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one firm, many voices // adam shriver

Adam Shriver

The son of a park superintendent, Adam Shriver has always found his home outdoors. This love for nature has grown with time. Every year, Adam and his wife, Bailey, pack their backpacks and head to a national park to do some serious hiking (25 miles in a day)! Even a torn meniscus in Utah hasn’t stopped Adam from continuing to check hikes off of his bucket list.

You may not have heard… Adam is TBG’s silent superstar, a skilled designer who could easily fly under the radar. His understanding and appreciation of nature as well as gentle and humble spirit make him not only an amazing landscape architect, but an exemplary mentor. If you need someone to blow your mind with their modeling abilities and spatial understanding, he’s your guy.

On the lighter side, he knows a thing or two about fashion. Don’t know how to style your Big Give shirt? Can’t bring your Halloween costume idea to life? Let Adam advise. Keep reading to learn more about TBG Austin’s design maven!

1. Where do you find inspiration?
My wife, Bailey. We have similar creative backgrounds, except she is way smarter than me. She studied Fine Art at UT, then got her MLA from Harvard, and now has a certificate in graphic design. I trust her and value her perspective, she is the one I turn to for advice. We inspire each other.

When I was younger and still fresh on the LA scene, I was like a sponge absorbing all the information and opportunities I was being given. As I’ve gotten older, I gain much of my inspiration from young designers. They have so much enthusiasm and their design energy isn’t drained.

Lastly, being outside inspires me. I love to look at aerial photography, natural features, geometry, and sketches done in nature. I grew up going to parks, my environmentalist values were instilled from a young age. Since my dad was a superintendent of state parks, my family moved every 5 years and I was immersed in different landscapes.

2. How do the lessons you learn from each project inform the way you work later on?
I see landscape architecture as a wide-ranging, broad-spectrum field. When working on projects, I pay attention to the relationships I’m building, what it’s like to go out into the field, and where big ideas come from. I’m fortunate to have had great mentors, people that have been proactive in supporting me. I find I’ve grown the most when I’ve been pushed to jump into the deep end, something I wouldn’t naturally do in my early years.

3. What were your early inspirations? What led you to landscape architecture?
It wasn’t a straight line. As a child, I wanted to be a paleontologist. As I got older and even up until my sophomore year of college I had hopes of becoming a park ranger. However, the classes I was taking didn’t hold my interest and I started considering architecture. My uncle was an architect. I started taking some architecture and art classes and somehow ended up with an interest in Chinese literature and poetry along the way. Needless to say, I had a hard time focusing. I ended up getting accepted into LA school and found a close-knit group of friends in my studio.

4. How is the role of landscape architecture evolving?
Stewardship of the land and sustainability have always been an important part of the field, but there is a new evolution of these things. For example, when I was in school, coming up with ways to capture rainwater before it went into a city system such as incorporating rain gardens into projects was a pretty novel idea and not many builders knew how to do them. They are table stakes by comparison when you think about sustainable projects today. Water management is an important piece of a sustainable strategy but a small one. There is a renewed interest in preserving soils, creating habitats for wildlife, and paying attention to how products are made and where they come from.

I think these progress jumps can be attributed to young people who are coming into landscape architecture with an education and understanding of our unique ability to create sustainable places, as well as the general public being more aware of landscape architecture as a profession. You see a lot more projects in student portfolios and class curriculum with an environmental stewardship focus. When I first started in the profession, I got LEED accredited, but that was mostly an architecture focused program. Now, we have SITES which is much more encompassing of landscape architecture practices.

The interesting thing about it now is that a lot of sustainable practices aren’t visible to the average person walking down the street. They won’t notice that the concrete sidewalk they are walking on is sequestering more carbon, or the cistern below the sidewalk holding rain water to be used for irrigation.

5. How does good landscape architecture build community or improve the world?
I’ve always felt that Landscape Architecture is a bit smaller scale, and our influence has a smaller context. When we partner with planners to change policy that is really how we can change the world. The giant projects I’ve been a part of usually involve more planning than LA. But both disciplines require creating environments for people to live or work. I’ve learned that community involvement and engagement early on creates change and positive effect. Our job is to listen, learn from our clients, the user, and shepherd the changes that improve access, environmental performance, conserve resources and increase value in the ways relevant and meaningful to the communities in which we’re working.

One positive change from COVID for community engagement is that having a virtual option increases participation. It eliminates the burden of finding transportation and time to get there physically. (While a step in the right direction, this option still requires internet access. So while not a perfect improvement, it helps expand our awareness of constraints so we can continue to shape more inclusive engagement opportunities.)

6. What are the biggest challenges facing the landscape architecture industry?
We are constantly challenged to continue educating ourselves. Our industry is so broad, there is a vast information field. There have also been many societal and physical changes in the world, and we have to keep up! COVID is an example. It hit the Austin office’s Alliance Children’s Garden project. We had to ask ourselves, “Should we change anything about our design related to infectious disease?” Now we have that as a lens to look through on other projects, another factor to consider. Think about how our government and infrastructure work could shift to support more electric vehicles. What would a shift to more electric vehicles, meaning less oil money, mean for Texas and beyond? How do we plan downtowns for self-driving cars? Another challenge we’ve had to deal with is climate change and floodplain levels which impact almost every aspect of our design work from the earliest planning phases down to the materials we select. Things are always changing. We have to be nimble enough to adapt to these changes and the unpredictable nature of our future.

7. What motivates/excites you at work?
I think about the type of projects I’m working on–does this have the potential to do something that is valuable or special? In general, I’m always excited by public sector and park projects. I love to think about the opportunities at the beginning of a project and participate in big idea graphics.

The smaller details are exciting to me too. I pay attention to how the big idea is translated into the small stuff like materials. Ensuring the design is memorable throughout all phases and the integrity is maintained, it’s important for me to be a doer. There really are few aspects that I don’t like.

8. What are your hobbies outside of the office?
I like metalworking/welding and recently designed and built a courtyard in my front yard. Learning and building things on my own is important to me. I’m passionate about fitness and specifically love to hike. Each year I do a 25-mile day hike. I just got back from a trip to Glacier National Park. Last year, I hiked Bryce Canyon and did the Tetons the year before. I actually tore my meniscus while hiking in Buckskin Gulch (a slot canyon)! That hike was quite a challenge. It had just rained, the water was so dirty, there was quicksand beneath my feet. You could see the fear in people’s faces. Never again.

9. What is the most important thing a landscape architecture project can contribute?
My mentor taught me to reveal natural processes and allow for human interaction. It was sort of a mantra. I worked on a community park in Spain that needed a water feature. The final design ensured a child could experience the hydrological cycle, an interactive natural process, but it wasn’t too didactic, just striking and fun. I’ve realized the impact we have as LAs (which is a little different than other fields of work) –is that we can tell a story with our work.

10. What has been a pivotal project for you?
Only a year out of school, I was a design leader for a project overseas in Jordan. I had no team and, in the meetings, where each discipline was sitting at a huge table, I represented landscape architecture. I basically got a crash course on every aspect of a complicated project. I would meet with consultants, contractors, material suppliers, and had to travel to present to our client. It traumatized me a little but was a very memorable experience.

I would also say Alliance Children’s Garden was pivotal for me. I had never designed a playground or children’s garden before, and I had the privilege of working on this project with Charlotte and Earl; we also had researchers and psychologists involved. Overall, there was so much passion that went into this project. It inspired me to get my Playground Safety Certification, something I’m really glad I did. It’s been incredibly rewarding to see how much our city already loves it.