The Green Team Part 1: Introduction

Why a landscape architecture firm needs a research team

When we tell people that Mathews Nielsen Landscape Architects is based in New York City, the standard response goes like this: “What is left to landscape in such a densely settled city? Where do you find nature?” Our answer: “A LOT. Nature is all around you!”

The most challenging aspects of our work here are the variations in growing conditions, soils, aspect, drainage patterns, and the many different program types we find in urban landscapes. Site specific is a requirement; it is the landscape architect’s modus operandi.


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Hunt’s Point Landing Revetment Pools, Bronx, NY

Courtesy Mathews Nielsen/NYC Economic Development Corporation 

We’re dedicated to practicing sustainably at the cutting edge of our profession for clients and end users alike, so we are always searching for ways to enhance our practice. We think research is a must in this regard. We need to practice it actively, especially now, as the environment is changing more rapidly than ever before. Every day, we’re faced with escalating challenges in environmental shifts along with urban renewal issues like thorny industrial brownfields (hello, South Bronx). In response to all this, we recently decided to form a “Green Team,” the role of which is to collaboratively determine innovative ways to address these challenges. We’re looking for solutions we can implement today and build on for the future. At our team’s center are Kim Mathews and Signe Nielsen, our founding principals joined by Terrie Brightman,  RLA, ASLA, Lisa DuRussel, RLA, ASLA, LEED AP (a Chicago transplant and Midwest farmer’s daughter), and Zeina Zahalan (a recent graduate from Rutgers University).

Starting with this post, we will present a series of design approaches and discuss their implementations. We will share our research in response to unique project constraints, questions we’re asking, and solutions we’re developing during the conceptual design process. And we will analyze the challenges we encounter and how we resolve them. We will also review construction-based topics, highlighting new technologies. And we hope to develop a forum for addressing commonly encountered construction issues.


Hudson River Park, Tribeca Section

Courtesy Mathews Nielsen

Additionally, we will share our knowledge on plants, geography, stormwater, sustainability, and materials–the significance of plant spacing, innovative stormwater techniques, mobile container forests, the importance of soils within the landscape, just what is so great about bamboo and more. But primarily, this series of posts is an invitation to you to share with us your project-based research and ideas, and tell us about your findings in return. Our next post will focus on designing parks with dogs in mind. They are end users, too, and they can see what we can’t and vice versa. Really.

This post is the start of The Green Team series.

Terrie Brightman, RLA, ASLA is a practicing landscape architect in New York City with over eight years of professional experience. Since receiving her BLA from the Pennsylvania State University, she has worked on riverfronts in Pittsburgh; private residences in California and Florida; a sustainable community in Turkey; and multiple public parks, plazas, and waterfronts throughout New York City.

Lisa DuRussel, RLA, ASLA, LEED AP is a Midwestern transplant, avid coffee drinker, soils enthusiast and practicing landscape architect in New York City. Since receiving her BS and MLA from the University of Michigan, she has worked on numerous urban revitalization and cultural landscape projects in the New York and Chicago areas, including the Governors Island Park and Public Space project.

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