I’m excited to introduce you to Charlotte. She’s another friend from my undergraduate days in the architecture school at UVA. In fact, she’s one of my first friends in architecture. An impressive gal I’m proud to stay in touch with and see almost every year since college. Charlotte is not only incredibly smart, she’s also super sweet and modest. She lives and works in Boston, one of my favorite cities. While being a very fun (and funny!) person to hang out with, she’s also very serious about her work. Sometime after working in architecture for a while, Charlotte decided to turn her focus towards landscape architecture. And while I don’t consider myself completely ignorant of this field, there are a lot of nuances I’m not familiar with. This interview was absolutely eye-opening to me as far as what a landscape architect deals with over the course of a project. Just as I know a strong building comes together as a result of a team of folks working together to solve all the issues, so does the landscape that surrounds it. I can’ appreciate a well-conceived landscape design, and I hope after reading what Charlotte has to say, you’ll think a little bit differently about the way the environment around you is put together.
I’m proud to bring this interview to you not only to share a good friend with you, but to share the point of a landscape architect with you. I think you’ll love hearing her perspective and I know you’ll learn a lot- I did!
Tell us a little about yourself- where you’re from, where you went to school, what you are doing now, etc.
Thanks for asking me for an interview, Rachel! I was born and raised in Northern Virginia. I attended the University of Virginia, where I received a Bachelor of Science in Architecture in 2002. London was my next stop — I was hugely lucky to be able to spend two years working as an architectural assistant there. In 2006 I got my Master of Landscape Architecture from the GSD at Harvard, and I have since been plugging away at Landworks Studio in Boston, where I have recently been made an Associate.
How did you get interested in architecture?
My brother tells me that when I was little I told everyone in earshot that I was going to be an architect. It’s hard to put your finger on these things — I did a lot of drawing, making things, building Lego-lands. Architecture (in its broadest terms) seemed to be the inevitable focus of my studies and career just because it applied to so many of my interests as a kid.
What projects are you currently working on?
At Landworks I am fortunate to be working on a wide range of projects (and a lot of them) — from the planting of a large highway ‘gateway’ on the Cape, to a small and sleek plaza at Northeastern University.
Hyannis Gateway Concept Design
Worcester Visitor Center, concept site plan study
11 West Broadway context
11 West Broadway
Boston Design Center Entry Court
Fire Pit at Harbor Hotel Provincetown
What do you think is the biggest misconception about landscape architects or landscape architecture?
Landscape architecture has a bad rap. Or no rap at all! While most people generally understand the profession of architecture, ‘landscape architecture’ often draws blank stares or excited outcries like ‘oh you are so lucky you work outside!’ Well, my colleagues and I are hardly ever outside — I’m outdoors as much as an architect.
I think of landscape architecture as a very broad discipline, with the natural sciences, social sciences, and the arts as its umbrella. Most landscape architects I know can apply their skill-sets, and design-thinking to large and small scales. They know about ecology, urban infrastructure, and cultural issues on one hand, and they fret about expansion joints, bark mildew, and design fees on the other!
What’s your most memorable project?
A border-crossing located in Maine on the Saint Johns River. It hasn’t made it into Construction Documents (long story) but for me those months of work meant a sharp learning curve, a complicated project team, and a clear illustration of the importance of a strong landscape proposal. We worked hand in hand with the architect and the rest of the team to locate the building and organize traffic and inspection areas while presenting the public with a welcoming image — all within the constraints of high security. The building and landscape in this case have to work together seamlessly.
What landscape architect or architects inspire you and why?
There are so many inspiring landscape architects hard at work right now! West 8, Field Ops, MVVA to name a few of the big ones. They are not only doing a killer job at what some people would consider the traditional work of landscape architects, they, in collaboration with some inspired clients, are expanding the realm of the profession; they are using landscape strategies to inform the design or re-design of huge urban areas.
What is your favorite city for landscape architecture?
Again, I can’t choose just one. How about London for its humongous urban park network located smack in the city center; Amsterdam for its trains/bikes/parks/trees thanks to its centuries-old tradition of city planning; and Paris because it’s just so damn pretty — and it’s got some good examples of contemporary landscape architecture to boot.
What work of landscape architecture would you most like to visit?
Toronto’s waterfront is undergoing some major changes right now… I would actually love to be a part of any of these revitalization projects. One day that waterfront is going to be a major destination for tourism, business, recreation — and a great example of contemporary landscape design.
If you weren’t a landscape architect, what other career path would you have taken?
I love the US mail system (see Lego-land, above — it’s all related somehow) — I would have tried to become the Postmistress General.
What, if anything, would you change about landscape architectural education?
In general I think landscape education in this country is getting more and more interesting as the profession evolves. I do think that its possible though that schools are putting too much emphasis on design tools rather than helping students learn to think critically. The fact that so many students are leaving school with digital skills and little hand-drawing skills makes me think that they are not being asked to think through a problem through drawing. And the fastest way to think through drawing is by hand.
Thanks, Charlotte! So good to hear from you.