Cindy Tong is a Project Designer in OJB’s Houston office.
What inspired you to become a landscape architect? I did not discover the profession of landscape architecture until graduate school. I was a student majoring in urban planning when I took a landscape studio class as an elective. I greatly enjoyed it, and found that landscape architecture offered me opportunities to do things I love: drawing, problem solving and exploring different places.
What truly opened my heart towards landscape architecture was a class field trip to some of the most famous landscape designs around Texas. I remember the moment as I stepped into Fountain Place in downtown Dallas – I was immediately surrounded by the sound of the water falling down the terrace. Then I saw arrays of bald cypresses quietly standing in the water, accompanied by their reflections in the glass façade of the building. There was a breeze coming across the garden. The hustle and bustle of the city suddenly disappeared and all that was left was peacefulness. I was very touched by that sensual experience that Fountain Place brought me and thus made up my mind to enter the field of landscape architecture. That trip has always reminded me of what I initially entered the field to do: rebuild the connection between people and nature.
How has an artist or landscape architect influenced your design and plant materials? When I was in graduate school, one of my first studio professors, Chanam Lee, once said, “don’t ask yourself what, ask yourself why”. That philosophy has since guided me and driven me to explore the site, the context, various materials, plants, and construction methods, etc., to seek site specific solutions.
I am consistently inspired by the people I work with. Here at OJB, there are many talented people, some are great with design, some are plant experts, some know construction really well. In the process of working with this talented team, I have gained new perspectives into various topics, and that continuously influences my design.
What is your focus when designing? What makes your work rewarding? I focus on the people – who will be the end users, where and how do people access, how will they use the site, what amenities do they need. To me, design is like solving a puzzle, and putting myself in the shoes of potential users provides many cues. Context is another aspect of design I am really interested in.
When I lived in Dallas, I loved going to Klyde Warren Park. It’s amazing to see how a park brings people together to enjoy the outdoors. Now Klyde Warren Park is an essential part of the public life of Dallas. Even though I was not part of the effort that made this park happen, experiencing it and other great public spaces in general makes my job as a landscape architect very rewarding.
Where do you go to feel inspired? I love to travel. It is inspiring to observe how the essence of a place is expressed in local landscape designs. People associate great cities with popular public spaces, such as Central Park of New York, Millennium Park of Chicago, the National Monument of D.C. Visiting them in person has convinced me that the making of great places cannot be done without respecting the authenticity of a place. What I’ve learned from these different trips is to always appreciate the uniqueness of every project and every site.
On a daily basis, I turn to Instagram and Pinterest for inspiration. Social Media is very effective at keeping up with the current design world. In addition, the rapidly growing attention to technologies such as 3D-printing, VR/AR and drones have really been impacting my perspective about design expression.
What has been your favorite OJB project to work on and why? Springwoods Village CityPlace Plaza. It is a public plaza located in the center of a large mixed-use development. There is an upper plaza with a central lawn and a lower plaza with sets of terraces. The design combined thoughtful site programs with creative grading strategies, and tends to provide a dynamic site experience and the flexibility for various gathering events. I joined the project team when it was at the Design Development phase and have been assisting with detailing different custom site elements, as well as other documentation and coordination. This has been a challenging and fun project to work on and I can truly envision great public life happening here.