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Groundbreakers: 15 Landscape Architecture Firms You Should Know

Kweku Addo-Atuah Kweku Addo-Atuah

Landscape architecture is, far too often, the forgotten profession of the construction industry.

While architects of buildings sweep all before them in the media and at the awards ceremonies, those that shape everything that surrounds, complements and frames those structures are often the unsung heroes of a project, entwining natural life with man-made environments and blending architecture with the earth in extraordinary ways. Indeed, the discipline should be regarded as an integral part of the built environment, as some of the most iconic designers in history can attest to. Luis Barragán, who called himself a landscape architect, once said: “I don’t divide architecture, landscape and gardening; to me they are one.”

Cuadra San Cristobal by Luis Barragán; via Modernica

In recognition of this vital discipline, Architizer’s A+Awards — the world’s largest awards program for architects and products — includes categories dedicated to the innovative works of landscape architecture firms, including prizes for public parks, private gardens and the coveted Plus award for Architecture +Landscape.

While you may have heard of one of last year’s most celebrated A+Award winners — James Corner Field Operations, most well known for its work on the iconic High Line in New York — there are many other important landscape architecture firms that, despite their profound impact on the urban environment, get less coverage. To put this right, we’ve put together a collection of some of the best landscape designers on the planet. Explore these key firms and their projects, and if your favorite is left out, make sure to let us know in the comments.

Plaza Euskadi, Barcelona;image via Balmori Associates

Balmori Associates

Founded in 1990, Balmori Associates is a New York City–based urban and landscape design firm. Balmori projects enjoy wide notoriety for their inventive interfacing of landscape and architecture, utilizing research and collaboration to collapse the boundaries between nature and structure. The firm insists on producing ‘green infrastructures’ — designs that invite community interaction and reveal constructed and natural operations — in its projects, be they parks, open space restorations or recreational venues. Recent projects include the GrowOnUs floating landscape on the Gowanus Canal and the Rebuild by Design project Hoboken: Resist, Delay, Store, Discharge with OMA.

Lurie Garden, Millennium Park Chicago; image via GGN

Gustafson Guthrie Nichol (GGN)

Based in Seattle since 1999, this 45-person practice has a professional staff with expertise in landscape architecture, architecture, art, engineering and ecology. GGN provides clients with extensive skill in the design of high-use, prominently sculptural landscapes in complex urban contexts. The firm’s work operates from deep research into each site’s history, ecology and communities and varies in scale and type, from campus and master plans to furniture. Among its notable work is the National Museum of African American History and Culture, the Lurie Garden at Millennium Park and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Campus.

De Young Museum, San Francisco; image via Hood Design

Hood Design

Established in 1992, Hood Design is a firm specializing in creating dynamic, cultural environments in which people live, work and play. The studio practice seeks to engage with urban landscapes where residents share collective physical, social and economic resources, as these multidimensional contexts set up powerful, sculpted resolutions for several neighborhood redevelopment and revitalization challenges. Over its 25 years, the California-based practice has enjoyed critical acclaim working on such varied projects as Splash Pad Park and the de Young Museum with Herzog & de Meuron. The award-winning firm has received citations from such divergent institutions as the AIA, the Cooper-Hewitt and Fast Company and has won the 2010 Venice Biennale.

High Line Section 3, New York; image via JCFO

James Corner Field Operations (JCFO)

You may know the firm already, but we just had to include it on the list nonetheless. Winning some of the most coveted commissions in the last 10 to 15 years, JCFO is a landscape architecture and urban design practice with offices in New York City and London. The firm is noted for its innovative, contemporary design interventions across a range of project types and scales, running the gamut of large urban districts to complex abandoned and postindustrial sites. Guiding the firm’s work is a strong commitment to designing a vibrant, dynamic public realm informed by both the ecology of people and nature. Critically acclaimed and award-winning projects include the High Line, Freshkills Park and the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.

Grand Canal Square, Dublin; imagevia Martha Schwartz Partners

Martha Schwartz Partners

Headquartered in London, the firm has over 35 years of experience designing gardens, plazas, parks, institutional-plus-corporate landscapes and public installations. The firm situates itself at the intersection of landscape, public art and urbanism, believing that the urban landscape acts as a platform upon which an artful synergy of human and natural environments occurs. MSP’s multidisciplinary staff works with cities to help envision and implement projects that adhere to environmental, economic, social and environmentally sustainable principles. The firm’s eagerness to collaborate provides opportunity to work on a range of project types and scales in complex urban, social contexts with a particular need for human connection, identity and enjoyment. Notable projects include the Dublin Docklands, Exchange Square in Manchester, England, and Mesa Arts Center in Arizona.

“The Park,” Las Vegas; image via !melk

!melk

!melk, founded in 2010, is an urban design and landscape architecture practice based in New York. The studio draws from a wide-ranging international portfolio derived from 20-plus years in conceptualizing, developing and implementing projects in many cities worldwide. The guiding principle for its park and waterfront projects is to embrace every social, political and economic challenge, using these as motivation to produce site-specific interventions. Setting the firm apart is its creative methodology, which comprises research, advanced technologies, attention to detail and quality in addition to profitability and courage. Key projects: “The Park,” Kodrina Complex masterplan with Studio Libeskind and Governors Island Park with West 8.

Vista Hermosa Natural Park, Los Angeles; image via Mia Lehrer+Associates

Mia Lehrer+Associates

Based in Los Angeles, California, Mia Lehrer+Associates is a full-service international landscape architecture practice and has under its belt a diverse range of public and private projects. From large urban parks and neighborhood redevelopment to intimate garden spaces, MLA approaches each work with high emphasis on holistic, public engagement and creative methodologies. The firm’s design interventions seek to foster rich, layered experiences, using the experiential qualities of natural and man-made elements as well as the ephemeral properties of materials. Some of MLA’s work that reflects its profound technical expertise and inventive imagination include the LA River and Hollywood Park master plan and Dodger Stadium.

Brooklyn Bridge Park, Brooklyn; image via MVVA

Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates (MVVA)

MVVA is an 80-person practice working on an array of project types and scales ranging from large public parks and university campuses to intimate gardens and private landscapes. Guiding the multidisciplinary firm is the desire to create dynamic landscapes and communities that are strong in identity, enhance everyday experience and enrich quality of life. Characterizing MVVA’s work is its attention to high-quality programming, environmental performance, financial resourcefulness and technical innovation. Among the firm’s higher profile works are the Brooklyn Bridge Park and Teardrop Park.

Kelo University Roof Garden, Tokyo; image via Archivitamins

Michel Desvigne Paysagiste

Established in 1988, Michel Desvigne Paysagiste enjoys collaborations on premier projects such as the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis with Herzog & de Meuron and the Dallas Center for the Performing Arts with Norman Foster and REX/OMA. Distinguishing the firm’s work is its decidedly agricultural aesthetic and approach to urban sites. MDP prefers to introduce flexible frameworks and planting strategies that create varied, unpredictable densities and textures, unlike the prescribed manicured spaces that are the rage today. Through this approach, MDP projects play with time and succession (vegetation growth, ephemeral experiences brought on by seasonal changes), thus acquiring vast quantities of anticipation and possibility.

140 West Plaza: Exhale, Chapel Hill; image via MKD

Mikyoung Kim Design

The 20-year-old firm with a body of work spanning the Americas and Asia is one noted for its culturally sensitive landscapes that address the collective human experience and environmental issues. Driven by a zeal to enliven and heal the public realm through a layered, multigenerational civic experience, the practice exploits its deep understanding of material detailing and technologies. A background in fine arts and music allows MKD to sculpt designs that blur the boundaries between landscape architecture and environmental art. The range of designed landscapes, from playgrounds to parks and master plans, all feature seasoned understandings of hydrology and lighting plus holographic technology in such projects as the ChonGae Canal Restoration Project.

Sylvan Theater at Washington Memorial, Washington, D.C.; image via OLIN

OLIN

With offices in Philadelphia and Los Angeles, OLIN seeks to affect positive change through landscape architecture, urban design and planning. Utilizing a rigorous research, analytical and iterative design process, OLIN imbibes the intrinsic qualities of a site and its community and artfully transforms its projects that include urban districts, campuses, civic parks and ecological/regional systems. No stranger to prominent commissions, the firm’s recent work includes the 11th Street Bridge Park project with OMA, the Bryant Park restoration and the Sylvan Theater at the Washington Monument.

Chicago Riverwalk, Chicago; image via Sasaki

Sasaki Associates

Since its founding in 1953 by Hideo Sasaki, Sasaki is now a 270-person-strong firm offering high-quality service in landscape architecture, architecture, civil engineering, urban planning and urban design, graphic design and branding and data science. The firm focuses on a holistic, interconnected vision and framework in crafting the plethora of urban and campus environments it operates in, driven by the core tenet “what we create will shape the way we live.” High-profile projects are common to this firm, including but not limited to the Chicago Riverwalk and the Lincoln Memorial Landscape.

Dune Co-Habitat, Queens; image via SCAPE

SCAPE/Landscape Architecture

A landscape architecture and urban design studio based in New York, the studio seeks to integrate natural cycles and systems into its many projects that deal with regenerative infrastructure and public landscapes. Projects range in scale from a regional ecological plan to an urban pocket park and enjoy a synthetic solution informed by the firm and its collaborators’ diverse skills. SCAPE boldly engages communities and stakeholders and thoughtfully translates its vision into realized landscapes of lasting significance and reconnects neighborhoods and habitats for current and future generations. Notable projects: Oyster-Tecture for the Museum of Modern Art and the Living Breakwaters Rebuild by Design winning proposal (South Shore of Staten Island).

Red Ribbon Park, Qinhuangdao; image via Turenscape

Turenscape

Earning wide international acclaim for its innovative environmentally and culturally significant designs, Turenscape is a firm with over 600 staff providing services in landscape architecture, architecture, urban planning and design and environmental design. Driven by a philosophy of “nature, man and spirit as one,” Turenscape projects amount to over 300 ecological cities and 1,000 completed projects in China alone. Key projects for this firm include the Red Ribbon Park, the 26-hectare Yanweizhou Park in Jinhua and the Shanghai Houtan Park.

Queens Quay Boulevard, Toronto Waterfront; image via West 8

West 8

Founded in 1987, this landscape architecture and urban design practice has offices in Rotterdam, New York and Brussels. With an international team of over 70 architects, landscape architects, urban designers and industrial engineers, West 8 draws from its expertise in tackling complex projects, spanning large-scale urban master planning and design, waterfront, parks and squares. West 8 combines its Dutch and landscape heritage in applying a design logic based on utility plus necessity in constructing landscapes that respond to such issues of water management, population growth as well as reinforcing cultural identities and expression. Key projects include the Governors Island Park, Schouwburgplein public square and four WaveDecks on the Toronto waterfront.

Introduction by Paul Keskeys; cover image: Philadelphia Navy Yards Central Green by James Corner Field Operations