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The Ring - CCxA

E-Blast: What drew you to landscape architecture?

We’d barely pressed “send” on this question when the magazine inbox began to ping with heartfelt responses that told stories of serendipity, clarity, epiphany, hope, mission, and spark.

It turns out that the reasons behind the decision to pursue a career in landscape architecture are as varied as the profession itself.

Many thanks to all those who responded to this Ground e-blast.


Alana Evers, OALA, Toronto
The idea that I could have a career creating beautiful places for people, in harmony with nature, sounded exciting and novel to me. The places I explored as a child affected me profoundly, from woodlands to playgrounds to anywhere where there was water, and I wanted to create opportunities for other people to enjoy the outdoors like I did. This path melded my interests in art, ecology, and sociology like no other. After years of drawing playgrounds in crayon as a child and clicking away at floorplans as a teenager for fun, I found my fit in landscape architecture.

Brad Smith, OALA, Burlington
I decided that I wanted to become a landscape architect in Grade 11. My family had a vacation property in the Bruce Peninsula and, from an early age, I was fascinated with the landscape, ecology, climate, and recreational opportunities of that area. Landscape architecture brought them all together and, to this day, I approach design as a relationship between our place in nature and nature’s place in our lives. The profession has allowed me to change communities, inspire place-making opportunities, spark relationships, foster experiences with the environment, and create unforgettable personal moments.

Brian Basterfield, OALA, Peterborough
The question is not “what,” but “who” drew me to landscape architecture. In 1972, I had a summer job at L.L.Solty’s Garden Centre in Scarborough. I ventured into the offices by chance one day to see sketches and plans spread over drafting tables and Jary Havlicek designing like a mad man. Looking over his shoulder, I asked, “What are you doing?” He said with conviction, “Wonderful things!” Perusing drawings, inspecting the tools of the trade, seeing the lines, forms, colours, textures, and listening to Jary, I knew at that moment this would be my future—doing “wonderful things” like a mad man!

Henry Gotfryd, OALA, Toronto
In response to the question of what drew me to the profession of landscape architecture, the answer is: Richard Strong, Founding Chairman, Department of Landscape Architecture, Faculty of Architecture, Landscape Architecture, Urban and Regional Planning, University of Toronto.

Jamie Douglas, OALA, Welland
Growing up in the small town of Wingham, Ontario, as part of a family of six brothers and one younger sister, our mom was always telling us kids to “go outside and play.” In those days, there was no “creative play structure” in the local park, just a big, tall slide and three swings—boring! We mostly played in the woods at the edge of town, climbing trees and making forts amongst the bushes. This was the reason I developed a love for plants, nature, and creative design. After 45 years, I still love creating outdoor designs with plants and other materials. Now, get out there and play!

Jeff Kaster, OALA, Ottawa
In high school, I had a lot of interests—natural science, art, sports, and even math. There didn’t seem to be a career that would accommodate all my interests and aptitudes until my mother found out about landscape architecture at the University of Guelph. Seemed like the perfect blend of art and science; and I did like to build things. My mother was pleased with the job opportunities as she was worried that I would end up a starving artist living in her basement.

Jim Belisle, OALA, Toronto
I studied architecture at McGill and Berkeley. I grew up in rural Quebec, spent Sundays at the Central Experimental Farm with my parents, and enjoyed the outdoors. While studying architecture, I was interested in how and where buildings were located: entrances, views, topography. At Berkeley, the landscape program and the architecture program were in the same building. I was fascinated by the landscape courses, and the professors: Garrett Eckbo and Christopher Alexander. Studying in a landscape different from that of my childhood made every view fresh. I studied landscape architecture in order to be a better architect. Architecture and landscape architecture enrich each other. It is a joy to be both.

John P. Sakala, OALA, Hamilton
In 1966, I was interested in architecture and wanted to enter the University of Toronto. I had an interview with Michael Hough. It appeared that the architecture program was not possible for me, but he asked if I would be interested in the landscape architecture program. He explained the profession and I did some research. I was intrigued by the depth and expanse of the profession and the impacts on cities and spaces. I was accepted into the program and graduated in 1970. I was in private practice with J. A. Floyd for a year and then in government and municipal practice until 2017. I have appreciated and been blessed with being a part of the profession of landscape architecture in various developments in the cities of Hamilton and Mississauga. The profession has an influence on our everyday environments which people take for granted.

Joseph Yu, Landscape Designer, Oakville
I was drawn to the profession of landscape architecture because it connects people with nature, development, and recreation through sustainable, designed spaces.

Julia van der Laan de Vries, BLA, Mississauga
I was studying fine art at the University of Guelph in 1986. I decided that it would be hard to make a living as an artist, so in 1988 I transferred into the Bachelor of Landscape Architecture program. I loved the outdoors, gardening, and design, so it seemed like a good fit. I am glad that I made the decision to pursue this profession. There are so many facets to explore, and so many ways to advocate for the environment.

Julianna Nyhof Young, BLA student, University of Guelph
Landscape architects have the power to reconnect people to nature by designing gardens and parks or by adding green spaces to otherwise industrialized areas. They have the skills to look at what exists now while also visualizing what can be. People may have their own opinions about what a beautiful space is, but landscape architects can weigh those opinions with the needs of the environment and the public and combine them into an innovative vision for the future.

Kaari Kitawi, Landscape Designer, Toronto
I fell in love with landscape architecture in 1998 while reading James C. Rose’s book Creative Gardens at the University of Nairobi’s Architecture Library. At that time, none of the local universities were offering landscape architecture programs, and this library, though a major source of information, was only open to students and paying members. I was neither. However, with my new-found passion, I decided to start a landscape design-and-build firm to “learn on the job.” Fourteen years later, I enrolled in the University of Toronto’s MLA program.

Kevin Sadlemyer, recent BLA graduate, University of Guelph
Growing up I always knew I was a very visual person who loved the outdoors and good design, I just didn’t know how to channel my energy at the time. That is, until I found the profession of landscape architecture shortly after designing and constructing my parents’ landscape back in 2012. Since then, I applied, attended, and graduated with distinction from the Bachelor of Landscape Architecture program at the University of Guelph and can see a bright future for the profession: an exciting, challenging, and rewarding future that places us as stewards of the land and designers for the people.

Lorenzo Ruffini, OALA, Mississauga
My Grade 13 guidance counsellor suggested landscape architecture to me because of my love of art, music, social sciences, and dreaming. I visited the University of Guelph landscape architecture building unannounced and a professor showed me some of the work the students had worked on that semester. From that point on, I was hooked on learning everything I could about landscape architecture. I was accepted at the University of Toronto in 1981 and understand that I was the only candidate who played guitar during the interview as part of my creative portfolio. I still think that harmony is the key ingredient to exceptional design.

Michael Ormston-Holloway, ASLA, Toronto
I embraced landscape architecture because of an intense desire to green cities more meaningfully. And I don’t just mean with a specimen-approach, but through a more robust, systems-approach to designing the urban forest and its associated ecological connections.

We can do better. And I use the discipline of landscape architecture as my vehicle for this discussion.

If we can convince the world that our urban forest is more valuable than we currently understand it to be, then we will have the resources we need as designers to implement better details and ultimately a healthier and more resilient urban forest.

Miriam L. R. Mutton, OALA, Cobourg
I remember to this day: in Grade 10, standing on my high-school 400-metre track after completing a cross-country running race. My science teacher asked, what are you going to do after high school? And, he suggested I check out Guelph. Later, I went to the school guidance office and checked the career file library. Landscape architect, “that is me!” I smiled to myself…except, no geography (a favourite topic in high school) and running. Well, I could run outside classes…

Pablo Jimenez Passano, MLA student, University of Toronto
Early in the 1980s, when I started my undergraduate architecture studies in the Faculty of Architecture of Montevideo, Uruguay, my first studio project was an architectural proposal for a park where an Enterolobium contortisiliquum or “Timbo” was living in the proposed lot. This indigenous, ancient tree inspired me with enough respect and mysticism that I made my entire conceptual proposal around it. This tree and the life surrounding it was the spark that motivated me to seriously consider landscape architecture as a career.

Phoebe Solomon, BLA student, University of Guelph
Through the media, we all saw the devastating effects of Hurricane Katrina on families in New Orleans. During the winter break of 2012 and 2014, while I was in high school, I traveled from my home in Toronto to Louisiana to help make a difference. When a home was rebuilt, cleaning the yards to provide safe, clean, and beautiful outdoor areas was key to helping families rebuild their lives. Realizing the impact I could have, I traveled to Nicaragua and Costa Rica where I helped create community gardens that transformed landscapes for communities. After my experiences with planting trees in Nicaragua, building sidewalks in a rainforest in Costa Rica, and reconstructing yards for families affected by the damage of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, I had time to reflect on how I could use the skills gained from these experiences to pursue a career in the future. I am an individual who cares about the community and environment around me, I am visually creative, I have an appreciation for nature, and I find fascination in designing outdoor spaces. I researched and discovered the field of landscape architecture.

Raphael Justewicz, OALA, Toronto
Landscape architecture offered the writing of a design narrative that includes architecture, which is where I had been. It has launched conversations about the common with the idiosyncratic, the sedate with the whimsical, the absolute with the sensory, the literal with the metaphorical, and the contemporary with the historic.

Sheila Murray-Belisle, OALA, Toronto
In 1967-1968, I hitchhiked through Europe, then settled in Paris, where I went to school and spent half my time at art galleries. Cities like London, Vienna, and Paris made me aware of urban design, and countries like Italy and England awoke my interest in gardens. I applied for law school but a boyfriend insisted that landscape architecture, which I had never heard of at the time, would be perfect….and it has been. I loved every minute of studying landscape architecture at the University of Toronto and Harvard, was inspired to teach, and I am grateful to still practise with a great partner.

Todd Smith, OALA, Toronto
Landscape design let me sink into another world that had great meaning and good vibes; I still feel like I am making a positive contribution to our world.

Van Thi Diep, OALA member on Leave of Absence, Toronto
It was Lucius O’Brien’s painting Sunrise on the Saguenay (1880) that led me to believe in landscape’s magic as a child. Wanting to be immersed in magic, I decided to become a landscape architect. I learned quickly that reality is much more lacklustre and disappointing. Only recently, I realized that magic is found in faith. Nature, in all cultures, is an existential narrative of our human- world relationships, and landscape, as the “processing” of nature through perception, intersects with materiality, consciousness, and spirituality. To see and create magic in landscapes, we need to believe in it.

Yong Uk Kim, Landscape Designer, Toronto
Coming from a bioengineering background, I saw overarching parallels between my research and landscape architecture. My goal was to re-create a spinal disc by seeding stem cells onto a biodegradable scaffold, which would direct the alignment and prolific growth of stem cells—theoretically altering their morphology and enabling them to bear the weight of the human torso. In parallel, a successfully designed landscape is essentially a scaffold, having clear directional circulation routes, satisfying user experience, and functioning as a critical component in a greater environmental ecosystem. In this profession, I see landscapes to be as omnipotent as stem cells—an alluring medium that is living, flexible, and responsive, with an endless number of analyses and experiments that can be designed and performed on it to ensure the success of its function in enriching our lives.