Lifescapes International

Founder/CEO Don Brinkerhoff Passes, Leaving Behind a Legacy of Amazing Work

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It is with a heavy heart that we announce the passing of our Co- Founder/CEO, Don Brinkerhoff, FASLA. How do you summarize a 69-year career in just a few paragraphs and do it justice?  You can’t. Don was legendary. He will be remembered in the hearts and minds of those he touched, those he mentored, and those he worked with, including our Lifescapes International team. His legacy will live on in the countless memories made every day by the people who visit the hundreds of projects he designed.

Don began his illustrious career in landscape architecture at the age of 16. Then, he attended Cal Poly Pomona, graduating in 1952 with a degree in Ornamental Horticulture. During a time of financial hardship, Don, thanks to his favorite teacher Howard Boltz, applied for and received a scholarship that helped him complete his studies. He was forever grateful for that significant kindness and, for the rest of his career, he contributed to Cal Poly Pomona’s Endowment with three ”Don and Barbara Brinkerhoff Scholarships,” and also established a substantial unrestricted scholarship, the “Donald Carl Brinkerhoff Scholarship” which is the largest offered at the college to date; it recognizes the need for exceptional, financially-challenged students to benefit in the same way he did.

After 5 years working for others, he received his Landscape Architecture license in 1957, establishing his own firm in 1958. North American Aviation’s Gwen Henry took a chance on him in 1962, to create an environment which provided highly stressed scientists a calm, verdant setting in which to solve challenging problems. That project grew into dozens of residential and masterplan projects throughout Orange County and beyond.

Still lacking an in-depth liberal arts awareness, he closed his business in 1965, took a 2-1/2 year study/work “around the world” sabbatical (with his family), washing up on the shores of California in 1968, broke but rich in experience.

He believed in designing bold solutions with elements of surprise along with “theatrical” combinations of softscape and hardscape. Inspired by his world travels, his goal was to create magical, memorable places people enjoy, hence the Lifescapes International mantra, “We Create Gardens People Love.”  He always said if he happened to follow behind a visitor at one of his many projects and overheard them say, “Gee, Gertrude, aren’t you glad we’re here?” that he had done a great job, which was all the praise he needed.

In 1986, he had the fortunate experience of interviewing with Steve Wynn about a new project on the Las Vegas Strip, ultimately called The Mirage, a resort unlike anything the town had seen. That meeting was the beginning of a 35-year long relationship. Always the risk-taker, Steve Wynn was open to innovation, letting Don subsequently create an ever-changing Conservatory at Bellagio, a 140’ high mountain at Wynn Las Vegas, and a crisp, contemporary garden at Encore, to name a few. With that portfolio under his belt, he would go on to design more than 50 casino resorts in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, and around the world.

Admiring Bellagio, Rick Caruso asked Don to design The Grove in Los Angeles (which led to many more projects), forever improving lifestyle-shopping centers and contemporary mixed-use projects. Bellagio also intrigued Tishman Speyer to talk to Lifescapes about designing the Rockefeller Center Channel Gardens, which was a 3-1/2 year-long relationship.

Don insisted on close collaboration with owners whose participation is essential during concept design, and he encouraged clients to use physical models to reflect the design intent. His motto was “I love BIG TREES,” which provide instant maturity, and a sense of time and place for a property right from the opening date.

Don was a family man first, widower of Barbara (who co-founded Lifescapes International with him), his four children Marty, Julie, Karen and Christie (who superseded him in heaven by a few weeks), 12 grandchildren and 27 great-grandchildren and counting….

Don also knew that his legacy would live on at Lifescapes in the leadership he created and inspired in the executive senior team of Julie Brinkerhoff-Jacobs (President/CFO), Dan Trust (SVP/COO), Roger Voettiner (Vice President of Horticulture) and Andrew Kreft (Director of Design). Working closely with him for decades, he entrusted the future of the firm to them without worry.

The expanded team of Senior Principals, Principals, Directors, design production managers and staff, along with the highly valued administrative team, all learned from and loved Don and will continue to strive for the quality he instilled in us all.

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