Tyler Silvestro is a landscape architect working for W Architecture & Landscape Architecture in Brooklyn. Among other responsibilities, he has worked on various projects that focus on post-Sandy design and reconstruction, including a competition to reconsider ways in which vulnerable geographies can be more resilient through multi-disciplinary collaboration called Rebuild by Design. Tyler has written for numerous architectural publications and has co-taught design studios at Columbia University GSAPP and CUNY City College of New York in Manhattan.
Tyler is the co-founder and editor of Corridor, an annual journal that investigates the built environment of small cities tied together by the Northeast Corridor (Boston to Washington, DC). Each issue will focus specifically on one city and will pull resources from people who live and/or work there or have a perspective on an issue that affects that particular place. The first issue is Bridgeport Connecticut. It was printed in November 2017 and will be distributed widely along the eastern seaboard in order to attract the attention of cities and stakeholders, artists and community members, designers and activists, who call the corridor their home and are curious about their urban surroundings as they relate to the region. Visit www.corridoroffice.com for more information.
When did you realize you wanted to become a landscape architect?
As a draftsman and a field technician for an environmental engineering firm in Connecticut, I was exposed to the two worlds landscape architects; the site, where conditions can be analyzed and measured, and the drafting room, where a projection of that site is drawn in plan and section. My interest in becoming a landscape architect took root in that world where design and environment collide.
To further my understanding of environmental design I enrolled in the summer program of the Landscape Architecture Department of the Rhode Island School of Design. The four week course was called Design Foundations / Field Ecology, and was pioneered by Professor Colgate Searle. The course challenged students to search their environments for meaning and to understand ecological systems while pushing students to draw, build, collaborate, evaluate, and design. I was also introduced to a wide canon of literature on landscape architecture and ecology, including D.W. Meinig’s The Beholding Eye; Ten Versions of the Same Scene, which I often return to reread. I was encouraged by Colgate and my peers to apply to the full time graduate program at the culmination of that program, and it was that summer at RISD that I realized that I would continue studying landscape architecture.
What has been your career path since then?
I was fortunate to intern with the Architect’s Newspaper while in grad school in New York City. The opportunity to work with Bill Menking and Diana Darling enabled me to think about the role of landscape architecture in an urban context, and to witness the growing attention given to predominantly landscape/public realm projects. Landscape architects and their work have certainly received more attention in the architectural news outlets in recent years, and I was able to see the tide really start to change first hand. The experience allowed me to cover a handful of excellent projects in their conceptual or master-plan phases that I have followed ever since, such as Rail Park in Philadelphia, Waller Creek in Austin, the Naval Cemetery Memorial Landscape at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, and the East River Blueway courtesy of WXY Studio.
At WXY I was exposed to Rebuild by Design, an international competition sponsored by the Rockefeller Foundation that challenged architects to come up with design solutions for coastal communities in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. The purpose was for diverse and collaborative design teams, led by architects and landscape architects, to come up with ideas that could be implemented locally and applied regionally in an effort to rethink the typical response to catastrophic coastal storm events and to consider the future of our urbanized coastlines. This experience has been instrumental in my approach to thinking about resilience and regionalism with respect to design.
Today I work for W Architecture & Landscape Architecture whose bulk of constructed projects is on waterfronts throughout the country and we are currently developing plans for public projects of varying scales throughout New York City and elsewhere. Check out the new website to see what we have been up to; www.w-architecture.com.
What unique or standout work have you participated in?
I believe that every element of work I have participated in, including the summer I spent working with a surveyor, has been valuable in terms of where I stand today. Surveying gave me a deep understanding of site elements such as topography, geography, hydrology, and forestry, as well as an awareness of cultural history and property law. Civil and environmental engineering reinforced these topics and created a deeper awareness of the built environment and the interface between the natural and the constructed landscapes. I regularly return to these themes to generate design concepts, and I rely on my understanding of engineering and biology to inform my design ideas. This backdrop, on top of my more recent engagement with the resiliency work of the Rockefeller Foundation (Rebuild by Design, Rockefeller Academies), has set the stage for the ideation of the journal, Corridor. The first issue was printed and made available in November.
Corridor is a journal that will investigate the architecture and landscapes of secondary cities tied together along the Northeast Corridor (as defined by Amtrak, Boston to DC). As landscape architects in New York City, we often are looking at other cities around the country who are investing in their public spaces, and it is incredible to see all of these places building world-class parks as a strategy to attract more people; Cleveland, Detroit, Raleigh, Los Angeles, Chattanooga, Vancouver, Austin, Pittsburgh, St Petersburg FL (yeah, W!). Corridor is a labor of love between my brother James, an architect in Chicago, and myself. We have been musing about this project for the better part of 3 years and are on the cusp of printing the first issue which will highlight Bridgeport, Connecticut.
As a secondary city, Bridgeport has everything we find integral to a great city. Bridgeport has a stock of Romanesque civic buildings from the 19th Century, scores of industrial relics with uncertain futures, and two Olmstedian / Vauxian parks (including their largest maritime public commission, Seaside Park). It is also a major transportation hub for the state, serving as a multi-modal interchange sending commuters and its diverse communities from New York to Boston or Hartford, or vice versa via trains, buses, and ferries. In many ways, Bridgeport represents the challenges of a de-industrialized coastal city that we find fascinating, and Corridor will focus five issues on this topic. The first issue was recently released and we will be highlighting Providence RI in the second issue.
Separate from Corridor, I also had the opportunity to work directly with both Mierle Ukeles and Agnes Denes, on two distinct projects that were both located on properties of the NYC Department of Sanitation; Fresh Kills Park in Staten Island and Edgemere Landfill in Queens, respectively. It was an incredible experience to work with both of these iconic artists and to peek at the world through their perspectives. Merle’s project, The Overlook, which is a cantilevered walkway in the southern portion of Fresh Kills, was presented at her retrospective of the Queens Museum in 2016 and will be constructed in the coming years. Agnes’ project is a geometrical forest, designed in concentric ovals for the 119+ acre Edgemere peninsula which juts out into Jamaica Bay. I hope it is realized one day, as the city is certain to love and cherish it.
What is the most challenging part of the work?
Early on there was this nebulousness about Corridor and its particular content focus. We originally wanted to focus specifically on the train stations of various cities and their design and impact on the immediate surroundings of their site. However, by expanding the scope of each issue to the built environment of the city at large, and allowing flexibility in the focus of each place, there has been a much wider interest in community members to engage in our request for submissions. It has also become far more relatable to other cities along the corridor and we have been contacted about creating an issue in more cities that are interested in this type of investigation. There is so much potential in these places, both hidden and in plain view that Corridor will work to convey.
How will it affect your other work going forward?
As a landscape architect, I am constantly observing my surroundings and considering the potential to make our daily lives better through design. In many ways, cities are competing with one another to attract people and businesses. Landscape architecture and the design of the public realm are tools that cities can use to make an impact on the physical environment in an effort to accomplish these goals. Corridor frees me up to think about this collaboratively with other professionals in a variety of fields who also believe in the potential of these places. Ideally, Corridor will help cities identify opportunities for their built environments. My brother and I have always been fascinated and inspired by the work of the Yale Building Project (Charles Moore) and the Rural Studio (Samuel Mockbee), and their students, where there is equal measure of civic engagement and community input that coalesces to realize a built project. We highlight one of the Yale Building Projects in Corridor’s first issue.
Where do you go for the creative inspiration for projects or the work that you do?
I started running with regularity while in college, and have done it ever since. While in grad school I realized how impactful running can be on the creative process, especially when wrestling with a problem or a project for a while. Something about running has a tendency to unlock fresh ideas. To take it a step further, I will run in environments that are somehow related to the challenges that projects present, and let my mind wander on those places. Our office is on Fulton Street near Borough Hall in Brooklyn, so I might take a midday run to marvel at the engineering / horticultural feat which is Brooklyn Bridge Park. On weekends I’ll take my daughter to Prospect Park, Brooklyn Botanical Garden, Pratt or the Naval Cemetery Landscape in the Navy Yard to observe the variety of landscapes in the neighborhood and watch how they change throughout the seasons. The callicarpa in BBG is doing some funky stuff right now.
Cities, in general, inspire me. Wherever you go in them there is a limitless fountain of culture and ideas to drink in.
What landscape architects that are currently active do you admire and why?
I am not sure if all of these firms are landscape architecture firms in the traditional sense, but here are a few that I admire. Gehl Studio and their approach to projects through consistent and focused research of the built environment and its impact on society is one that I think is admirable and very important. I have been to a handful of Hargreaves’ projects throughout the country and have enjoyed the spatial perspectives unique to their landforms and sculptural earthen topographies. It is like land art meets ADA requirements and you don’t have to travel to the desert to get there. I also appreciate the research-based and experimental mentality of groups like SCAPE, Port Urbanism, the Center for Urban Pedagogy, Hester Street Collaborative, Interboro Partners, Range, and Waggonner & Ball. I also admire groups who seem to do exactly what interests them like Family New York and PLAYLAB, INC. (+Pool), and my friends at Terremoto in LA.
What is your favorite landscape or place and why?
Grand Army Plaza at the confluence of Flatbush and Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn. I used to live near it and would make a daily pilgrimage to its fountain no matter the time of year. There is something specifically beautiful about it that I cannot quite define which may be the reason I continue to go. I would often take very late cab rides home from a former job and would ask the driver to do a loop around it prior to going to my apartment, and even in a taxi at 2 am it is mesmerizing. I think the key to its success is its scale, and its mix of grandiosity and simple materials that does it for me. But I’ll keep going and try to figure it out.
Liz Pulver has practiced landscape architecture since 1997, working with national and international leaders in the industry. Her experiences with West 8, Hollander Design, Thomas Balsley Associates and David Thorne, give her unique insight into the genesis of design at varied scales from residential gardens to greenroofs to campuses and city parks. Her experience in design-build and landscape construction, provides a practical overlay that keeps her work tied to the realities of the site and application. Liz is a registered landscape architect in New York and California and has begun developing a product line for small, urban gardens. She was raised in the Hudson Valley and earned her bachelor’s degree in Landscape Architecture from Cornell University. We caught up with Liz this month to ask a few questions:
- When did you realize you wanted to become a Landscape Architect? What was your path to landscape architecture?
I first saw ‘landscape architecture’ written in the list of majors at Cornell, when I was applying to colleges, as a high school student. It sounded intriguing, and I began researching it further. The field seemed to encompass many observations and concerns I’d had about the changing landscape around me, but wasn’t yet able to fully express or verbalize. It seemed geared toward my strengths and interests in art and the environment. The more I learned, the more interesting it sounded. I wanted to learn more, and just kept following the trail further, to college, to licensure and beyond. Landscape architecture can be many things, and I continue to ‘follow the trail’ and explore where it will take me.
- Where do you get your inspiration? Do you have any go-to sources?
Mmmmm… see travel section, #9 below!
3. How did you first become interested in designing your own ‘Garden-Totes?’
A few years ago- I was on the hunt for the perfect planter for apartment gardeners living in the city, with no outdoor space, like me. I just wanted a little greenery! But the product I wanted, seemed to be missing from the market. One day, I realized- I could simply design my own planter! My experience in design-build gave me access to craftsmen, manufacturers and vendors who helped me navigate the steps required to produce the planters. I enjoy the design, testing and fabrication processes. The greatest learning curve has been in understanding the manufacturing and retail landscapes, and developing the right marketing strategies to reach my customers. I continue to learn and adapt as I move forward.
- What is your favorite part about the design process?
One of the great joys of designing, is that once a project is finally built and completed, clients can be so very appreciative of how your design expertise and efforts have improved their daily life. There is a direct correlation between what you do and how they feel. There is tremendous satisfaction in being responsible for that.
- What projects are you working on now?
I have a variety of projects in front of me, including several residences, rooftop terraces, a pocket park in upstate New York, ongoing planter and product development and am teaching a class at New York Botanical Gardens this Spring.
6. What Landscape Architects (current or past) do you admire and why?
There are many landscape architects I admire, for many reasons: Tommy Church inspires me for his ability to link interior and exterior spaces and to captivate public interest in outdoor spaces, garden design and horticulture. Roberto Burle Marx inspires for his novel, graphic patterns, non traditional education and approach. Scape and Team impress me for stretching our profession in new directions. Mikyoung Kim inspires for her thoughtful, sensitive approach to design and collaboration. The West 8 Team inspires for continually reimagining and customizing spaces to their locations and local communities. Cornell Professors like Marv Adleman and Paula Horrigan, inspire for the time they spent investing in me, exposing me to the wide breadth, impact and value of landscape architecture to society.
- What advice would you give to emerging professionals?
Ask the following questions:
- How does your design help the client? How does it add value to their life, business, environment or community? Seek out opportunities to develop your presentation, communication and business planning skills. Design is one important part of the equation of our profession, but it’s not the only part. Work for landscape architects who are great designers, and others who are great businesspeople, and others who are great horticulturists, and others who are….You get the idea- the list goes on! There is much to know. Expose yourself to as much of it as you can.
- The traditional design office is one approach to the profession. But there are many different ways to pursue landscape architecture and design. Try new things. Find what works for you.
- How do you feel when you receive a long, multi paragraph email from someone? Ugh! Try to limit your emails to 5 sentences, maximum. Be clear, to the point and respectful of everyone’s time. The world will thank you for it!
- What do you value most about being a member of ASLA?
ASLA gives us a fantastic professional platform for broadcasting our interests and concerns and for connecting with colleagues and allied professionals. It keeps us abreast of current issues and amplifies our voice in New York City, Washington DC and beyond. The annual conference is a treasure trove of CEUs and generally lots of fun!
- What would you like to do more of, if you could?
TRAVEL! I love seeing what the rest of the world is up to and connecting with new people. Traveling to new places, meeting new people, seeing new ways to do things; this is where I get the most energy and design inspiration. I love to visit parks and gardens, design offices, nurseries and garden stores while I travel. It’s fascinating to see what new projects they’re designing in Mexico City, what products and tools they’re using in Barcelona, and what plants they’re planting in Marseille. I have always been welcomed by other related professionals as I travel. Our common interests allow us to connect easily and I can experience new places more like a local, than a tourist.
Learn more about Liz at http://lizpulverdesign.com/
David Seiter is design director and founding principal of Future Green Studio where he oversees a staff of twenty-five creative, hardworking and talented individuals. A long-time Brooklyn resident and urban explorer, David enjoys investigating the complex ecology of our cities in order to reveal the nuances of the urban landscape in subtle, poetic ways. With keen attention to sustainability, David is continually exploring how to integrate landscape into the built environment in innovative and environmentally responsible ways.
David is author of the book SUP: Weeds in NYC – a book about the overlooked ecological value of weeds in the urban landscape. Additionally he founded the website spontaneousurbanplants.org which won a 2015 National Honor Award in Research from the American Society of Landscape Architects. David has lectured widely about emergent trends in landscape architecture, and has previously taught at the graduate program for Sustainable Planning & Development at Pratt Institute.
David holds a Master in Landscape Architecture and Regional Planning from the University of Pennsylvania and a BA in Art History from Vassar College. David is an independently licensed landscape architect in New Jersey, Maryland and Virginia. He lives in South Slope, Brooklyn with his filmmaker wife and two children.
When did you realize you wanted to become a Landscape Architect? What was your path to landscape architecture?
I graduated from Vassar College with a degree in Art History and then worked for a year in public art administration. While interning at the Regional Arts Council in Portland, Oregon, I had the opportunity to help curate a series of installations titled Urban Ecology. It was my first experience interfacing with a landscape architect and I loved the balance of creativity and practicality that seemed integral to the profession.
A year later, I had moved to Japan and was teaching English. I had the opportunity to volunteer on weekends at a garden in Kyoto and have discussions with the landscape architect Marc Peter Keane. I was also reading Jim Corner’s Recovering Landscapes which really resonated with the way I had always thought about landscape and urbanism. I applied to Penn Design and returned home to my native Philadelphia to begin my graduate studies.
What led you to start your own firm?
I’ve always been independent and valued my autonomy. Even at age sixteen, I was running my own landscape business in the summer to make extra money by cutting lawns, installing stone paths and gardens. I continued working at landscape design build firms throughout my MLA work at Penn. After graduating in 2005, I worked at Hargreaves Associates and Sawyer Berson before opening up Future Green Studio in 2008.
I always felt that building and research were both integral to the process of design and so, at Future Green, I wanted to create a collaborative design environment where specialists in horticulture, woodworking, construction management and design would come together to realize unique and innovative landscape projects. The intention was to create a culture where designers are connected to plants and materiality and where they are stretched to consider the smallest, crafty detail to the broad, more intellectually complex tasks of research and visioning.
What projects are you working on now?
We’re working on a range of fascinating projects. A couple on the design boards now include Half Street Pedestrian Plaza – which is a one block, curbless street in front the Washington National baseball stadium in DC, site design for House VI – a Peter Eisenman Concept House in Cornwall, CT, a rooftop sculpture garden for the Paul Kasmin Gallery adjacent to the High Line, and the interior garden for the new Essex Crossing Market. Our fabrication workshop is busy crafting custom benches, kitchens and planters for the Cornell Tech Residences and our installers are creating an native woodland garden for the rooftop of the Brooklyn Children’s Museum.
Since studying art history and the works of Duchamp, Smithson and Matta-Clark, I’ve had a particular fascination with the found object. In my first studio at Penn, our site was the post-industrial waterfront of Bridesburg in north Philly. I was inspired by the explorations we took there and used photography as a way of reframing the found landscape. I ended up designing a dramatically-themed “isolation garden” which created a deep circular cut into the earth and left voids within the concrete framework for spontaneous plants to grow.
When I started Future Green, our office was inhabiting a partially abandoned building in Gowanus. We had a large yard with weeds growing relentlessly everywhere. At some point, it just seemed silly that even as a plant lover – I had no idea of any of the names of the plants around me. So, we took it upon ourselves to become educated about the plants we see everyday.
Where do you get your inspiration? Do you have any go-to sources?
I live near Prospect Park and often take walks to feel inspired or clear my head. You have to find a way of staying quiet in your mind. The city is such a busy place that sometimes escaping up to Fahnestock State Park for a hike with my family and just observing the landscape will inspire a design approach or decision. Most often at Future Green, design ideas happen through collaboration. By verbalizing ideas and sketching out possibilities, my co-workers inspire poetic solutions. I also check out Instagram.
What Landscape Architects (current or past) do you admire and why?
I’ve been drawn to the work of Lawrence Halprin – the presentation of his work at the National Building Museum in DC last year was inspiring. I like his breadth of work, the collaborative nature of his studio and the simplicity of his urban fountains and plazas. Roberto Burle Marx, Dan Kiley, and Isamu Noguchi are all inspiring modernist figures. Ken Smith and Martha Schwartz for the ways they explore artificial landscapes. Michael Van Valkenburgh for his attention to planting design and circulation. Field Ops and West 8 for their style and placemaking.
What advice would you give to emerging professionals?
Sometimes it’s easy to get bogged down while designing from behind a desk. If your work experience doesn’t provide it, find a way of getting out to a nursery on a weekend, volunteer at an organization like Gowanus Canal Conservancy, or make a planter for your home or fire escape. Getting your hands dirty keeps your ideas fresh.
What do you value most about being a member of ASLA?
I appreciate the community that ASLA creates. The varied events that ASLA facilitates allows for opportunities to get to know a great group of people. Landscape architects are an amazing bunch – socially considerate, environmentally conscious, creative, pragmatic, and visionary.
What would you like to do more of, if you could?
I would love to leave work at 2pm every day and pick my kids up from school. I would also love a work week that includes two days gardening, three days designing and no days running a business.
Learn more about David and Future Green Studio at: futuregreenstudio.com
Nette Compton, RLA is the Associate Director of City Park Development at The Trust for Public Land, and the President of the American Society of Landscape Architects New York Chapter. Nette previously served at the NYC Parks Department as the Director of Green Infrastructure, and a Project Manager. During that time she co-authored the High Performance Landscape Guidelines, published by the New York City Parks Department and the Design Trust for Public Space. Nette received her BS in Landscape Architecture and Plant Science, as well as a Masters in Urban Ecology, from Cornell.
1) When did you realize you wanted to become a Landscape Architect?
I have always loved gardening – as a kid I had an herb garden that I loved. I also loved drawing, with a particular emphasis on botanical illustration. Watching This Old House as a middle schooler was the first time I heard of a landscape architect, as they are part of the show, and I was so excited to find out there was a career that allowed me to merge my love of plants, design and people. So by 14 I was set with a career plan, a detail those who know me are likely unsurprised by.
2) What Landscape Architects who are currently active do you admire and why?
Signe Nielsen is fantastic, for her dedication to public work and long career of community-based and environmentally thoughtful design. Susannah Drake does a fabulous job of combining art and science in her work, which is always so inspiring, and a direction more landscape architects need to emphasize. Annette Wilkus always floors me with her dedication to the craft and attention to detail, establishing herself so solidly in the male-dominated world of construction. So basically, a lot of kick-ass ladies who have pushed the field forward in so many ways.
3) What advice would you give to emerging professionals?
Be multi-disciplinary. The more you can stretch your expertise, the more you can bring to a project, and be the central point of its execution. That can be technical skills like soils and green infrastructure, or innovative community engagement practices, or policy implications. The more you can understand these areas, the better your work will be, and you will be a better advocate for it to a broader audience.
We are a diverse group, but an awesome one. Landscape architects tend to be fun, thoughtful and engaging. Maybe I’m biased, but I think the profession attracts a certain range of people, who care deeply about what they do and the impacts they can have. I’ve really enjoyed getting to know more people through the chapter, which has continued to confirm this theory.
5) What accomplishment during your time as president are you most proud of?
I think that what I am most proud of isn’t specific to my term, but rather being part of a steady growth of the chapter over the last 5 years or so, working with a lot of dedicated people. We are bigger, we have more events, we are better at connecting members as well as reaching out beyond the profession. It has been wonderful to see the increase in engagement and energy.
6) You are also the Associate Director of City Park Development for the Trust for Public Land. What is some of the work that you are most proud of in that role?
The Trust for Public Land does amazing work all over the country, and I am focused on connecting and sharing that work. So consistent in this work is the in-depth and creative engagement of the community in the parks we build, it is a hallmark of our work and a crucial component to why these places are so successful. Helping to share the lessons learned, and bring cutting edge practices to others.
7) You travel to different cities around the country for work; what differences have you noticed about the practice in other parts of the country? Is there anything that seems to be unique about been a Landscape Architect in New York City?
New York has had such amazing investment in parks and open space over the last decade, and these places are known and inspiring all over. What is exciting to see is other cities seeing the value and impact of this work, and investing in their own places. They have the same goals as many parks in New York, but they are at their best when the design and program are unique to their place. This investment is happening all over at a variety of scales, but lots of cities still need more!
8) Do you have any go-to sources for creative inspiration?
I love just walking around cities, and now I get to do this all of the time. I love seeing what people are doing, formally or informally, to shape the urban landscape, and observe how people interact with it. People may not know it, but everyone understands the value of good urban design, and they vote with their use of it!
I would love to be able to spend more time in the cities I visit – there is never enough time to check out all of the parks, museums, interesting neighborhoods and great food!