Where are you from and how long have you been a landscape architect? I grew up on a farm in Milford, Indiana where I was immersed in the outdoors from an early age. I graduated from Purdue’s College of Agriculture in 1979 with a landscape architecture degree and have been working in the industry ever since – going on 44 years!
How did you begin your career journey in Landscape architecture? After graduation, I moved to Peoria, Illinois to join a landscape design/build firm. It was an incredible learning experience that I still value to this day. It taught me how to sell landscapes, manage crews, install, and so much more. It also equipped me with an understanding of how to run a business since I was exposed to everything from billing to handling client feedback following project completion.
Doug pictured with John Brookes in 2016
The next turn in my career came after taking a garden design course at the Chicago Botanic Garden and getting connected with the influential English landscape architect, John Brookes. I learned a lot, but I knew there was much more to learn, and I told myself ‘If I’m going to stay a landscape architect for the rest of my life, I want to be the best landscape architect I can be!”
So, at 32 years old, I made the unorthodox decision to go to the UK for a two-year sabbatical where I had the incredible opportunity to work in the gardens of Britain’s greatest plantsmen, Beth Chatto, John Brookes, and Alan and Adrian Bloom, becoming the heir to centuries of accumulated English horticultural traditions. Those two years were spent completely absorbed in the art and craft of English gardens. I’d spend the days working hands on and learning about soil, plant layering, perennials, microclimates around a home. Evenings were spent talking about plants and gardens over dinner. On the weekends, I would tour gardens across the country. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity. When I returned home, I decided to start my own firm and made Evanston, Illinois my home base. I started giving lectures to garden clubs to share what I’d learned, continued my relationships with my past clients in Peoria, all while organically growing my portfolio around Chicago one client at a time.
What do you think is the most important issue facing landscape architects today? The biggest issue is garnering awareness of the profession and attracting young people to the industry. As a student, unless you’re closely tied to someone in the industry, many aren’t aware of landscape architecture as a career. We’re seeing lower enrollment in undergrad and grad programs; during my time I’ve seen a handful of universities drop their programs due to low attendance. There’s a critical need to continue to promote what we do. ASLA is a huge help in that process.
What have you gained by being a member of ASLA for 41 years? ASLA has been instrumental in building industry relationships. Landscape architecture is a niche market, so having connections through ASLA gives us a place to share what we are doing, how we’re running a business, how to gain more visibility, and expanding our role in the industry with architects and engineers. ASLA also provides the platform to attract new landscape architects, teach and promote the profession, and raise the standard of what we do.
What would you share with others as a reason for belonging to ASLA as a member? If you’re a landscape architect, you need to be involved in ASLA and the Landscape Architecture Foundation (LAF). These are the organizations to be involved in that are a part of pursuing the goals of the industry. Between conferences, industry events, and virtual seminars, it’s the best way to expand your network of firm and peer connections. We can always learn from each other. It’s a good reminder that you’re not in a vacuum; these organizations provide outside perspectives. And it’s comforting to know you’re not alone—being involved with ASLA gives you a place to connect with those who also get the ins and outs of what we do.
Michigan Avenue Streetscape
What is your favorite project in your career and why? I always say the next project I take on is my favorite! I’ve had the pleasure of working on a variety of residential and commercial projects across the country throughout my career. Each one has its own unique story and inspiration of how they came to be. It’s tough to choose just one. I’d be remiss however if I didn’t mention working on Michigan Avenue; this was one of the first major commercial projects I worked on when I started my own studio. It led me to heading Mayor Daley’s green roof committee and working with Apple on the first private sector green roof in Chicago.
Flash forward to the present day, our team recently completed two of the nation’s largest rooftop amenity decks: the Meadow at Old Chicago Post Office and POST Houston. What in your view is the most important thing that landscape architects provide? Landscape architects provide a connection between people and the healing properties that come with horticulture. I truly believe that being outdoors, surrounded by landscape, feeds the soul. It helps remind us to slow down. Is there anything gloomier than an urban society with no environmental connection? Plants have a restorative power that cannot be overlooked. There’s an Irish poet and philosopher, John O’Donohue, who said it best in The Inner Landscape of Beauty. He notes, “What amazes me about landscape, landscape recalls you into a mindful mode of stillness, solitude, and silence, where you can truly receive time.”