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Contributed by:
Nate Eudaly
Hon. AIA Dallas

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Dialogue: Conversation About Collaboration

Collaboration between architects and landscape architects is necessary to create and complete successful design projects. But the design process can be fraught with challenges.

Gary Cunningham, FAIA and David Hocker, FASLA, both highly respected local practitioners, have a strong track record of close collaboration that produces award-winning design projects. They recently talked about what makes their collaboration so successful.

Why is collaboration between architects and landscape architects important on projects?

GC: Collaboration is essential to achieve the full potential of a design project. Fortunately, it is almost effortless when I work on a project with David. We know each other well, and we were even educated by the same monks (Cistercian Preparatory School in Irving). The monks taught us to never assume anything, to respect everything, and to value each other. This gave us a level of self-confidence that allows us to be who we are.

DH: This is just the way it’s supposed to be. We should never be defensive when we collaborate with other practitioners. It’s important to always seek further knowledge and to not be worried about questions. The monks stressed the concept of community and gave me a baseline from which I naturally collaborate.

How many projects have you collaborated on together, and how does the process work?

DH: Probably 20 to 30. Before each project, we sit down and have free-flowing conversation about the potential design. Working collectively, we get a better idea of what the project can be. We’ve learned that lack of collaboration hurts the design potential of the project. We’ve both been with other design teams and have observed that some of those projects didn’t achieve their potential because of lack of collaboration. For us, ongoing collaboration is a given.

GC: In our collaboration, we believe that we can achieve designs that exceed the client’s expectations. It’s also important that we don’t demand that our ideas be reinforced. We don’t lead with design, but we let vision and collaboration guide the design process. And it’s important to know that the architect is not the director of the project but a team member.

DH: Our teams also work together well. Everyone on the project needs to be involved in collaboration, including the client.

What are some of the challenges in collaboration between architects and landscape architects?

GC: Architects can get territorial and want credit for their ideas. The process needs to be a team effort with each person respecting different opinions. Each team member must be willing to give and receive constructive ideas that change and improve the design direction.

DH: It can be a challenge to keep open dialogue throughout the process. Collaboration can be cumbersome, but it’s essential to keep the conversation going. I’ve found that some teams don’t work well together — it’s important to find teams that you can work with.

GC: Recognize that styles may vary but stay focused on a common design vision. Be willing to let go of “precious” ideas if a better idea emerges.

DH: Teams can become obsessive about their piece of the budget pie. Good collaboration requires looking at the budget in a holistic manner.

The two of you recently collaborated on a residential project. How did your collaboration improve the overall project design?

DH: The project started with the existing trees on the site. The client wanted to protect them, and Gary and I completely agreed.

GC: The focus was more on the site than the house. The design of the house was driven by the need to preserve the landscape. We spent the first year focused on the restoring the health of the trees before we moved on to the rest of the project. We were fortunate that the clients shared our vision and allowed us to do this.

DH: We worked together with the client to develop the overall budget. In designing the house to complement the site, we focused on curated public views as well as private views that the client would experience from within the residence. It was an extended process. Collaboration takes time – you need to consciously prepare to collaborate.

Who should the client engage first – the architect or landscape architect? How can the client encourage and facilitate collaboration?

GC: Historically, many projects have focused first on the house or building. Some have focused on the site first. Some clients engage the contractor first. It’s important to bring the entire team together early in the process. Never wait to bring in the landscape architect until the end of the project.

DH: The client needs to have all the design team at the table throughout the process. Clients should encourage new ideas and challenge the design team.

GC: The client and the design team need to be sensitive to the carbon footprint of the project. The collaborative design process must be holistic and produce a resilient result.

When is it too late to add a landscape architect to a design project?

DH: It’s never too late, but the outcome is diminished if the landscape architect isn’t at the table from the beginning of the project. They need to be involved at least by the schematic design phase so there aren’t wasted opportunities.

GC: As I mentioned before, sometimes the site is more important than the house so it’s essential to have the landscape architect involved from the beginning.

Did your academic studies prepare you to collaborate with other design professions?

GC: I chose to take landscape courses at UT-Austin, but they were not a part of the core curriculum for architecture. Fortunately, there is movement in schools for students to work in cross-disciplinary teams. Learning to work in teams is crucial since that’s what they’ll be doing when they enter practice.

DH: The landscape architecture program at Texas A&M had very little architecture offered other than an environmental design course. I had limited interaction with the architecture students, with only one combined studio. I was fortunate to study abroad in Italy, where architecture and landscape architecture students interacted closely since we lived and ate together and benefited from visits to historic sites with all the students.

What is one of your favorite examples of a significant collaborative design located outside of Dallas?

DH: La Foce in Tuscany is an outstanding example of architectural renovation and landscape design. In the early 20th century,
British architect Cecil Pinsent was commissioned to restore a 15th-century villa. In continued close collaboration with the client, he then designed a remarkable series of gardens around the existing structures. The design intent was for the buildings to blend into the landscape, creating a seamless whole.

GC: The Gateway Arch in St. Louis is a great example of collaboration. The teams of Eero Saarinen and Dan Kiley achieved an amazing outcome – the monument and the landscape blend in a holistic manner, producing an iconic design.


Interview conducted by Nate Eudaly, Hon. AIA Dallas, executive director of The Dallas Architecture Forum.

Photos: Gisela Borghi