Gathoni Waigwa

Junior Landscape Designer
Summerhill Landscapes

Education: The Pennsylvania State University, Bachelor of Landscape Architecture

Gathoni Waigwa holds a bachelor’s degree in Landscape Architecture and is an emerging professional in the field. Originally from Nairobi, Kenya and raised in New York City, her international background and travels through; Europe, Central America, the Middle East and Africa inspired her drive to understand the cultural, environmental, and structural aspects of designing a thriving community space. This resulted in interning with the Planning and Development Department at NYC Parks as a field researcher in the summer of 2019. As an emerging professional she is currently working as a junior landscape designer at Summerhill Landscapes in the Hamptons, New York.

What is YOUR story? What led you to a career in landscape architecture? When did you realize you wanted to become a Landscape Architect?

Living in Westchester, New York, and going to school along Ken Smith’s East River Waterfront Esplanade allowed me to experience local landscape architecture designs and ignited my interest in designing great outdoor spaces for people to enjoy. I have always been interested in urban design and landscape architecture however I was not aware of the term until the second half of my freshman year at Penn State when my advisor recommended I apply to the program. I found that the landscape architecture program fit a lot of the things I was interested in and found myself in an amazing field. During my studies at Penn State University, I experienced a variety of great local landscape architecture designs as well as abroad, including the Barcelona Architectural Center in Spain and Academy for International Education in Bonn, Germany. Landschaftspark in Duisburg, Germany was a great example of innovative design as it was originally an industrial site, however, landscape architects turned it into a functional and green park for people to enjoy while still keeping the architecture instead of destroying the industrial past. Seeing the positive change landscape architects can do for the physical and social environment inspired me to want to become one.

Cleveland Arcade by Gathoni Waigwa

What project or work that you have done at any point in your career are you most proud of and why?

I am most proud of the project I did in the collaborative studio I took my fourth year at Penn State that was based in Cleveland Ohio. As a collaborative studio between landscape architecture and architecture students we were met with the challenge of creating an urban community out of a large parking lot between a university and historic graveyard. All walking distance from the playhouse district and other major parts of downtown. This project encompassed historical and environmental aspects which were fulfilling and challenging as it was a window into the collaborative field of design. Cleveland was historically known as the forested city. However, over time the tree canopy declined as downtown expanded. My proposition was to design a winter arcade on the proposed site to create a space for the community to enjoy during the harsh winters as well as pay homage to the forested city that Cleveland used to be known as. The arcade also encompassed aspects of history of the Salvation Army / YWCA that is on site. The historic building used to be home to the underprivileged women of the city, and because of how important of a space it was I decided to keep parts of the architecture as homage to the women.

What is your favorite outdoor space in the greater NYC area and why?

It is hard to choose just one because there are so many great outdoor spaces in the NYC area but it would be a tie between Central Park because it is a great escape from the bustle of the city and The Highline because it is an innovative design and a big inspiration to me as a young designer as it is a unique way to experience Manhattan from above.

What do you do to de-stress, relax or escape?

Going outside in general is a great way for me to destress. That can include a short walk around the block or long walks on the beach, now that I work in the Hamptons. I find peace by water and other forms of nature thus riding my bike on local trails is a great way to relax. When i’m not on my bike or on the beach I enjoy taking photos of nature as well as listening to and making music on the piano and ukulele.

Where do you go for inspiration or what do you find inspiring?

Going out in nature, photographing the natural and social environment, traveling and hearing people’s stories are a few places I go for inspiration. I also like to understand the idea of place through clothing I’ve collected on my travels which helps me with my creative state of mind. It could be a sweater that I bought in Barcelona that reminds me of how vibrant and energetic the city is or a wooden kendama that reminds me of Christmas markets in Germany and walking by the Rhine river. I find that small tokens of my travels inspire me to bring those feelings into my designs and how I engage with a space and the people I interact with.