Joseph J. Lalli, FASLA, the chairman and former president of the firm EDSA, died October 25 at his home in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, after a brief illness. He was 71.
Lalli joined EDSA in 1968 and became president of the firm in 1994, succeeding Edward Durell Stone Jr., who founded the firm in 1960. During Lalli’s tenure, he led a significant expansion of the firm, which is known particularly for its resort designs, to one that now has 120 employees in six offices. He had more than 500 projects to his credit in 40 countries. EDSA was among the first landscape architecture firms to work in China beginning in 2001. Among its numerous awards, EDSA received the ASLA Landscape Architecture Firm Award in 2010.
“He was a very accomplished artist and a design person, a creative thinker, and he was able to take that creative aspect and transfer it to the business side,” said Doug Smith, ASLA, the president of EDSA since 2012, who was hired by Lalli in 1987. “He was an unconventional thinker.” When EDSA first began working in China, Western firms faced a tight, bureaucratic process that required their forming a joint venture with a Chinese firm. “He orchestrated a lot of very complicated aspects of that,” Smith says. An early joint venture, EDSAOrient, remains active in Beijing, and an EDSA office opened in Shanghai in 2013. The firm won an Honor Award for General Design in 2010 for the Crosswaters Ecolodge in China’s Guangdong Province. The firm has also worked frequently in the Caribbean region.
Lalli’s global success was unaccompanied by bluster; his colleagues describe him as a persuasive leader, yet a modest and taciturn person—and a generous one. “You really had to listen to Joe and pull things out of him,” said Lucinda Sanders, FASLA, the chief executive officer of OLIN. “I saw him as a selfless person. He gave to anybody around him. He gave very quietly. He taught us so much about goodness and the suspension of ego.”
“He was a man of such few, elegant words,” said Joe Brown, FASLA, the retired chief innovation officer of AECOM. “He was such a remarkably nice man, a gentleman competitor.”
Lalli was born in Geneva, New York. He received his bachelor’s degree in landscape architecture at Cornell University and his master’s in landscape architecture at the University of Michigan. Aside from his ASLA fellowship, he was a past cochair of the CEO Roundtable and a former member of the board of the Landscape Architecture Foundation.
He is survived by his wife, Jeanne Dawson-Lalli, and two brothers, Vincent Lalli and Anthony Lalli.