At Lifescapes International, we are a family of highly experienced professionals who has been growing and working together for decades, nurturing our strengths and interests, and focusing them on all aspects of what we do. Today, the firm is built on a foundation of iconic projects in amazing locales designed by driven, talented, and creative people.
Founder Don Brinkerhoff graduated in 1952 from Cal Poly Pomona with a degree in ornamental horticulture. He worked for others for five years, building upon his keen eye and knowledge of plants, while his wife Barbara grew her passion for flowers, color palettes, and all things beautiful. It was at a drafting table in their suburban bedroom where Lifescapes was established. The company’s earliest work was close to home but still large in execution and ideas.
In 1964, Don received national recognition from the American Nurserymen’s Association for his work as the conceptual designer, project manager and field observation specialist on the North American Aviation Science Center in Thousand Oaks, California. It was designed to be a peaceful sanctuary for the high-powered scientists who were working on complex solutions for their company.
A few years later, yearning to broaden their horizons, the Brinkerhoffs took their family of six on a 2-1/2 year-long sabbatical around the world. Not only did this feed them with immense worldly inspiration for the projects to come, but it also fostered a drive in the company that continues to this day: to enrich ourselves in cultural, artistic, and aesthetic experiences that influence our work.
As suburbia expanded in Southern California in the 1970s and 1980s, Lifescapes began taking on more multifamily housing and master-planned community projects, from Orange County to the desert. A plain building was no longer enough to entice residents. Communities needed to set themselves apart and we were able to work with our clients to create expansive, green landscape settings that stood out and catered to California’s year-round outdoor lifestyle. From The Arbors in Fullerton, which received the Best National Residential Project Award (presented to Don by First Lady Pat Nixon), to The Lakes Country Club in Palm Desert, these gardens took on many layered personalities. The most iconic features were often the meandering lakes and streams woven through the communities, cooling and animating the gardens while also helping to mask the noise of the growing cities outside.
Enamored with the wonderful waterscapes that Lifescapes created at The Lakes Country Club in the early 1980s, an associate of Sol Kerzner of Sun International recommended us to help lead the landscape design for the 5-Star, Cascades Hotel in Sun City, South Africa. Our boots-on-the-ground collaborative approach to work immediately paid off when Don suggested turning a problematic gravel pit into a waterfall-fed pool surrounded by lush gardens and crossed by a romantic bridge, which became the iconic image of the hotel. As wonderful as that property turned out, we couldn’t predict how that design experience would change the trajectory of the firm. It opened the door for Don to interview with Steve Wynn for The Mirage in Las Vegas, the first hotel property to be built there in 16 years, and the beginning of the renaissance of new resorts up and down the Las Vegas Strip. That resort helped define the theatrical use of landscaping as an essential ingredient for integrated casino destination resorts in the United States and worldwide.
Our company would go on to design many properties in Las Vegas from Bellagio, Treasure Island, Paris, The Forum Shops at Caesars, The Mansion at MGM Grand, The Venetian Resort Las Vegas, The Palazzo, Red Rock Resort & Casino, Wynn, Encore, Resorts World Las Vegas, and continue across the country with Borgata, L’Auberge Baton Rouge, Golden Nugget Lake Charles, Pechanga Resort & Casino, Paradise City South Korea, Wynn Palace in Cotai, and so many more around the world.
While the 1990s ushered in an era of development and revitalization of resorts along the Strip (which we were a major part of), our work in the area didn’t stop there. In 1996, with the backing of more than 200 Strip front owners, we were selected as the landscape designer for the Las Vegas Boulevard Beautification Project, which is a 4.5 mile meandering palm oasis that runs down the center median, tying the resort corridor together (Better known as the Las Vegas Strip!). That was also the same year that we were able to bring our theatrical garden designs to a new type of entertainment venue; because of our lush, tropical design at The Mirage, Universal Studios brought us on board to design the original Jurassic Park – The Ride at Universal Studios Hollywood.
In the early 2000s, it was the experience of staying in our rich, immersive environments at Bellagio and The Mansion at MGM Grand that led a Chinese developer to contact us about designing a luxury resort-style residential property in China. The auspiciously located Majestic Mansion project in Beijing, next to the imperial Summer Palace outside the city, paved the way for a surge of new international opportunities which has lasted nearly 20 years: Beijing Demesne, Phoenix Palace, The Castle Hotel Dalian, One Sino Park in Shanghai, the Westin Zhujiajian Resort, Jumeirah Guangzhou, Koru Florya in Istanbul, Turkey; and Robinsons Galleria in Cebu, Philippines. Our work has taken us to places and allowed us to experience cultures that we could have never guessed, adding to the richness of our ever-evolving designs.
Taking their cues from the resorts in Vegas, retail and mixed-use developers have also realized that people are drawn to beautiful, interactive places that welcome, energize and engage visitors. Our detailed, layered designs of the gardens at Bellagio influenced the strollable, shopping environments of The Grove in Los Angeles and The Americana at Brand in Glendale for Caruso in the 2000s, and the changing horticultural displays at the Rockefeller Center Channel Gardens in New York City in the late 2010s. The fact that The Grove is still the most successful shopping center (dollars spent per sq. ft.) in the country after over 20 years is a testament to the enduring value of the landscape. It continues to challenge competitors to step up their game.
Over the years, land has become more expensive and urban space scarcer, so developments of all types grew their amenities vertically. We took the gardens up with them. It wasn’t enough just to look out at green, we needed to create whole resort pool areas, gathering spaces, dining gardens, exercise areas, and private yards on top of what could be many stories of casino, retail, office, or residential space. The idea is to create the illusion that the guest is not on top of a building, but firmly planted on the ground. Beginning with numerous resorts in Las Vegas and entire residential communities in China, our experience with on-structure design grew in the 2010s and 20s, with projects like Ten50 and One Museum Square in Los Angeles, and the exclusive private patio gardens at The Pendry West Hollywood Hotel & Residences.
We have also been fortunate to use our strength in creating immersive environments to revive historic and iconic properties around the country, appealing to modern tastes and functionalities. The classic Fontainebleau Miami Beach was reimagined in 2008, a contemporary version of its 1950s glory, complementing the original Morris Lapidus architecture, and continuing to envision that property’s innovations for the next generation. The 100-year-old buildings at the legendary Fort Worth Stockyards were turned into a vibrant, western-focused retail and cultural destination with an added boutique hotel, The Drover, Autograph Collection. The emphasis on placemaking was vital for the future of the property while maintaining the historic charm that it’s rooted in.
Beginning all those years ago at their drafting table, Don and Barbara could have never conceived of how their little company would grow. The culture they created has inspired countless generations of landscape architects, designers, project managers, and model builders. It silently steers those who have become part of the team over the many decades and continues to move the company forward. Now led by Julie Brinkerhoff-Jacobs, Dan Trust, Roger Voettiner and Andrew Kreft, Lifescapes’ legacy continues to be guided by its founding principles.
Don once was asked what his favorite project was, and his reply was, “The next one.” The Lifescapes family today mirrors that motto, and never rests on their laurels. We’re excited about the future, to see where we go next and what projects we will be part of in the future!