Member Spotlight: Richard Alomar

Richard Alomar, RLA is an Assistant Professor and Extension Specialist in Landscape Architecture at Rutgers University and principle of the Urban Field Studio in New York. He leads weekly on-location sketch crawls and workshops for New York City Urban Sketchers and uses sketching as a way to document site, time movement and thoughts on the relationship between people and place. His main interests are in public spaces and in landscapes designed by nonprofessionals. He holds a B.S. in agronomy from the University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez and an M.L.A from Louisiana State University. He is a registered landscape architect in New York, Virginia, and Maryland and a member of the American Society of Landscape Architects.

As a lead in to our June 7 ASLA-NY Urban Sketchers Waterfront Sketch Walk, we caught up with Richard to talk about drawing on location, landscape architecture and more. Join us on June 7 for a day of learning to draw on location, sketching and touring the beautiful sites along the East River. For more info go to: http://aslany.org/event/asla-ny-urban-sketchers-waterfront-sketch-tour/

1) When did you realize you wanted to become a Landscape Architect?

Like many second degree MLA’s, I stumbled into Landscape Architecture. I was working on a horse farm and helped the owner with his gardens. He suggested I study Landscape Architecture. I had no idea what Landscape Architecture was, so I contacted the LA department at LSU. I went down and spoke to the graduate director, Dr. Dan Earle, and 30 minutes later I was registered in the program. That first semester was incredible. I got to think, speculate, argue, draw, travel, present, and build. It was then I realized that I wanted to be a Landscape Architect.

2) What Landscape Architects who are currently active do you admire and why?

Like many Landscape Architects, I admire and respect all the firms that are doing work that explore the boundaries of what practice can be at different scales. So MVV, Field Operations, Scape, and Stoss immediately come to mind. In New York we’re lucky to have so many really talented people doing incredible work like dlandstudio , Starr Whitehouse and W Architecture. But I must say that working on a consultant team with Signe Nielsen was the most insightful, enlightening and educational experience I’ve ever had on any project, landscape or otherwise.

3) What advice would you give to emerging professionals?

Take the work seriously but yourself, not-so-much.

4) What has been the most rewarding part of being a landscape architect to you?

Just being a landscape architect is reward enough. I have had the opportunity to work with talented people in all fields on projects of all types and sizes. I do remember working on a community garden for the New York Restoration Project and agonizing for days over the location of a bench. Years later I took some students to visit the garden and a group of them walked directly to the bench and plopped themselves down. That was a very rewarding moment.

5) How did you first get involved in Urban Sketchers?

It was another “stumbling into” moment. A friend emailed me the Urban Sketchers website and I was in awe of the work. I hadn’t sketched in a long while, so I invited my friend to go out and sketch. He never showed up, but I went ahead and continued for months. The 3rd Urban Sketcher Symposium came up and I registered. I spent a week in Santo Domingo sketching with and learning from illustrators, artists, architects, landscape architects and designers. I’ve kept it up ever since. A group of us started a New York City Urban Sketcher group that meets every Saturday and participates in the quarterly Worldwide Sketch Crawl.

6) What was the most challenging part of sketching on location?

Sketching. The hardest thing for me to learn was that sketching is a process, a way of recording what you see. It’s not rendering, painting or even drawing for that matter (though it could be the first step to many of those modes of representation). Once I became comfortable with that, sketching became more of a joy and a tool than a worry or a burden.

7) What has been your favorite location to sketch so far?
I enjoy the ordinary and mundane. Abandoned sidewalks, people on benches, lonely trees,
commuters asleep in their seat. But I must say that last winter’s trip to Japan and last year’s
symposium in Barcelona were excellent places to sketch their “ordinary and mundane”.

8) Where would you most like to go next?
This year we’re doing a Sketch Crawl for the ASLA convention in Denver and I’m teaching at the
Symposium in Paraty, Brazil. I am thinking of a sketch project in the south Bronx for some time
next fall.

9) Do you have any go-to sources for creative inspiration?
As far as Landscape Architects, I think that Laurie Olin, Jim Richards, Chip Sullivan, Michael
Vergason, Walter Hood, Micheal Van Valkenburg and Warren Byrd all have a wonderful hand,
eye and body of sketch work. I also like Andrew Topolski, Will Freeborn, Virginia Hein, Nina
Johansson, Irma Serrano and many, many more.

10) What would you like to do more of, if you could?
I’m good with what I do.

Member Spotlight Alison Duncan

AD-Photo1) When did you realize you wanted to become a Landscape Architect?

A: I’ve always had a deep regard for the psychological impact that quality of space can import. Growing up in Lowell, MA and witnessing the city’s revitalization through urban design/preservation initiatives made a huge impression. Twenty years ago, visiting Parc de la Villette for the first time, blew my mind, and at the time, I was also drawn to the projects happening along Battery Park which really kicked off the waterfront rejuvenation we see all around NYC today. But, it was working at Carol R. Johnson Associates (my first job after college) that truly introduced me to the profession.

2) What Landscape Architects who are currently active do you admire and why?

A: I really love the works of Mikyoung Kim and Claude Cormier who balance achieving site goals with playful, sculptural, and complex fabrications and solutions that break the mold of traditional definitions of landscape architecture. MVVA for their planting sensibilities and working with nurseries to cultivate desired planting outcomes from the start of the project rather than as after-thought. Field Operations – they are proposing some of the most high-profile, large-scale, and challenging work within the urban scale.

3) What advice would you give to Emerging Professionals?

AD-131004-Farm to Table Assembly-400A: Landscape architectural design and project outcome are a long process and ones that require patience, adventurous conceptual thinking, and much attention to detail and technical skill; same goes for learning the landscape architectural profession in all of its aspects; it is a lifetime profession that requires accumulating knowledge in many fields over many years. I think it’s important to stay curious, observant, diligent to detail, and take the chances to expand the traditional definitions of the profession that are being embraced by a larger audience today.

4) What about this project sets it apart from the rest of your work?

A: It’s a landscape architecture project wrapped within my first foray into industrial design. This is a pro-bono project working with a senior citizens’ center in Harlem; I had never worked on a project specifically focused on seniors, but given that they are our largest growing demographic, this was a valuable design exercise. The project initially had a site, but later evolved into the design of innovative and modular site furniture that could be used in a variety of settings, provides opportunities for inter-generational community gardening, with a focus on senior users (i.e., comfortable seating, easy-to-reach components, shade features).

5) How did you get involved with DesigNYC, and this project in particular?

A: DesigNYC contacted me originally to request that I submit an application. I think they felt that I would be a good match with the senior center client and the scale of project.

6) Have you worked on pro-bono projects in the past?

A: This is my first pro-bono project with this type of arrangement, with an agency like DesigNYC acting as matchmaker. Over the years, I have worked on many initiatives, pro-bono, including a Textile Test Garden in Lowell, MA, a course book for the NYC Urban Assembly School for Green Careers, design proposals for the East River Waterfront in Williamsburg, some garden/art installations, and much of the work I do on various boards I serve on, including ASLA-NY.

7) What part of the process was most rewarding?

A: Having worked on many projects on public ground and in urban environments, I have enjoyed the intersection of designing places and features that serve a broad range of goals (environmental, sculptural, economic, hydrological, infrastructural) for a diverse community. This project had to meet a range of goals, and I believe that the best designs achieve the complex layering of those in a clean, simple, and legible manner. Central/East Harlem is a greatly underserved community for healthy eating options, so the best part will be fabricating the site furniture components in the near future, getting the farm-to-table gardens growing, and actually impacting a community in real time and space.

8) What unique challenges did you face in this project and the pro-bono process?

A: Coming up with the ‘right’ and ‘best’ design, conceptually, to achieve the goals set forth by the client and site, is always a challenge. I usually know when I have it, but that takes a lot of thought, time and energy that is hard to quantify into fee. Pro-bono is a challenge on one’s earnings too, especially as a new start-up practice. In the case of this project, I put a lot of work into proposals for a particular site that the client eventually lost management of, so I had to switch gears and start with a new site and evolve the design to help them achieve their goals.

9) How will this project effect your work going forward?

A: I am hoping that these site furniture components can be used not only for the client it is meant to serve, but because its modular design is flexible and adaptable, it can be used in a variety of settings and sites around NYC and/or elsewhere to provide education about nutrition and healthy eating practices, as well as provide inter-generational activities to a broader community. If the prototype is successful, perhaps there in an opportunity to market the site furniture on a commercial basis.

For more on Alison Duncan, go to: http://www.alisonduncandesign.com/