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principals’ page 06: nicole warns


There’s the Nicole Warns who’s an incredible world-class designer – the perfect mix of form and function, of quirky with reality, of madness and sanity, of art and science. Then there’s the Nicole Warns from rural Oklahoma. The Nicole Warns who travels to places unknown — as far as the Phi Phi Islands of Thailand. The Nicole Warns who has been told she looks like Vera Farmiga. The Nicole Warns who once stocked a vending machine at a grain silo.

Like more than a few landscape architects, Nicole didn’t know she wanted to be a landscape architect until well into her years in an architecture studio. We sat down with Nicole, one of our newly promoted principals, to get to know her a little more – and to share her story with the rest of you.


How Hastings Changed the Course of Her Life

“I grew up wanting to be an architect – I built forts and model houses. I went to school for architecture and took three years of studio and loved it.” Nicole worked two jobs in school and soon found that juggling it all was impossible.

“I almost switched to journalism but a cashier at the Hastings where I worked randomly told me about landscape architecture.” She explained to Nicole that it might be a perfect alternative, informing her that you still get to draw and design, but you get to create entire cities, not just the building.”

…and the rest is history.

“I have always been an environmentalist, and this gave me the opportunity to be a steward of the land but also feed my creative drive.”

On Mentors and How She Defines Success

“I believe there are two types of success: personal and professional.” According to Nicole, personal success is the eventual realization, acceptance and love of one’s self (finally acknowledging and being okay with who you really are).

“Professional success is making a difference in those lives around you—teaching them something new, inspiring them to create their own amazing designs, and most of all helping them to reach their true potential.”

Even from a young age, mentoring was always something Nicole cared deeply about. At the age of 10, her mom Tammy recollects – she was constantly trying to teach her siblings new things, even holding class for the neighborhood kids. Nicole created a neighborhood theater in my garage! She was always building models of sim cities and creating forts.

“Early in her career, Nicole admired Hitesh Mehta (HM Design – ecotourism). As she’s grown, she’s found a mentor in Austin, one that she looks up to and has the pleasure of working alongside on a few projects.

“That’s Laura Toups (of Urban Design Group). Not only is she smart and talented, but I also admire how she’s always done things her way and has been true to herself. She’s my spirit animal.

And while we’re on the topic of animals, when asked, Nicole would rather be a hamster-sized elephant than an elephant-sized hamster. Her reason? “You are small enough to sneak into situations and be part of everything, but you’re also one of the smartest animals in the animal kingdom so even though you are tiny, you know what’s up.”

Why Balance In Design is Critical

After following the Design Process and prioritizing form over function, I think it is important to push the design to be beautiful! Empathize with the people that will inhabit the space and find out what inspires them. Create spaces that foster moments where they can experience nature, each other, and hopefully a small bit of magic in this mixed up world.

Balance isn’t something Nicole has always known how to do though. She once worked 72 hours straight with walking pneumonia to hit a deadline for a project in China. “I’m not proud of this, but it was a crazy thing to do.”

Living Life as if it Were a Smorgasbord

Most people, when asked where they would live in the world, would take pause; think about it. Run different plays in their heads. Spin a globe, close their eyes, and place a finger on a new country. Or perhaps your finger would land on one of the Dakotas. If she ever grows tired of the US, Nicole would like to give The Netherlands a shot. “I am part Dutch, you know,” she says matter-of-factly. She is also fond of clogs, so this checks out.

Traveling has long been an inspiration for her. In fact, Nicole has plans to travel to Akumal, Mexico in the upcoming weeks. Then she’s going back to Costa Rica for her second week-long yoga retreat. And maybe next year, you can catch her and Tammy cruising up and down the pacific coast in a red convertible – because after all…