What does leadership look like?

At SWA, our leaders include many women at the helm of important projects and initiatives.  We asked a few of them to share their thoughts about women whose example has influenced them and what advice they might offer to younger women growing their career in the field of landscape architecture and urban design.  Read on for their answers and a glimpse of their project work.

Amna Ansari, Associate
Architect and Urban Designer

Key project: Bend of the River Botanical Garden

What woman or women inspire you? Why?

I’m fortunate to have known my inspiration most of my life.  My aunt was a college professor in biology, she not only made endless time for me as a kid in her lab growing up, but as I grew older she became more than an aspiration as I witnessed her rise to a peak position in her field. She published, persisted and “leaned in” in a culture and context where few have dreamed to succeed. While I don’t have her today, her boldness and actions continue to have an impact on my role in my profession and community. She’s the reason I completed my graduate studies at MIT, the person I thought of as a studio instructor in Boston, and what created my interest and role as the Urban Design Chair of the Houston AIA.

What advice would you give to women starting off in the field of landscape architecture?

While the field is evolving in a number of positive ways, it is really upon us women to create the environment that we want to work in – to make allies, take the risks and have the difficult conversations – if not for yourself, then to pave the way for the next generation of women.

Natasha Harkison, Associate
Landscape Designer
Laguna Beach

Key project: Esencia

What woman or women inspire you? Why?

While I have several women mentors who inspire me to keep moving forward, my mother has been and will always be the most influential.  I admire her compassion towards life, her tenacity, grit, and perseverance through times of adversity.  I strive to be everything she is. I feel lucky to have received fundamental freedoms and opportunities that she didn’t have.

What advice would you give to women starting off in the field of landscape architecture?

Honestly, be yourself, and don’t hesitate to be a yes-woman!  You never know how and where opportunities may arise from, so follow your intuition and trust the process.  It may not make sense while you’re going through it, and that’s okay.  Don’t be afraid to fail, it’s the way to learn and grow.

Mandana Parvinian, Associate Principal
Landscape Architect

Key project: Xiqu Opera Centre, University of Chicago Booth School of Business

Name a woman who inspires you and why:

Kathryn Gustafson.  She studied as fashion designer in Paris and then became an accomplished landscape architect.  I admire her design for its quiet elegance and sculptural quality, and it has a good sense of human scale. I am also intrigued by her hands-on creative process.  Her initial design work is done by modeling with clay!

Advice for young women in the profession:

Listen and learn as you develop your career, and also strive to find your own voice.

Jana Wehby, Associate
Landscape Architect
Los Angeles

Key project: Walmart Home Office Landscape Master Plan

What woman or women inspire you? Why?

I am fortunate to have worked under the direct leadership of talented women since the beginning of my landscape architecture career: Claire Latané (EPT Design), Tori Kjer (The Trust for Public Land), Rosa Laveaga (City of Pasadena), Ying-yu Hung (SWA). Each exhibits a passion for making the world better through landscape architecture, and they continue to inspire me by demonstrating the possibilities of what we can achieve.

What advice would you give to women starting off in the field of landscape architecture?

Don’t hold back just because you don’t feel ready.