“What does the pandemic suggest to you about the future of landscape architecture, or of outdoor spaces generally?”

SWA relies on the talents and collaborative abilities of our staff at all levels, especially during this time when a pandemic requires we rethink routine ways of working and look anew at the work we do in the world.  We asked our newly promoted staff for their thoughts on the future of landscape architecture, as informed by the striking ways the public realm has been experienced and leveraged during social distancing. Their answers make clear that these challenging few months have bolstered our commitment to create quality outdoor spaces for all people.

Gerdo Aquino and David Thompson
Co-CEOs, SWA Group

New Principal

Shuntaro Yahiro (“Hiro”)
Landscape Architect

Any global-scale uncertainty presents a moment to rethink the ways we live and design. During the current pandemic, people recognize public open spaces and nature as essential assets for well-being and community more than ever. For landscape architects, this is an opportunity to redefine what “counts” as open space. We are seeing new design possibilities for people, the environment, and the future of our society – some of which once seemed impossible.

Learn more about Hiro

New Associate Principals

Julie Canter
Landscape Architect/Studio Director
New York

The pandemic has really highlighted how important open space is in our daily lives, both for our physical and mental health, as well as for enjoyment and escape. Access to parks and open space is something that many people previously took for granted – never really thinking about how much they truly needed those spaces and experiences in their lives. The closing of streets to cars and allowing restaurants to spill out into the street has created some really dynamic and vibrant spaces. While we often focus on large-scale work, we need to remember that small insertions into dense urban fabrics can provide even greater impact on the surrounding communities.

Fran Hegeler
Director of Marketing and Communications

Maybe the pandemic is a needed foil to our current digital obsession. With so much enforced “virtual” experience, you realize the sensory magic of the *real world* … the scent of blossoms, the rustle of trees, the bracing briskness of ocean water, the confidence of earthen terrain, and the sensation of squinting in the sun. May this time signal a resurgence of interest in nature: in parks, trails, and public outdoor spaces at all scales.

Erica Huang
Landscape Designer

The lockdown has made us realize how inseparable we are from nature, both physically and mentally, as we have found the growing urge to be outdoors. We now have the collective opportunity to repurpose our existing surroundings to bring nature closer to us. In the short term, we may expect to see now-temporary street closures and mini pop-up parks transform into something more permanent, especially in underserved neighborhoods. Local businesses and individuals are now finding their voice, and – together with us – sparking future landscape possibilities.

Jana Wehby
Landscape Architect/Urban Planner
Los Angeles

Expect the unexpected. Undoubtedly, there will be future disruptions to the norm that will call on us to innovate and shift trajectory – not only in our designs, but also in adapting to new working conditions. As shapers of outdoor spaces, landscape architects have a critical responsibility to respond to ever-changing social and environmental circumstances with solutions that bolster the health of communities and ecosystems.

New Associates

Alison Ecker
Landscape Architect/Urban Planner

The pandemic has shifted the frame of what is possible. In my neighborhood, streets have been shut down to vehicular traffic; dining has been moved outdoors to sidewalks and parking spaces; and parks are now outdoor “rooms” for nearly all forms of socially-distanced activities. I’m hopeful that out of this crisis, we will remember that we always have the power to remake, repurpose, and reimagine our cities and landscapes.

Kuan Gao
Landscape Designer
San Francisco

With the new need for more open space, landscape architecture could play a significant role in promoting public parks and plazas in the unused spaces between and on top of buildings. And as landscape architects, by constantly thinking of the relationship between inside and outside – or even bringing more indoor programs outdoors, and creating more private outdoor spaces – could be food for thought.

Joseph Hsu
Landscape Architect
Laguna Beach

I feel this pandemic is a wake-up call to all of us. Many scientific reports are once again proving that outdoor activities not only enhance our physical strength, but also elevate our mental state. In addition, during the current quarantine, the outdoors is a safer zone for people to reconnect. As a landscape architect and design professional, I feel this pandemic is an opportunity for us to once again promote and educate people about the great benefits of outdoor space. Outdoor space isn’t just for picnics and exercise; it is also a potential space for work, classrooms, theater, and many other social activities. On the other hand, ways to bring more outdoor/natural elements indoors could also be another way of approaching it.

Jim Riley
Landscape Designer
Los Angeles

The events of this year have led to a dramatic shift in our daily lives. Necessary precautions and unprecedented legislation have seen people retreat from many aspects of their social lives. Restaurant-goers now dine exclusively outdoors, and social gatherings that would previously have occurred indoors have been pushed out into parks to accommodate social distancing. Public outdoor spaces have long been a precious commodity in inner-city environments; now, they have taken on even greater importance. While the conditions that facilitated this increase in value will, hopefully, become a thing of the past, I wonder if the public’s newfound outdoor habits will be here to stay.