4 questions for a pro


David Young of DWY Landscape Architects has worked in Sarasota for 18 years and is passionate about his profession's effect on the world. Born and raised in Naples, Young got his degree from the University of Florida and has been involved in a variety of projects, ranging from private homes to large-scale public works. He is working on interior courtyards and sculpture gardens for two museums.

Q:How is landscape architecture changing as a profession?

A:Although aesthetics are still very important, projects of all types are now being designed with a focus on performance. It's not just about arranging plants in back of houses; we really are in a position of creating big changes for our clients and for the environment — healthy changes. We're working with architects, scientists and many other professionals to understand exactly how we can make a difference with our designs and address issues of climate change, loss of biodiversity and habitat, and resource depletion.

Landscape architecture also can bring about socioeconomic change through projects like the High Line in New York City (a mile-long aerial greenway on a former elevated railroad line).

Through good design, great things can happen, both locally and on the larger, world stages. We can solve many problems that way and can have a positive influence overall on people and the public and private spaces they enjoy.

Q:Can you give some examples?

A:One is micro-climate modification. Let's say we're dealing with a park or residential project, and there is a really hot area that we want to be used in the afternoon. We'll determine ways to achieve some shading through trees or add water elements, such as wet walls or ponds, so that when there is a breeze, it can come across a water body and help adjust the temperature.

With hurricanes, more natural, softer shorelines are often preferable to the hard-edged shorelines we have created. Mangroves grow with the rising tide, whereas seawalls don't. New Orleans has become one of the leading cities using trees and landscapes to offset and mitigate the effect of storms.

Q:What excites you most about your profession right now?

A:That we're looking at landscapes as functional, as giving back. There are two new areas of investigation pushing that direction forward. One is LID, Low-Impact Development, which is a set of goals, strategies and tools that focus on achieving development with less impact on our natural resources and less demand on our aging infrastructure.

For example, when it rains, trees are phenomenal at intercepting drainage water. If you stand under a canopy tree during a heavy, hard rain, you're hardly getting wet. That tree is diverting the runoff that would otherwise be taking topsoil and nutrients into the sewers, and from there out into the bay or a stream. Trees in New York City intercept nearly 890 million gallons that way each year, saving an estimated $35 million in stormwater management costs.

The other development is the Sustainable Science Initiative, which is the equivalent for landscape architecture of the LEED certification program for buildings. It's a process to figure out how we can arrive at the best result in the most ecological and beneficial way, not only for the public or the end user, but also for the environment. If you can get a drop of rainwater water back into the ground in the closest possible location to where it falls, that's a better approach than to let it bounce off concrete pavement, down a storm sewer and into a storm surge that may create problems far away. So we try to mimic natural ecosystems by using materials like porous paving and green (planted) roofs.

Q:What do you foresee in the future for your profession?

A:As landscape architecture becomes more mainstream and as municipalities recognize the daunting issue of replacing aging infrastructure, we can provide alternatives to ripping up roads and doing repair work.

Our infrastructure in Sarasota is getting quite old, too. The summers here are brutal in terms of the heat index. So I see a lot of opportunity for landscape architecture to make a significant impact. We can create wonderful spaces for people here, spaces that give back and provide a real value in addition to aesthetic and emotional benefits.


Last modified: April 5, 2013
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