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Equity and Inclusion in Practice: Sasaki

sasaki-530px-939On June 12, 2018, Sasaki partnered with LAF to hold a panel titled “Design for Equity and Inclusion” at the Sasaki Foundation's new incubator space in Watertown, Massachusetts

In issuing the New Landscape Declaration, the Landscape Architecture Foundation has made a commitment to strengthen and diversify our global capacity as a profession and to cultivate a bold culture of inclusive leadership, activism, and advocacy within our ranks. To promote these values, LAF is publishing a series of articles to showcase the ways in which design firms are demonstrating leadership in diversity, equity, and inclusion, from providing targeted support for students and emerging professionals to seeking outside guidance and certification of internal policies. This article kicks off the series and highlights the efforts undertaken by Sasaki to promote a design culture that is welcoming for all.

Sasaki is a global design firm with international staff working at offices in Watertown, Massachusetts and Shanghai, China. By acting with intention, Sasaki has created an atmosphere in which meaningful conversations on the issues of diversity and inclusion can take place and where ideas, not authors, guide projects. These actions are undertaken in pursuit of Sasaki’s vision statement on diversity: Sasaki believes in an inclusive culture that powers human potential. We build our ecosystem on parity, respect, accountability, candor, and trust to reflect our commitment to our people and their contributions. We take this action because diversity is essential to design.
It is not new for Sasaki to emphasize equity in its culture and policies. Over a decade ago, the firm’s leaders recognized a trend in the design industry, and in the wider workforce. Women were frequently passed over for promotions because it was often assumed they would put their careers on hold to raise families. To confront this issue, Sasaki focused on promoting gender equity in its own workforce. The firm brought in a diversity consultant to ensure they were following best practices and, in the years following, continued its focus on equity and inclusion by conducting an annual work/office climate survey, having conversations with staff, and holding focus groups. Sasaki also saw the need to explore what diversity meant in the workplace as the firm was contracted for projects in new locales around the world and attracted more global talent as a result. Further, Sasaki’s projects include public spaces and university campuses where the firm recognized changing demographics in the user base. From all of these influences, Sasaki gained different perspectives on the importance of diversity in design, and a greater understanding of the ways in which team composition plays a vital role in both workplace culture and project design.
Sasaki first looked for a role model within the design professions but found little public discussion of diversity, equity, or inclusion and few resources available. Furnished with data from the American Institute of Architects’ annual survey of architectural firms, Sasaki forged its own path and developed its own research to identify the best strategies for promoting equity and inclusion within its ranks. After reflecting on conversations and insights gathered from staff, Sasaki created a Diversity Committee with four subcommittees, each led by a Principal, including current LAF Board Member Michael Grove. The firm chose this approach because internal discussion demonstrated the need to be intentional in the way these issues were addressed. Each subcommittee is tasked with actionable goals to further discussions of diversity and inclusion surrounding staffing, project design, and the business case for diversity both internally and externally. Sasaki is able to create and disband these ad hoc subcommittees as needed, thus allowing for greater flexibility and ability to target specific needs.
Sasaki wants its work to be a springboard for a bolder, louder, more inclusive voice pushing the design professions to consider diversity and inclusion with intention and to have a stronger voice in activism, especially on issues that impact design. With forthcoming data gleaned from measuring the effects of its initiatives on firm morale, productivity, and output, the firm is strengthening the business case for diversity because, while diversity should be valued in and of itself, demonstrated positive impacts often help to push idea into action. Sasaki sees an exciting path forward to continue promoting diversity and inclusion internally and to engage new voices in public dialogues about moving the profession forward.

LAF Staff Changes

The Landscape Architecture Foundation (LAF) is delighted to welcome two new team members to its growing staff. Rory Doehring joins LAF as Communications Associate and Devin McCue joins as Development Associate. Both began on June 4.

welcome-pic--530pxDevin McCue (left) and Rory Doehring (right) began at LAF on June 4.

Rory’s background is in history, communication, and the nonprofit sector. They recently returned to the East Coast after studying at the University of Missouri where they researched political communication with a focus on public lands. Rory’s past experience also includes governmental grant writing and undergraduate instruction. They are currently concluding their thesis work for a Master of Arts in Communication from the University of Missouri.

Devin brings experience and training in development, business, and history. Prior to joining LAF, his work focused on event planning and sponsor management at the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana in New Orleans. Devin has also previously coached competitive gymnastics. He holds a Master of Management from Tulane University.

These new staff positions will allow LAF to broaden its reach, expand strategic partnerships, and better communicate with constituents and donors. The new hires bring the number of LAF permanent staff to eight.

jenn-300wJennifer Low will pursue a Master of Design.

LAF is also bidding a fond farewell to Jennifer Low, Program Manager for Scholarships and Leadership. Jenn is leaving to pursue a Master of Design at the University of Michigan, where she will be part of a hand-picked team of integrative designers working to address “wicked problems” through hands-on, real-world projects. During her two years with LAF, Jenn was integral to the development and launch of the LAF Fellowship for Leadership and Innovation as well as the continued growth of LAF’s Olmsted Scholars Program and network. LAF will certainly miss her but is very excited about this new opportunity and looks forward to news of her future endeavors.

For a complete list of current LAF staff, bios, and contact information, visit our staff page.

Presentations from the LAF Innovation + Leadership Symposium

On May 17, the first cohort from the year-long LAF Fellowship for Innovation and Leadership, presented their projects at our sold-out symposium. This unique fellowship program provides a $25,000 award that supports working professionals as they develop and test new ideas to bring about impactful change to the environment and humanity and increase the visibility and leadership role of landscape architecture.


Critical Places: Design Interventions to Address Water and Other Issues in Rural India

Alpa Nawre, Assistant Professor, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL

Alpa’s work in India aims to prototype a process to address critical issues such as water scarcity and waste management through design strategies and small-scale, physical interventions to create a stronger, more cohesive and forward-looking community.  


Making Space: Optimistic Strategies for Urban Homelessness

Brice Maryman, Senior Landscape Architect, MIG l SvR, Seattle, WA

What is the role of public space in confronting the growing challenge of homelessness? Through the HomeLandLab project, Brice Maryman explores the ways that the connective tissue of our cities—our public spaces—can be shaped, programmed and managed to improve the lives of those experiencing homelessness.


For the Love of Teenagers: Advocating for Safe, Restorative High School Environments

Claire Latané, Senior Associate, Mia Lehrer + Associates, Los Angeles, CA

Claire advocates for high school environments that support students’ mental health and well-being. Using Los Angeles as a case study, she works with students, educators and administrators, designers, non-profits, city agencies, and the community to develop policy and design that reflect a sense of love and safety rather than security and fear. 


Cultivating Future Landscape Architects: Career Discovery in K-12 Education

Nicole Plunkett, Landscape Architect, Cotleur & Hearing, Jupiter, FL

Who will shape the future of landscape architecture? Nicole explored how the continued development of her nonprofit, Future Landscape Architects of America (FLAA), can help to grow and diversify the profession in the coming years.


Shifting Perceptions: Reconceiving Public Space in the American South

Harriett Jameson, Landscape Designer, Michael Vergason Landscape Architects, Alexandria, VA

A Native Tennessean, Harriett (2014 Olmsted Scholar Finalist) explores the opportunities of public space in the South to catalyze social resiliency and reconciliation. She is interested in the power of place to shape our personal narratives and its ability to expand and reshape those narratives through sites of conscience.


The (Large) Space Between: Reimagining Highway Corridors as Performative Landscapes

Scott Douglas, Director of the Hahn Horticulture Garden, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA

Scott (2016 University Olmsted Scholar) investigates alternative uses for the maintenance-intensive highway corridors. His work includes a review The Ray, an 18-mile section of Interstate 85 in southwest Georgia that serves as a testing ground for new ideas and technologies to transform transportation infrastructure.


Landscape Performance for a Pop-Up Space

By Naomi Wong Hemme, Master of Architecture Candidate, Morgan State University


key-image--530pxSandlot in the spring, image by Naomi Wong Hemme

Sitting on a former industrial site in Baltimore, Maryland’s Inner Harbor is Sandlot, an interim pop-up installation and outdoor space that serves as a local eatery and a waterfront destination where friends and families gather to relax and play. It is also the project I am studying as part of LAF’s Case Study Investigation (CSI) program.

As an architecture student interested in how a legacy urban space can be activated to benefit surrounding communities, I jumped at the opportunity to study, from an interdisciplinary perspective, how small-scale and temporary urban landscape interventions such as Sandlot play a role in improving quality of life: how architecture and landscape architecture practitioners apply the principles of tactical urbanism to collaborate and create a socially inclusive, dynamic, and fun urban space.

Having recently relocated to Baltimore for my graduate studies, I am constantly learning about the city’s social fabric and the role the built environment plays. Prior to embarking on this project, I knew very little about the site, which allowed me to consider its landscape performance without any preconception. During my initial visits to the site, I was drawn by the simplicity of its design elements - how a built environment can be transformed using ordinary materials such as locally-sourced, recycled shipping containers and pallets, sand, as well as indigenous vegetation. Around me were small groups of friends enjoying happy-hour drinks and comfort food, couples relaxing on the urban beachfront with their dogs, and a few others getting competitive on the beach volleyball court.

While the focus of our research team has been analyzing and documenting the environmental, social, and economic impacts of Sandlot on the communities in Baltimore, we recognize that the temporal (a 7-year operation period) nature of the project lends itself to priorities and corresponding solutions that may be different from those of more permanent installations. This recognition has served as our guiding principle as we identified our project’s performance benefits and how they could be quantified and measured.

On a personal level, participating in the CSI program certainly has greatly enriched my academic experience. In addition to working with a researcher who is both seasoned in and passionate about transforming urban space, I have learned so much from the program’s well-established case study framework and research tools (I will definitely “borrow” some to assess my future designs). I am also grateful for the support and insight from our LAF partners as we navigate the case study process.

We are conducting our investigation using data from our collaborators as well as our own data, observational studies, and informal on-site survey results. Once the data is analyzed, we hope to compare the results with some of the alternate, conventional solutions to show the extent of the project’s landscape performance against its design goals. Because Sandlot is a seasonal installation (the site operates between May and October), we will be conducting the bulk of our fieldwork throughout June into early July - over a cold beverage and some crab corn fritters, no less!

The Morgan State Research Assistant Naomi Wong Hemme and Research Fellow Pavlina Ilieva are participating in LAF’s 2018 Case Study Investigation (CSI) program, which supports academic research teams to study the environmental, economic, and social performance of exemplary landscape projects. Upon completion, case studies are available through LAF’s Landscape Performance Series.

A Transnational Perspective on Cultural Landscapes


Like Joe himself, Christine Chung, the 2018 recipient of the $20,000 LAF Honor Scholarship in Memory of Joe Lalli, FASLA, places great value on service to her community and to the profession. Christine is a Master of Landscape Architecture candidate at the University of Pennsylvania with an interest in urbanism and cultural landscapes. Christine has lived all over the world. She grew up in Auckland, Seoul, and Toronto and brings a transnational perspective to her work. As a landscape architect, she leverages the interdisciplinary nature of the discipline to explore how social and ecological movements can be supported through design and how historical preservation can safeguard the intangible qualities of communities’ cultures.

Living and working in Vancouver as an undergraduate, Christine became familiar with the rhythms of the city’s Chinatown. Though she had daily conversations and interactions with neighborhood residents and spaces, she had “a feeling that there was a city that we know, and then there was a city that we had forgotten, inhabited by those we had forgotten.” Vancouver’s Chinatown is the largest in Canada, formed in the history of racism and segregation. Today, the neighborhood has been the subject of much debate as development and revitalization plans push its low-income, senior Chinese immigrants, First Nations, transients and otherwise marginalized people to the edges of the community. At the same time, the area is losing its cultural heritage; new developments are being welcomed in to attract a younger more affluent crowd as the community’s long term residents have settled in other districts of the Vancouver metropolitan area. The city has been active in protecting the physical manifestations of culture in its historic Chinatown district, but Christine advocates for the city to further acknowledge that there is more to the community than just its landmarks, but both the tangible and intangible cultural values of its people, tradition, and narratives.

In 2012, Christine employed the medium of documentary to bring attention into this crisis of culture. She co-created intangible: Heritage for the Future, a project that portrayed heritage as “not merely physical artefacts, but a fluid and living concept taking the form of oral histories, social practices, and street life in between buildings.” The film advanced the importance of protecting the community’s oldest members and their way of life as gentrification and diminishing spirit of place loomed over Chinatown’s cultural landscape. Doing so would promote not only community health, but a fuller and more productive city future. In 2013, Christine, in partnership with Creative Cultural Collaborations and Reconciliation Canada, co-created a mural depicting the cultural and historic connectivity of the First Nations, Chinese, and Japanese communities that converged in Vancouver’s historic Downtown Eastside.

christine-chung-supplemental-image-530pxChristine collaborating with local artists on the Radius mural

Now through her graduate work, Christine remains committed to demonstrating the capacity of landscape architecture to address issues of disinvestment, economic decentralization, and racial inequality in urban settings. Currently she is in collaboration with a team on a project that focuses on understanding the ongoing urban water crisis and water shutoffs in in the city of Detroit, which will be featured in Architectures of Refusal and  Detroiters’ Spatial Imagination journal of UrbanNext. The project considers how architectural design research can bring critical attention to social issues. According to the accompanying text, the project will be “an exploration of how the forces that are driving Detroit and the management of the water of Detroit are coming together to direct it through a neoliberal market driven logic that suggests that it is dismantling its black and poor neighborhoods.”By applying her professional experience and knowledge gained in the classroom, she aims to facilitate a basis of preventative health for neglected communities.

At PennDesign, Christine will continue to maintain a focus on urbanism and cultural landscapes. With the support of the 2018 LAF Honor Scholarship in Memory of Joe Lalli, FASLA, she will commit greater attention to creative pursuits and social activism, which she believes to be two sides of the same coin. She is intent on expanding the definition of preservation beyond physical landscapes to include sustaining the cultural practices of urban communities.

Looking toward the future, Christine envisions a leadership role for landscape architects to “create momentum for ecological and social movements.”