Landscape architects tackling big issues while creating memorable places
As WithersRavenel celebrates World Landscape Architecture Month, we recently chatted with two of our most experienced professionals about the industry, projects, and making a difference.
Director of Landscape Architecture Courtney Landoll, PLA, ASLA, and Director of Parks and Recreation Brian Starkey, PLA, ASLA, addressed changes in the profession along with challenges and opportunities to make a wider impact.
A commitment to equity and the planet
While a landscape architecture project often involves improvements to a single site, Brian and Courtney are both passionate about the ability of landscape architects to have a wider effect through their work.
“We’re taking a much bigger role in equity and inclusivity and making sure that, in a community, everyone has equal access,” Brian said.
“You hear the terms equitable and inclusive everywhere these days. And for some people it’s just confusing. Boiling it down, it’s simply about making things fair. It doesn’t matter what part of town you live in or your place in society. You should still have access to recreation opportunities as well as access to food and other necessities.”
“We’re constantly trying to raise awareness about the benefits that we can bring, be it benefits to the environment or benefits to people’s health, safety and welfare,” Courtney said.
Another emerging trend: the value placed on environmental sustainability in development, both in public and private projects. “We are seeing more clients coming to us wanting green stormwater infrastructure or wanting native plants,” Courtney said. “They are asking for sustainable solutions, and we’re looking for opportunities to be more sustainable.”
Brian believes that the profession has an opportunity to make a difference when it comes to resiliency and climate change.
“One of the things that that encourages me about the state of the profession, and how others see it, is on a national level landscape architects are taking on much bigger challenges,” Brian said.
“We’re one of those professions that can help reduce the impact of climate change. Nobody is going to stop it. But to help make communities more resilient to weather events is something we can do.”
“We got into landscape architecture because a lot of us want to save the world and also do great design at the same time,” Courtney said.
Another way landscape architects can benefit the planet is through ecological education. Courtney pointed out aspects of some recent WithersRavenel projects that apply, from small touches such as a bird-themed neighborhood, to developments with thousands of homes that are crafted with sustainability emphasized throughout their project process, from initial site selection down to operations and maintenance.
The value of an engaging landscape
One of the challenges Courtney pointed out is convincing developers that the work of landscape architects can help create more valuable dwelling sites.
“While amenities may be one of the top things that helps developers sell their units, it’s often not the number one thing they think of when it comes to where to invest their money,” Courtney said. “So convincing our clients of the value of an amazing courtyard, for example, or an amazing front entry space, or how much plant material can really add to the value of their landscape and their bottom line is part of our role as landscape architects.”
An engaging landscape is also valuable from a parks and recreation perspective. Courtney points out how the COVID-19 pandemic opened the eyes of people who maybe took parks and open space for granted, and the importance of those places. Making them usable, equitable, and memorable is one of the cornerstones of landscape architecture.
Courtney points out that more communities are committing to adding recreational facilities in parts of town where there are none. By aiming to get more people within a 10-minute walk of a park, the health and well-being of communities is positively impacted.
Celebrating the successes
Brian and Courtney both spoke of memorable projects and what motivates them as landscape architects.
Courtney spoke both of past projects and a current WithersRavenel project in Raleigh, Swing Racquet & Paddle.
“The project is going to really elevate racquet sports in the area,” she said. In addition to many clay and hardcourts for tennis, both covered and uncovered, the facility will also include dedicated space for pickleball and a sport growing in popularity called ‘padel.’ The site will include partnerships with North Carolina State University and tennis equipment maker Wilson, along with an entertainment and dining complex that will have a celebrity chef.
For Brian, a project that is wrapping up will get its first moment in the sun. Civitan Park in Kernersville will have its grand reopening May 13. The renovated park will include a redesigned walking trail and ballfield, tennis courts, pickleball courts, a basketball court, shelters, challenge course, and a fitness court.
“It’s rewarding to see people enjoying those spaces. Kids engaged in healthy competition. Big, smiling faces on the playground,” Brian said. “That’s what motivates me: the opportunity to create great places where people have good times and make memories.”
Looking toward the future
Another exciting aspect of Courtney and Brian’s jobs is working with the next generation of landscape architects and designers at WithersRavenel, creating memorable projects that not only serve our clients and communities, but also consider sustainability, equity, and public health.
“We’ve got some real talent, young creative talent,” Brian said. “It’s motivational to be able to work with that team.”
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