David Zielnicki

About David:

Title: Principal, Professional Landscape Architect

Unknown Studio Landscape Architecture & Urban Design

Current Location: Baltimore, Maryland

Degree Program: Bachelor of Science in Landscape Architecture '10

Unknown Studio

What kind of questions or curiosities did you have when you decided to pursue a degree in landscape architecture?

I had a ridiculously under-informed notion of the discipline when I decided to look into landscape architecture programs for my undergraduate degree. All I had was a vague hunch that some spaces and places were not designed to the best standards and that it could be a good thing to spend some time and effort rectifying that. I had just read The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson as assigned reading in a high school humanities course. The chapters describing Frederik Law Olmsted, Daniel Burnham, and the design & construction of the Columbian Exposition were enthralling. I had never previously stopped to consider the fact that my entire surroundings had been designed by a professional, let alone how those designs might be shaping my daily experiences. This realization and the related realization that those surroundings could then necessarily be re-designed in more pro-social, pro-environmental, and pro-democratic ways led me (very fortunately) to the department at Cornell.

How would you describe the landscape architecture profession in your current practice?

Fun, rewarding.

Prior to joining Unknown Studio as Principal, you were working at the University of British Columbia. How has the transition from academic work to practice been for you?

Last year I transitioned from academic work at the University of British Columbia to work full-time with the team at Unknown Studio, a professional landscape architecture office. On the surface, my day-to-date routine has changed radically. I am no longer preparing lectures, designing exercises, delivering courses, pursuing grants, and serving on institutional committees on a daily basis. I am instead spending the majority of my time drawing and dreaming with the team in the studio and working through design opportunities with clients and stakeholders. What has been more interesting to me than the changes in my routine during this transition have been the constants: figuring out how to effectively communicate ideas and working through visions for better futures.


What kinds of professional and personal trajectories are you setting for yourself at the moment?

Success and happiness.


Do you have any advice for those currently or prospectively seeking a career in landscape architecture?

It is difficult to offer advice without sounding trite, but I would remind those interested in landscape architecture that it is a profession for optimism. You plant something and you hope it grows. Please try to maintain your optimism when you are being told something won’t work or that something is not important. The flipside of maintaining an optimistic approach is that you must work very hard to justify your optimism and build consensus in a world that is increasingly prone to cynicism.