November 1, 2006
Martha Schwartz answers a few questions on landscape architecture, inspiration, and process using her thumbs.
Job description: Creative director
Current projects: Dublin Docklands; Al Lulu Island, in Abu Dhabi; Leamouth Peninsula and Qatar Petroleum with Skidmore, Owings & Merrill; White City, in London; the Cosmopolitan Resort and Casino, in Las Vegas; the Natick Mall, outside of Boston; initial studies for Coney Island. That’s enough to keep me busy.
First step on a project: I have to see the site. It’s far more than a plan or pictures can tell you.
Last step on a project: I’m not sure you ever have a last step, because it’s always great to go back and visit projects; they’re kind of like your children.
How do you break a creative block? Looking at art is always a good kick in the butt.
Education: My training is in fine arts, but I went into landscape architecture to learn how to build big art.
Mentor: My ex-husband, Peter Walker
World-saving mission: We in the States completely miss the boat on understanding how design quality and beauty actually add to sustainability and value. We are still in the wilderness about that.
First act as “design czar”: Abolish the idea that architects are the master designers right away. That would be forbidden thought.
Dream team: I’d love to work with Olafur Eliasson or Anish Kapoor. Paul Westbury and Buro Happold too. And there are some fantastic architects that would be wonderful to work with but would not necessarily choose to work with me. A lot of good architects will choose second-rate designers because they have to maintain control.
Favorite tchotchke: A brass urn that’s filled with my dog Solomon’s ashes. Does that count? He was a yellow Labrador retriever. He died about 20 years ago.
Most useful tool: My equal-space divider. You quickly divide things—as opposed to measuring them out—which is a godsend: I work fast and I’m bad at math.
Bookmarks: I’m beyond that generation and beyond having any time to browse.
Old standby: Parc de Sceaux, by Le Nôtre. It’s where I realized how powerful a space-making tool the landscape actually is.
Something old: My teddy bear
Something new: I think my children pretty much focus any kind of extra energies.
Guilty pleasure: I’m always guilty—buying my daughter all kinds of pink clothing.
Underrated: The value of a well-designed landscape
Overrated: The whole notion of green buildings. And green roofs, which everyone is just gaga about. It’s an excellent idea, but it’s such a small part of sustainability, which isn’t just about the mechanics of the building. It has to do with whether you’re supporting life within a city, whether you can get there by public transportation, whether there are places for your children, blah blah blah.
Learned the hard way: Trying to make it in a man’s world
Command-z (undo): There are many things I would undo. But I’m not going to speak about them.
Dream job: Designing a national park in eastern Nevada, where we join together abandoned gold mines—that have just been left there to rot—and redesign them.