Retaining Wall.

DesignIdeation: Collaboration

Ask Kevin Vogel about how LandDesign’s civil engineers and landscape architects work together, and he’ll confidently tell you, “it’s just what we do.” Kevin is an advocate for LandDesign’s collaborative culture, and has worked alongside engineers and landscape architects to bring together diverse perspectives that produce better projects. It’s a simple formula, but when we bring the disciplines together early on in the design process—that’s when the magic happens!

Below, Kevin tells us what he thinks about the progression of our collaborative culture:

Q: What are the benefits that come with bringing civil engineers and landscape architects together at the start of the project?  

I like to say that our civil engineers get a minor in landscape architecture, and our landscape architects get a minor in engineering. We know, understand and appreciate what the other brings to the table from years of collaborating and cultivating this design culture. We are always looking for opportunities to come together to make better places.

We have a great portfolio and breadth of work that proves our value to a client’s project by bringing together landscape architecture and civil engineering. Most people don’t understand the value until they see the dynamic between the disciplines working together from the start.

Q: Was there an the “ah-ha” moment, when you realized the benefits of collaboration between disciplines?

Ultimately, there are “ah-ha” moments in every project. Some projects are more integrated than others, but whatever the opportunity, you can find the “ah-ha” moment. With projects like Duke Kunshan University (Kunshan, PRC), Symphony Park (Charlotte, NC), LPL Financial Headquarters (Fort Mill, SC) and Kingsley Town Center (Fort Mill, SC), we pulled off stormwater, infrastructure, etc. while also maintaining the aesthetic and vision of the place. Those were some of our most collaborative projects.

Personally, an early “ah-ha” moment was when we started the entitlement process for the SouthPark Mall project in Charlotte, NC. Richard Petersheim (landscape architect) and I were both starting our career and we went to Caribou Coffee to discuss the project, and (ah-ha!) we knew that for us to pull this off, we had to focus on integrating our two disciplines.

Symphony Park

Actually, the concept for Symphony Park was born out of this collaboration between Richard and I. The Charlotte Symphony used to perform their summer concert series on a grass field, but it had to be relocated to make way for new development. We started searching for spaces on the project site where we could move the Symphony and looked at an area of the property with a large ravine. We could have turned our backs to that space, but we chose to add a 2-acre pond that controls stormwater runoff from the new development and improves water quality. The cherry on top is the placement of the Symphony’s stage—right in the middle of the pond surrounded by the open space for folks to gather!  

Q: What would you like for people to know about collaboration at LandDesign?

As engineers, we are problem solvers, so we tend to look for problems. But, I always like to say that your first answer is never “no.” Our minds are spinning from the start of a project about all the regulatory restrictions and hurdles, but it’s our job to figure those issues out. When our outstanding landscape architects and engineers come together, we can truly realize what the project wants to be.

Q: Speak to your experience working on Duke Kunshan University and the collaboration our team had to have for the project to be successful.

Duke Kunshan was a great opportunity! We won the design competition for Duke Kunshan based on our vision to integrate water into the campus. That area of China frequently floods and has seasons of high and low water. We pitched a central lake that would mimic the seasons of the year and rise and fall with the water levels. We maintained that overarching vision and saw it manifest into a really successful project.

Duke Kunshan University

The collaboration internally was like most of our projects. LandDesign was running the design and concepts, but this was a great example of how we integrate our services to come up with an idea that balances infrastructure and landscape architecture. We had to understand each other’s disciplines to bring our collaborative working environment to China, and successfully work side-by-side with their local teams.

Q: How has your background as a musician influenced your ability to collaborate with designers of different disciplines?

Being in a band is similar to being in a design charrette or client meeting. In the context of a band, you sit in a studio and start playing music that doesn’t exist yet and you create it in the context of a team. You come up with an idea and vision for what the song is going to be and go through the nuts and bolts to figure out what works, until you have a song. Creating new music is like working on a project and uncovering a vision for a project. Everyone puts their ideas on the table and all of a sudden you start rolling with the big idea, until you’ve got a project.

Q: What has your career as a civil engineer taught you about anticipating future infrastructure needs?

As communities grow, there are a lot of pressures on infrastructure. With new development comes runoff, flooding and water quality issues from an environmental standpoint, as well as capacity, transportation and roadway issues from an infrastructure standpoint. At LandDesign, we work with municipalities to provide a process that can help with these pressures and serve on stakeholder committees and advisory boards to strike a balance between being good stewards of our community, while working alongside our clients to create the great places communities need to grow.

Q: As a designer that has worked on numerous types of projects, (master planning, public infrastructure, public-private partnerships, etc.), what have those experiences collectively taught you?

Every project is an opportunity to listen to what the client and project needs are. We need to look ahead and not just think about what’s going on in the moment, but anticipate future needs. As engineers, we aren’t just here to design and permit, but to go above and beyond to help our clients build a successful project and create a place everyone is proud of.