From planning the layout of a zoo to recreating wetlands impacted by a development project, landscape architects use a blend of science and art to design outdoor spaces. As a consultant for the restoration of natural sites, Brandon DeRosa strives to balance beauty, nature, and functionality in his designs to respect the needs of both people and the environment.
Describe what you do.
We may design areas such as parks, campuses, and resorts, or plan the restoration of natural sites such as wetlands and forested land. Whether the project involves a public development or natural habitat, the shared objective is to meet public needs while respecting the environment. With my background in science and design, I have created a niche uncommon in this profession best described as a habitat restoration specialist. I often work on several projects simultaneously and my role changes from landscape architect to wetland biologist depending on the project. Working closely with other designers, scientists, and engineers, I’m typically involved in the planning stages of a project but opportunities also exist to partake in the design’s construction. There is no typical day in the office—one day I might work on a restoration design at my desk and the next day I might fly to Alaska to do wetland assessment. Every design I work on requires hours of thought on so many different levels, it is like being an artist with the landscape as my canvas. Each object in the design serves a purpose and reflects the overall design concept.
Why landscape architecture?
My love of the outdoors and design inspirations can be traced back to my childhood. Early on I appreciated landscape form as something I could manipulate to make more interesting—I remember one winter, when I was about 8 years old, digging trails through fresh snow in my backyard and admiring the contrast between white mounds and green grass. In high school, my two favorite subjects were science and art. Unaware of a career that combined these interests, I decided to pursue a bachelor’s degree in natural resource management, which allowed me to study all of the biological sciences. Throughout college I worked for my uncle’s business, which focused on designing and creating large-scale wetland environments. I achieved a solid science background and found wetland biology fascinating, but I had no outlet for my creative tendencies. In my final year of college I took some art-related electives. With this revived energy in the arts and advice from professors, I decided to study landscape architecture in graduate school.
A current project?
I am working as an environmental mitigation inspector for one of the largest public-funded projects in Washington—the third runway for the Seattle Tacoma International Airport. So how does a landscape architect get involved in a runway project? As you can imagine, creating an over two-mile-long runway may have some environmental impacts. Compensatory wetland mitigation involves the creation or restoration of new wetland to offset the loss of a wetland impacted by a development project. In this way, the functions provided by a wetland, such as flood control, wildlife habitat, and natural filtration, are maintained in the environment. By overseeing this mitigation and participating in its construction, I am actually building something tangible beyond a design on paper. Being involved in the end result is very fulfilling.
Any advice for students?
If you are interested in art, science, and the environment in particular, then this career is a great choice. Find a landscape architect or firm in the phone book, call them, explain your interest in the field, and ask to see some of their designs. Most landscape architects love nothing better than to showcase and discuss their work—not to say we are vain but more so passionate. Visit www.asla.org to learn more about this occupation. People of all types enter this profession; I believe the common thread is the desire to create aesthetically pleasing environments.
—By Megan Sullivan