between function and design.” These early suggestions can improve safety, reduce maintenance costs, draw building occupants outside for improved health, and more.

The East Wenatchee Gateway Park project is a great example of multi-discipline collaboration. After extensive public outreach regarding what to do with the area, the landscape architecture team developed a conceptual plan for a new park that would be used as both a trailhead and an event venue. The designs include a paved plaza for community events and parades, a raised platform for a stage, and tiered concrete seating. The landscape team developed the master plan for the city, then worked with the SCJ engineering, planning, and transportation teams in Lacey and Wenatchee to develop the final design and construction drawings.

“The practice of making meaningful spaces is as much about incorporating hard sciences as it is thinking about social and behavioral sciences,” shares SCJ Studio landscape designer Jennie Li. “We work to understand and anticipate the strengths and barriers of a place and then use them to create a welcoming, engaging experience.”

Crescent Bar Recreation Area after the SCJ landscape architecture team incorporated trails, picnic areas, benches, playground, basketball courts, a riparian restoration area and beach areas into the design.

Another great transformation story is the Crescent Bar Recreation Area in Grant County, Washington. The SCJ landscape architecture team developed the site plan which included trails, picnic areas, benches, playground, basketball courts, riparian restoration area, and beach areas, and then worked closely with the SCJ civil engineers as they designed grading, drainage, storm drainage, sewer, and utilities.

Check out more of our landscape architecture projects here.

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