Women in Landscape Architecture Profiles, Part 1

images courtesy of: Alexandra Mei, ASLA; Sandy Meulners, ASLA, and Mend Collaborative working with the City of El Paso CID; SuLin Kotowicz, FASLA, and VIRIDIS Design Group; Angelica Rockquemore, ASLA, and Erin Emerson

ASLA kicked off Women’s History Month with a post from Women in Landscape Architecture Professional Practice Network (WILA PPN) leader Lara Moffat, ASLA, on recent WILA highlights and what’s ahead for the PPN. The following week, ASLA’s Gender Equity Task Force hosted the first webinar in their speaker series, which is now available to watch on-demand: Closing the Gender Equity Gap, Advocacy in the Workplace. Check out the presentations from Jeanne Lukenda, ASLA, David Sanchez-Aguilera, Sami Sikanas, ASLA, and Ujijji Davis on how to be an advocate for yourself and for larger, impactful changes to office culture and employee benefits. Hear firsthand experiences from practitioners who are making changes in their companies through employee-driven initiatives and setting off on their own.

All throughout the month, ASLA is also celebrating #womeninlandscapearchitecture who are shaping our environment on social media, starting with ASLA leadership: three women are serving as President (Emily O’Mahoney, FASLA), Immediate Past President (Eugenia Martin, FASLA), and President-Elect (SuLin Kotowicz, FASLA). If you missed the historic moment at the ASLA 2022 Conference on Landscape Architecture when this trio came together, a video was made to mark this occasion, featuring Eugenia Martin, FASLA, interviewing five of her predecessors as ASLA President and her two successors about their experiences and expectations leading ASLA.

In case you’re taking a break from social media, or just happened to have missed a few of these WILA profiles, we are recapping them here on The Field. This post includes Alexandra Mei, ASLA, Angelica Rockquemore, ASLA, Sandy Meulners, ASLA, and SuLin Kotowicz, FASLA. Stay tuned for a second set of profiles next week!

First tree tagging / image: courtesy of Alexandra Mei, ASLA

Alexandra Mei, ASLA

What inspired you to pursue a career in landscape architecture?

I started my career in architecture school, and while there I was always most interested in the building’s site context—its social, cultural, and physical surroundings. To me, learning from and working with a site’s heritage and the people rooted in a place is the most intriguing part of our work. The complexity and fluidity of the design “material” we work with—plants, culture, water, movement—continues to be inspiring.

Fellowship presentation at Harvard GSD / image: courtesy of Alexandra Mei, ASLA
WashU Planting Day / image: courtesy of Alexandra Mei, ASLA
Merritt Chase team at LAF Benefit / image: courtesy of Alexandra Mei, ASLA

Who are the female role models who have influenced your career?

Oh! So many people. I have been so lucky to be surrounded by family and friends who consistently inspire me to pursue a career that is fulfilling and meaningful to me. I have wonderful mentors in Nina Chase, ASLA, and Terrie Brightman, ASLA, at Merritt Chase, who have each taught me so much about finding my own path and my confidence in this profession. Also, to see more Asian Americans thriving in public media and specifically the design professions—that always keeps me going.

Alexandra and Nina Chase at Cleveland playground / image: courtesy of Alexandra Mei, ASLA

Can you share with us a project you are particularly proud of and why?

At Merritt Chase, I have been working with Terrie Brightman and our design team to construct a new school playground in Cleveland. It is the first project I’ve really seen from concept through construction. In addition to a really wonderful relationship with the client and the design team, it is so special to see kids playing and laughing in the new site.

Angelica Rockquemore, ASLA / image: Erin Emerson

Angelica Rockquemore, ASLA

What inspired you to pursue a career in landscape architecture?

I was awarded a Fulbright Fellowship to study Japanese Gardens in Japan and through that experience became intrigued by the way that people and communities form connections and deep relationships to physical spaces. I decided to pursue this intrigue through the MLA program at the University of Washington where I realized landscape architecture was one lens to facilitate understanding of the relationships people hold to spaces while also being a tangible and innovative way to design transformative places.

What advice do you have for other women pursuing landscape architecture?

Act on your passion and involve your family when you can!

image: Erin Emerson

Can you share with us a project you are particularly proud of and why?

Co-leading a series of participatory design processes with phenomenal Marketing and Communications Director Erin Emerson that all prioritized ‘Āina (land)-based indigenous knowledge as a design foundation to transform underutilized schoolyard spaces into multi-functional STEAM outdoor classrooms at select Title 1 Elementary Schools on the island of O`ahu. These projects positioned me to be a leader within my community and cemented my desire to elevate ‘Āina-based indigenous knowledge and values into the practice of landscape architecture.

image: Hawaii State Department of Education

What advice would you give your younger self?

  • Never stop investing in your knowledge bank.
  • You always have something to give.
Sandy Meulners, ASLA / image: Casey Swanson courtesy of Mend Collaborative

Sandy Meulners, ASLA

What inspired you to pursue a career in landscape architecture? 

I feel that many of us in the field have been drawn to landscape architecture because of its inherent balance of art and science. I’m no exception—I always found various forms of art to be a therapeutic outlet for me, and have explored everything from drawing, to painting, to throwing clay, to working with textiles. I just love exploring how our emotions and thoughts can be translated into a physical form using various media. On my other hand, I had a knack for STEM-related subjects throughout my childhood and education years. I can credit my parents for enrolling me in biology- and ecology-focused summer programs, and numerous teachers for cultivating my interest in math and other sciences in my formative years. Finding landscape architecture really felt like the right fit to balance all of my talents and interests without feeling that I had to prioritize anything over the others. More recently, I’ve fallen in love with the profession all over again after founding a firm with a group of professionals who share my same values of advocating for equity-based projects and working with and serving traditionally underheard communities.

Who are the female role models who have influenced your career? 

Starting in graduate school, I always gravitated to being influenced by my female studio and course instructors. Specifically, Rebecca Krinke, ASLA, at the University of Minnesota really cracked into showing me how I can really just explore my thoughts and question how the field has traditionally been operating—she encourages women studying under her wing to challenge patriarchal-normative structures of the field, and opened my world view to how differently we could be operating to have a more justice- and equity-driven impact on the built environment.

The Mend Collaborative team / image: Vincent Colvin courtesy of Mend Collaborative

Once I graduated, I was lucky enough to have one of my first bosses be a woman, Lydia Major, ASLA, at LHB in Minneapolis. Seeing her direct and defend an all-female staffed landscape studio in an A&E-focused firm was really impactful so early in my career. My sister Erin, who is in a different career field, has also been a significant influence on my business leadership trajectory. Finally, I’m lucky enough to have founded a women-owned firm, Mend Collaborative, with a group of women (and one great man) who put our values in why we practice and our lived experiences as women at the forefront; I learn from them each day.

Role models / image: Erin Satterwhite

What advice do you have for other women pursuing a career in landscape architecture? 

Keep going! There is a significant drop in women in the field obtaining licensure after graduating, and another huge gap in women leaders in the field beyond that. Our perspectives are so necessary and needed in the field, and I’m especially encouraged by all of the women in school currently who I’ve met that even challenge how I think and practice as a professional. Women are profound! We need more female leaders in firms of all sizes and areas of practice to make the field more accessible and comfortable for all people who have interest in landscape architecture and related fields.

Community engagement / image: City of El Paso CID

Can you share with us a project you are particularly proud of and why? 

I’ve recently had the pleasure of working in El Paso, Texas, on some parks visioning plans. The project consultant team I was able to build was largely female professionals, and on the client side the majority of the project team was women in leadership at the City. The synergy of that project was momentous, and I felt that with that we were really able to center discussions about equity, access, the environment, and community-based design decisions.

What advice would you give your younger self? 

Ego has little place in the design world. We are decision-makers and designers of the built environment and stewards of the natural environment—above all else, use your talents and knowledge to better the world on behalf of our fellow communities and mother nature.

SuLin Kotowicz, FASLA, on the new overlook structure at Ken-O-Sha Park / image: courtesy of VIRIDIS Design Group

SuLin Kotowicz, FASLA

What inspired you to pursue a career in landscape architecture? 

The General Design studio for first year College of Architecture and Urban Planning students at Ball State University opened my eyes to the unlimited potential of the field of landscape architecture. It had all of the materials of architecture and beyond with the added benefit of not requiring as much physics (not my strongest subject). The other bonus about landscape architecture is the incredible breadth of the profession: the different ways we can practice are nearly limitless!

Who are the female role models who have influenced your career?

I had a lot of support from faculty at Ball State University in my formative years as a student, notably Martha Hunt, ASLA. I got involved with the Michigan Chapter of ASLA after graduating and had the benefit of excellent advice and guidance in leadership and for my career from two amazing, strong women landscape architects, Pam Blough, FASLA and Vanessa Warren, ASLA. As I became more involved in National ASLA, I’ve been so fortunate to have a group of inspirational women leaders who have been confidantes, cheerleaders, and unlimited supporters: Jeannie Martin, FASLA, Wendy Miller, FASLA, Haley Blakeman, FASLA, and Emma Skalka, Honorary ASLA. Finally, I am excited to join the ranks of the women ASLA Presidents, all of whom are inspirational and continue to promote the profession and serve as mentors for incoming leaders.

Mentors in ASLA leadership / image: courtesy of VIRIDIS Design Group

What advice do you have for other women pursuing a career in landscape architecture? 

Explore different facets of the profession! Your voice is really critical—let it be heard. Find your own way—your journey is unique and will not match anyone else’s. The value of the ASLA community is vast—utilize this resource!

Can you share with us a project you are particularly proud of and why? 

Each built project that I work on where I am able to witness communities’ enjoying and using spaces in ways we never dreamed of provides me with a deep sense of achievement. This award-winning project is Roberto Clemente Park in the City of Grand Rapids, MI. We invited the community to share their hopes and dreams for the well-used but outdated facilities. With their guidance, along with grants and inter-departmental support, we were able to daylight stormwater in the park and provide multi-lingual educational opportunities. New restroom and picnic shelters, accessible pathways, an outdoor classroom, natural play experiences, and the very important domino tables, as requested by the community, led to a unique and beloved community park.

Roberto Clemente Park, Grand Rapids, MI / image: courtesy of VIRIDIS Design Group

What advice would you give your younger self? 

Give yourself grace, it is okay to not have the answers; the important thing is to ask questions to learn. The value of having people who will support you with no strings attached is priceless. Take time to create short- and long-term goals for yourself. Know yourself and come up with your own definition of success; only you can do that. Find out what energizes you and what exhausts you—keep those things in mind as you determine how to spend your time.

Keep an eye on ASLA’s social media for more #womeninlandscapearchitecture profiles and discover the work and accomplishments of women in the field, and stay tuned for a second recap here on The Field next week!

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