Interview by Linsi Brownson, Spark Collaborative
I sat down with John Feldman, the founder and Principal of Ecocentrix Landscape Architecture in Los Angeles, to challenge my own understanding of what a landscape architect does, and get a professional perspective on an interesting industry.
L: Los Angeles is a city where people often introduce themselves as “what they do,” so you’ve probably had your fair share of explaining your job over the years. What do you think is the general understanding of your industry or niche within the luxury residential industry?
J: Well, maybe I can start to answer that with a story. I once was the studio director in the landscape architecture department of a prominent architecture firm. One day, in a roundtable, the principal architect described landscape architecture as the “parsley around the pig!”
I was floored, had an immediately mirrored response, but thought “if our own company doesn’t even understand what we do…”
L: Wow, that’s pretty insulting.
J: Yeah, needless to say, this in part fuels our role of forever educators. But I do think that the general perception is that our industry is focused on aesthetics, when in reality, the aesthetics are something we don’t really worry about.
What I mean is that aesthetics are a given. Of course we’re going to make things look good! But we’re actually architects, our education and licensing system is focused on structural and technical components of a job site.
Any element of our design, such as lighting or plant selection or water features, those are all the “pretty things” that get photographed and showcased, so it’s fair that people expect that from us. These are certainly parts of our expertise, but the real art in our job is designing the environment so that it seamlessly contains those elements in a usable, desirable way.
L: As someone with an interior design background, I completely get that there’s more to it than picking “pretty things.” But what really makes your job so complex?
J: Well, it is complex, but I would say it’s better defined as holistic. One of the first things we do on a project is a feasibility study, which is basically looking at bare land (sometimes) and determining all the conditions and what the site is capable of. All of the design, specs and building is based on what the client wants, and how it can be done according to the site’s nuances.
A good example, since we live in L.A., is a home in “the hills.” You can’t build things the same way there as you would along the coast. The terrain is different, the weather is different…that might seem obvious to say but it brings up a lot factors for us.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of our interview –the truth about teamwork