Title: Senior Project Manager, Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, Inc.
Current Location: Ithaca, New York
Degree Program: Master of Landscape Architecture '19
Previous Degree: Bachelor of Arts in Visual Arts, Minors in Environmental Studies and Spanish
What kind of questions or curiosities did you have when you decided to pursue a degree in landscape architecture?
After college, I helped start a dock building company on Long Island with my partner and quickly realized that my long-term vision to create naturalized, ecologically rich, and resilient shorelines required knowledge and expertise that I didn’t have but really wanted.
Also as an undergrad in NYC, I worked on overlapping projects related to the arts, food justice, and urban agriculture. Through a Jesuit liberal arts education, my eyes were open to the spatial dimensions of capital, race, class, and culture and I realized that not only was landscape a critical medium of inquiry but that design was a powerful tool for change.
How would you describe the landscape architecture profession in NYC?
It is a challenging and exciting time to be in the field in NYC. The pandemic has been a time of softening, slowing down, communing with nature, and placing more value on our collective spaces. I think it has become evident that landscape architecture has the tools to help us navigate through some of the global crises we currently face, particularly the three “big C’s” - Covid, climate change, and capitalism. The vibrant materiality and intimate, experiential qualities of designed landscapes have been a saving grace for many city dwellers, and I believe the importance of these spaces will only grow.
What design challenges do you see in your current projects at MVVA?
My work at MVVA focuses on the redesign of Buffalo, NY’s largest waterfront public park. Located at the confluence of Lake Erie, the Niagara River, Buffalo River, and Black Rock Canal, the site experiences extreme wave action, flooding, ice shoves, and seiches. A large part of this project is to turn a hardened bulkhead into a complex, resilient shoreline.
Through every design iteration, my team collaborates with a group of experts—hydrologists, ecologists, and marine engineers —to ensure that the design functions to attenuate wave energy, build habitat complexity, and connect people to the water.
I love the challenge of working with the unwieldy and dynamic force of water as the main design driver.
What kinds of professional and personal trajectories are you setting for yourself at the moment?
I plan to continue to expand my knowledge and technical skills within this wonderfully broad discipline. Between plant selection, construction techniques, graphic development, project management, and community engagement, there are many modes of expertise to tap into. The journey will be long and colorful.
I am also pouring love into my own wild slice of Earth, which has brought with it a sense of presence and connectedness that I find so important as a practicing landscape designer.