Social equity and community engagement are key to successful landscape architecture

COURTESY: 2.INK STUDIO - Studios work on Yard, a mixed-use building at the east end of the Burnside Bridge in Portland, garnered one of several awards the firm has won since it was formed in 2006 by Melinda Graham and Jonathan Beaver.

With a recent awards sweep that includes national recognition from the American Society of Landscape Architects and five nods from ASLA's Oregon chapter, Melinda Graham and Jonathan Beaver are celebrating Studio's diversity of work and the new generation of landscape architects coming up behind them.

Graham, the firm's owner, and Beaver, principal and lead designer, came to landscape architecture from very different paths. Graham majored in psychology and biology and was doing temp work as a field biologist in Australia when she met an urban planner and realized she liked the mix of land, people and creativity. She went back to school and earned a master's degree in landscape architecture.

Beaver's interest in landscape architecture took root during his childhood when he would explore botanical gardens during travels with his mother. He was majoring in math during college and exploring a career in architecture, which led him to attend a lecture by a professor who had recently returned from visiting European gardens.

"It just kind of clicked in a way. I think I literally changed my major the next day," said Beaver, who earned degrees in landscape architecture and fine arts with an emphasis in sculpture. His interest in sculpture continues to play a part in his design work today.

The pair worked at Walker Macy and Murase Associates together before establishing Studio in 2006. The firm specializes in civic, education and healthcare projects as well as mixed-use development, parks and private experimental gardens. It received a 2018 ASLA Honor Award for YARD, a mixed-use building at the east end of the Burnside Bridge that features a sloped green roof.

Other recent kudos include Oregon ASLA Honor Awards for SINBIN, a Portland private residence that combined an artists' retreat, skate bowl, recording studio and playground; Cully Park, a 25-acre park in Northeast Portland that transformed an abandoned landfill into a community playground, garden, sports fields and gathering place; and a Lake Oswego private garden called Big Rock Candy Mountain.

COURTESY: 2.INK STUDIO - Studio won an Honor award from the Oregon chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects for the firms work on SinBin, private residence in Portland that includes an artists retreat, a skate bowl, a recording studio and a playground.

Graham said the firm is seeing a shift in its work from mixed-use and development-based projects, including working with Hoyt Street Properties in the Pearl District, to more schools and academic institutions. In its parks projects, universal accessibility is playing a greater role in its approach to design. The Salem Rehab Adaptive Playground designed by Studio in partnership with Scott Edwards Architecture is a public, all-abilities playground and a working pediatric and adult therapy setting for the Salem Hospital Outpatient Rehabilitation Center.

Beaver noted that landscape architects have long had an ecological awareness that natural resources are limited and have been at the forefront of sustainable design. The younger generation of design professionals is so ingrained to incorporate sustainable design elements that is an expectation rather than an added bonus.

"I think there is a lot more discussion now around resiliency and how design can mitigate the impacts of global climate change, especially in an area like Portland where we're not seeing the effects yet but it's on the horizon," he said. "I would say the other part of that is social equity and creating an environment where the voices of all people in our culture are being heard and are present and engaging."

Graham said she enjoys meeting with students and talking with them about different approaches to landscape design.

"What's fun about landscape architecture is that it's not very permanent. We don't do a lot of monuments that are going to be here long after us. Hopefully we capture what is happening in the moment," she said.

As they approach different types of projects, whether it's a mixed-use building or a public park, Graham and Beaver find common themes.

"There is a strong desire to really understand our clients and what their needs are, and even understand the elements that maybe they don't fully comprehend about what they are trying to develop and get to the root of that," Beaver said. "The client is the heart of every project and they are all very different."

He added that he and Graham appreciate the process of exploring the unique expression of each site they are working on. "We're always thinking about what the connections to adjacent buildings and open spaces are."

Graham likened their design process to creating a narrative story in which landscape architecture overlays people and land and the culture they produce. As an example, one site may have a strong environmental context while another, such as the Northeast Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard Gateway project, is more centered around people and has strong community layers.

Situated at the convergence of Northeast Grand and MLK Jr. Boulevard, the site serves as both a gateway to the North and Northeast Portland communities and commemorates Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Heritage markers along the street were designed to identify individual neighborhoods and strengthen the sense of visual continuity along the boulevard.

"We do try to walk away with something that is sculptural and brings something beautiful to the world," Graham said.

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