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Part of a Tribe

The last several years could be looked at as a period of fracturing, retrenchment and confusion. Our profession has suffered greatly, and the prospect of future projects and jobs is still more than unclear. As individuals, we have pulled inward at times to try to ride out this incredible storm. Organizations have gotten smaller, offices have gotten smaller and we have lost important relationships. Our way of being in the day-to-day is not as full as it used to be in terms of interpersonal relationships and volumes of project work. The nature of the conversation seems to be different than before the recession as well – it’s less confident possibly; it’s certainly less sure. At some level, we all assumed that things would get back to normal quickly. Assuming so, without it actually happening, has affected our energy level, maybe even our commitment at times. I know it did for me. But I recently have had a few experiences that have helped strengthen my enthusiasm and commitments.

A short time ago, I was part of a panel to conduct accreditation review at University of Virginia. What struck me about this outstanding program was the robust commitment to scholarship, design and practice that the faculty and students shared. Theirs was an environment of openness, exploration and risk taking. It was also grounded in the practical issues that we face and, in our profession, are required to solve. There was a commitment to the big things that can be accomplished together and to a community that enables the work to happen in an explorative and open way. There was honesty in the dialogue and a distinct lack of ego. You could feel the bond that was formed between everyone.

Then, just a few days ago, I attended the ASLA Annual Meeting and EXPO in San Diego as part of the Landscape Architecture Foundation Board. This Board (and the LAF staff) is committed to scholarship and research. What was once dysfunctional is now an organization on the cusp of being independent and of real value to the profession. It has secured support and funding to enable it to operate, while also creating a program of case study research that will help us prove the value of our work – not only to ourselves, but to allied professions as well. Made up of many leaders of the profession, both scholars and practitioners, the Board enthusiastically contributes time and money to efforts that help us secure a bright future.  It recognizes the value of great young minds and the potential that sharing knowledge can bring to our relatively small profession. I left this meeting feeling part of something bigger and noble, part of a culture of shared commitment, and I felt inspired that many have given so much more than I have into this great profession of ours so that we all can enjoy it and be proud of it. 

Finally, yestereday (the last day of the ASLA annual meeting), I attended a workshop on Evidence Based Design led by Design Workshop’s own Allyson Mendenhall (Associate in our Denver office) and paneled by Design Workshop’s Chairman Kurt Culbertson as well as Deb Guenther of Mithun and Skip Graffam of Olin. The concept of providing rigor to the design process is a conversation that is happening around the influential firms as a way to acknowledge the issues that we face as well as to legitimize the work that we do to solve those problems. I was proud that our work revealed a true commitment to what a research-based design process really means. This presentation revealed that we are clear about the purpose of measurement and have integrated it into our processes overtly. We have all resisted it at times and maybe some of us have not accepted the purpose of this rigor. The commitment that DW Legacy Design® requires is at the forefront of the profession, and we are leaders because of the commitment that has been made over the last 10 years. It is something that we can all share, refine, improve upon and, by doing so, we can continue to lead others toward more well-grounded and inspiring work that actually makes a difference.

Being able to working in teams, being critical, being rigorous and being committed to lifelong learning are practices that are normal to our firm’s culture. It is why we are joined together and why Design Workshop exists. As a profession, let’s all continue to advance the content of our work and use every opportunity to improve ourselves and the way we work together. Let’s take the challenges we face head on and use our work to make the world better. Let’s continue to push into uncomfortable territory so that our leadership and content continues to outlive our founders.  

Note: Glenn Walters is a Design Workshop Shareholder and the Principal-in-Charge for our Asheville, NC office

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