Approaching any landscape design project entails more than just relying on years of the design discipline, knowledge of trees, flowers, soil types, water, and the interplay of hardscape. We are a talented team of professionals who understand all of this, but we also bring a myriad of other skills and attributes that go beyond our own experience and talents. Chief among these is curiosity. We are genuinely curious about how different people will approach, interact, and behave in specific spaces. We observe, watch, and listen. How does a community comprised of adults, children, teens, senior citizens use a communal area – a retail environment, a park, a resort property, a designed natural space in an urban setting? What can we learn from them? What can they tell us? How can we create an environment that continues to invite people of any age or background to enjoy it, respond to it, and foster that spirit of community? And what defines that community and makes it unique?
It’s all about placemaking, and placemaking is what we do. We are eager to learn all we can from our clients, partner companies, and from those who will inhabit and visit the places we create. We focus on placemaking because we want people not only to admire or be moved emotionally by the beautiful places we create as though they were standing before an oil painting in a museum, but we also want them to become an integral part of the area and so as to move through it, lounge in it, play in it, make cherished memories and celebrate it.
Placemaking is, therefore, a more transcendent experience exemplified in a shopping and dining environment. With the emergence of online shopping, retailers now more than ever need to create environments where their customers can do more than arrive, purchase an item, and leave. Placemaking is now paramount in creating environments where people want to congregate, linger, and enjoy whether they’re shopping, dining, or not. That’s why observing how people come together in park settings, and other communal areas are crucial in replicating that experience in sizeable multi-vendor retail and dining spaces where the pressure to purchase is replaced with a more relaxing and entertaining space. We understand why our clients want these destinations to be attractive. People will stay longer, spend more money, and tell their friends about their experience so that more people will come and enjoy the location.
Here are just two examples of how we employed the art and discipline of placemaking:
The Americana at Brand — Working with the City of Glendale and Caruso Affiliated in a public-private partnership, we helped create a 2-acre public park at the center of this 15.5-acre apartment, condominium, retail, dining and entertainment complex with lush garden and pool areas, seating, abundant mature trees, colorful flower beds, a children’s play area; and a beautiful fountain, Waters of Americana, highlighted by the Spirit of American Youth sculpture by Donald Harcourt DeLue. The bustling village green features spouting fountains, grass so soft it feels like carpet, and beautifully manicured plantings – creating a modern, vibrant village in the heart of the city. The gardens feel like outside rooms, and the pedestrian size spaces embrace the human over the vehicular scale, all connected through walkways and sidewalks within a safe, comfortable environment. Towering Jacaranda and sycamore trees create natural canopies, while fuchsias, wandering Jews, ferns, and ivy cascade from hanging baskets on streetlights. The property feels historic, yet familiar, and always comfortable and inviting.
The Plaza at Coral Gables — a 2.25 million-square-foot mixed-use development that brings together retail, luxurious residential units and lofts, a 4.5-star hotel, office towers, casual and elegant dining establishments, and outdoor entertainment space. At the heart of the project is a one-acre ‘open plaza’ for the public’s enjoyment with a significant water feature and children’s water play area. There are also fire pits people can gather around, outdoor eating areas, and an open lawn which invite guests to lounge, meet up with friends, play with their kids, and enjoy the garden experience. Overhead, string lights create a festive space, and strategically placed trees provide shade from the Florida sun. Every detail planned for the guests’ experience and to garner an emotional connection that brings them back again and again.
We must learn to embrace the power of the human connection. People need and want to be with others. As convenient as online shopping or ordering a meal with the tap of a screen might be, it can never replace, nor be as memorable, as transcendent or as pleasurable as a beautifully designed natural space where a community wants to come together and be a community.