Career Path Inspirations
Join us in congratulating SWA’s 15 newest Principals, Associate Principals, and Associates! We asked our newly promoted staff to describe what inspired them to pursue the field of landscape architecture, urban design, or planning. Here is what they shared.
View Bill’s Bio
Social and political activist, actor, rapper and businessman Michael Render (aka Killer Mike) for his work focusing on subjects including social inequality, police brutality, and systemic racism. His provocative look at the history, politics and factors contributing to these issues are key to understanding how we can overcome them and build a better society together.
Associate Principal, Laguna Beach
View Lovisa’s Bio
Geographer Doreen Massey’s writings on space and power have shaped my understanding of the relational nature of place. In depicting places as constellations of intersecting features and forces, expanding beyond their physical locality, she underscores the necessity for designers to grapple with project sites not merely as defined by boundaries on a plan, but as complex multitudes of relations and connections, or stories if you will. It’s a worthwhile challenge.
Principal, Los Angeles
View Jeremy’s Bio
Few individuals have impacted a design profession as greatly as Walt Disney. Starting as a struggling cartoonist, he parlayed his creativity into a multi-national franchise. He pioneered innovative technology to better showcase his art form, extending his influence and elevating cartoons to full-length feature films. Yet most importantly, to realize his vision, he engaged other amazing artists and designers to fabricate the fantastic on screen, and built landscapes which continue to inspire future generations.
View Michael’s Bio
Being introduced to the work of Edward Tufte in graduate school completely reframed the way I think about design and visual communication. As visual storytellers, we have to find graphic ways to convey information to different audiences – clients, communities, stakeholders, engineers, regulatory authorities, other designers – the list goes on. Being able to tell visual stories to diverse audiences requires seeing the world through others’ eyes.
Ji Hyun Yoo
Principal, San Francisco
View Ji-Hyun’s Bio
I love the simple and powerful painting of Mark Rothko, which evokes strong emotions when you experience it. The power of a huge colored canvas with simple but subtle moves strongly communicates with people much more clearly than anything else. As he says, “The painting is not a picture of an experience but is the experience.”
View Yang’s Bio
Frank Lloyd Wright’s design philosophy of “organic architecture” advocates that all elements relate to one another, creating a “unified organism.” Form and function are one in the all-embracing sense of unity achieved by adopting site-specific design strategies. Almost a century later, the concept that built environments should accommodate the natural world in service of a greater whole has broadened in meaning today to embrace environmental social, and economic sustainability.
Kelly Wearstler, an interior designer based in Los Angeles, has an eclectic design style that has influenced the many different ways I think about design. The variety of materials, patterns, and colors that she uses on her projects inspire me to be bold, take risks and think differently.
Leila Araghian, a Persian architect, has consistently ignited my inspiration. Her work exemplifies the fusion of social interconnection, cultural identity, innovation, and sustainable living. Araghian stands as a beacon of inspiration, particularly for aspiring Iranian designers, encouraging them to transcend boundaries and breaking barriers by the power of creativity, dedication, and perseverance.
Charles and Ray Eames’ seamless weaving of mid-century’s timeless aesthetic with innovative craftsmanship, functionality and sustainable principles definitely nurtures my landscape design practice. Their work particularly showcases a graceful persistence of minimalism, an enduring connection with nature, and a commitment to pioneering processes. It is a beacon in pursuing exemplary and holistic designs, rooted in simplicity, humility, and an intriguing complexity.
Olafur Eliasson’s works have significantly impacted on my design thinking. His use of natural elements, such as light, air, and water, evoke and enhance the viewer’s perception, create a bridge between the public and the sublimity of the world.
Jun’ichirō Tanizaki’s philosophy—beauty must arise from the realities of life—has significantly impacted my personal design practice. With every design, I strive to create an everyday place that is both acutely idiosyncratic and unpretentious.
Architect Antonio Gaudi’s natural curves and crazy design impressed me at first glance. He organically combines the curves of nature to create structures and spaces full of imagination and tension. He was the person whose work drove me into the design field, and his work inspired me how to think out of the box.
Giorgio Armani, an Italian fashion designer, broke the classic business suit format and started the “business casual” trend by changing the way clothes were tailored and choosing different fabrics and textiles. The rich layering of fabrics and the sophisticated process of craftmanship have contributed to the longstanding Armani fashion empire. From this example, I take away that for any design practice, a small, unique change could lead to a big move.
A figure that influenced me is graphic designer Michael Bierut: specifically, his writing about “thinking with your hands.” In taking day-to-day notes, we often create sketches amidst messy calculations and to-do tasks. These sketches can be crucially important because they can turn into the biggest ideas. They are forms and ideas that stick with you, and in hindsight, they really anticipate the work to come.
I work in the finance department at SWA Group, but I also have some interest in urban design and planning. I was introduced to the field by Dr. Tridib Banerjee at the USC Sol Price School of Public Policy. He taught me to look at the art and architecture of cities and imagine the culture, society, and trades that flourish in the urban environment. Through Dr. Banerjee, I became familiar with writers and urbanists like Italo Calvino, Jane Jacobs, Lewis Mumford, and Donald Shoup.
The painter Jean-Michel Basquiat’s exhortation to paint his experience free of others’ expectations has always inspired me.
New York/SWA Balsley
Richard Serra’s material, place, and process exploration significantly influenced my design thinking. Shaped and formed through actions like “to roll,” “to droop,” and “to enclose” (Verblist, 1967), Serra’s massive steel installations highlight the vital process and materiality of design. His emphasis on spatial relationships and viewer interaction deeply resonates with how landscape designers engage with space, form, and perception to create landscapes that evoke dynamic and interactive experiences.
I’m inspired by Mikiko Noji, a Japanese painter who reaches beyond visible things such as shapes and colors. In her own words, “I want to draw a pleasant scent wrapped in light, wind and warmth, quietness.” Her inspiration has guided me to view landscape design as a ceaseless dance with nature, where the echoes of emotions and spirits are entwined—a symphony that finds harmony within the elements.
New York/SWA Balsley
Wu Guanzhong, the Chinese painter, has significantly influenced my design thinking. His ability to capture the essence of landscapes and architecture through bold brushstrokes and vibrant colors has shown me the power of abstraction and expression in design. While not directly in the field of landscape architecture or urban design, Wu Guanzhong’s work encourages me to approach design with a sense of artistic flair, pushing boundaries to create visually engaging and emotionally resonant spaces.