August 13, 2018

Meet the OJB Team

Taran Jensvold is a Senior Associate in OJB's Houston Office.

What inspired you to become a landscape architect? Growing up, the required aptitude tests in school showed strength in two areas--the sciences and creative pursuits.  My junior high homeroom teacher told me that I should be a “brain surgeon that makes pretty scars.”  There was a lot of trial and error for me in the early years of undergrad— finding a field of study that covered a broad spectrum of interests while also providing a creative outlet.  I remember feeling so elated when I finally came across landscape architecture.

Who as an artist or landscape architect influences your design and plant material? One of my favorite courses at the University of Pennsylvania was a seminar co-taught by Laurie Olin and Raffaella Fabiani Giannetto, Classics Considered: The Craft and Criticism of Landscape Architecture, where we examined ten exemplary case studies: the Alhambra, the Villa Lante, Prospect Park (Frederick Law Olmsted), Dumbarton Oaks (Beatrix Farrand), Teardrop Park (MVVA), Bryant Park (Hanna/Olin), FDR Memorial (Lawrence Halprin), the 9/11 Memorial (PWP), the original MoMA Sculpture Garden (Philip Johnson), and the Bloedel Reserve (Richard Haag). 

I took this course in my final year and it finetuned my thinking in the following three categories: the importance of creating a strong narrative or concept that form and material selection can then respond to, even in the subtlest of details; the deliberate interplay of grading and planting to create a diversity of experiences as one moves through the landscape—careful topographical design can make a small space seem big, or stretch and frame a view, aided by planting; and lastly the thoughtfulness, patience and perseverance required to create something truly extraordinary.  Contemporary landscape architects have inherited a remarkable and prodigious profession

What is your focus when designingMy primary focus is grading and circulation, keeping in mind what a person would be experiencing as they walk through the site, creating spaces scaled for human comfort.  It is important to be able to mentally visualize and inhabit a space you are designing; I draw sections to help me understand whether I am designing something that is “good.”  The next step is to try to mentally inhabit a space for others, asking myself—how would a child or a mobility-impaired person feel in this space? More often than not, the grading is the project. 

What makes your work rewarding? Seeing built work is always rewarding, seeing people enjoy the spaces that you and your team have spent hours coordinating and drawing.  And It still surprises me that the work looks like the drawing.  I have also helped teach the introductory grading and planting courses at Penn, both as a graduate teaching assistant and then lecturer, which was hugely rewarding.

Where do you go to feel inspired? I enjoy taking “pilgrimage” trips – to see and experience built-works, to be present in a space and to be able to draw it is the only way to fully understand a landscape.  I also like quiet places away from phones and screens as a way to reset and restore.

What is your favorite type of project to work on? That was one of the main things that attracted me to landscape architecture—that it was such a broad profession.  I have worked on projects ranging from intricate private gardens to complex planning studies for the National Park Service and have found them all rewarding.  I love the challenge of working through projects with many layers—which they all do, at varying scales.  I love that I am constantly learning in this profession.  And ultimately, I love that our work helps people live better lives; and helps communities and cities flourish.  

What has been your favorite OJB project and why? My favorite project at OJB is a pocket park (about 1/3 of an acre) in downtown El Paso associated with the first new office tower to be built there in 40 years.  I’m getting to take the project from design development through construction.  It’s exciting to be part of the team, and the client really understands and is energized by the value this new park will add to their city.  I got to attend the groundbreaking last month, and it was fun to see that over 200 people came out on a hot summer’s day; the city sees this tower as the start of a new chapter for El Paso.  I’m getting to work on some new details for me, including benches and site walls that have a rammed earth aesthetic, mimicking the strata of the neighboring Franklin Mountains.