Kristina Floor, FASLA and Chris Brown, FASLA, are two of the most prominent landscape architects working in Phoenix today. Their work on the Lost Dog Wash Trailhead and the “Desert Lives” exhibit at the Phoenix Zoo received national recognition from the ASLA. They are also a married couple. In 2008, their Phoenix-based firm, Floor Associates, merged with JJR, a subsidiary of the large multidisciplinary firm SmithGroup. But as of January 1, they are working on their own again. In a brief phone conversation, they explained why. The conversation below has been edited and condensed.
Floor Associates merged with JJR in 2008. What led you to join them?
Chris Brown: We really liked the work JJR had been doing in the Midwest, and we saw it as an opportunity to use JJR’s expertise to help expand our practice. We’d grown up to be about 18 people when we merged, and that was taking a lot of management. We were spending more and more time running the organization and less time creating cool places. If there was some way of lifting some of that administrative burden off our shoulders, that’s something we wanted to do.
Kristina Floor: Also, as Floor Associates, we found ourselves in the running with other firms like EDAW or Sasaki for projects in the Phoenix market, and the concern was maybe we didn’t have the manpower to accommodate certain projects. Part of the reason to merge with JJR was to have that manpower when we needed it.
When did you leave SmithGroupJJR and why?
Brown: We started talking with the guys at the local office around Thanksgiving about the idea of separating, and we decided to make it effective the first of the year. We felt the timing was right. It’s been a pretty successful collaboration. But at the same time, the work we had become known for as Floor Associates was becoming increasingly difficult to do under the structure of SmithGroupJJR.
Part of it is they are a very integrated design firm. Out here in Phoenix, the landscape architecture studio has operated separately for the last four years. But our lease was coming up in 2013 and we knew as a corporate strategy they wanted us to be more integrated with the architects and engineers at their office in the Arizona Center.
A year ago, JJR combined its name with SmithGroup as part of a restructuring. That worked OK for us but some of our longtime clients, especially architects, view SmithGroup as a major competitor. A lot of the architects were a little put off by the name change, and the idea of physically locating to Arizona Center was not something we were interested in. We don’t just want to be an in-house landscape architecture department. That said, our separation with SmithGroup has been very amicable.
Floor: We’re going to continue to team with them. (more…)