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.
How did you first become interested in ‘Spontaneous Urban Plants?’
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.