Sarah Nitchman Stangel is an Associate in OJB’s Boston office.
What inspired you to become a landscape architect? My Dad majored in Landscape Architecture in the 80’s, and even though he went on to become a high school teacher he frequently took on small landscape design-build jobs for friends and family during the summer. I loved to help him with this, enjoying being outside with my hands in the dirt. When I went off to college, I decided to pursue Landscape Architecture as well. The irony for me was realizing how much more there was to the profession then I originally thought. Landscape Architecture has a broad range of scale and scope, and has the potential to support and shape culture, transform and activate new and existing places and improve the natural environment. The skillsets needed to do this mean we never stop learning and growing, and that keeps it interesting.
Who as an artist or landscape architect influenced your design and plant materials? I had the opportunity to hear Andrea Cochran speak when I was a freshman in college. Prior to this, my understanding of Landscape Architecture was simplistic foundation plantings in the suburbs, and I was blown away by the beauty of her work and her artful approach to design. It was incredibly inspiring, and the story of how she found the profession really resonated with me. I love the way her process is inspired by materials and plants. I also really admire the spaces she creates and the passion and honesty that came through in the way she described her ideas.
What is your focus when designing? What makes your work rewarding? I care most about creating something we can be proud of, and for me that means a balance of beauty and meaning that carries through into the built project. In the early stages of a project I really enjoy coming up with the story – what are the big ideas? what are we trying to convey or achieve? Then as we get into detailed design, I enjoy solving the puzzles – be it a challenging grading condition, developing the perfect jointing pattern, or just coordinating with other disciplines. To me the ultimate reward is being a part of the construction process – watching the project come to life and better understanding how different elements piece together and how we can improve our details and designs on the next project.
Where do you go to feel inspired? Inspiration can strike anywhere, so I don’t have a specific place I like to go. I feel the best way to increase the frequency of inspiration is to be exposed to different ideas, places, materials and plants. Visiting other projects and traveling floods my brain with images and memories that down the road mix together to create a new idea.
What has been your favorite OJB project to work on and why? This is like asking a person to name their favorite child, ha! In all seriousness, I’ve really enjoyed working on the new terminal for the Pittsburgh International Airport. The scope of this project is so varied – ranging from a vast area between parking and the terminal and intimate courtyards tucked into the terminal itself. What’s been the most exciting is the idea of rethinking what an airport can be, how it can relate and engage landscape, how we can shape and dramatically improve the experience of a traveler. Our concept focuses on capturing the beauty of this region in Pennsylvania, abstracting and manipulating this to support the pragmatic goals like circulation and programming.
Rendering courtesy of Gensler + HDR in association with luis vidal + architects.