Trading Faces

LandDesign tries a new approach to bringing kids into landscape architecture.

By Kim O’Connell 

Baseball-style cards inform kids about real-life landscape architects, civil engineers, and other design professionals. Image courtesy LandDesign.

Although they don’t depict the likes of a Mike Trout or Max Scherzer, a new series of “baseball cards” may get children jazzed about careers in landscape architecture. Developed by the multidisciplinary firm LandDesign, the cards each show one of the firm’s designers on the front and a short Q and A about their work on the back, along with a signature project.

The cards are just one element in the firm’s new Studio Toolkit, which includes a collection of physical tools and project guidance to give kids hands-on design experience long before they enter a university classroom. The idea was rooted in the racial justice dialogues that followed the murder of George Floyd last year. “We wanted to do more than just put out a statement; we wanted to take action,” says the designer Rita Schiller, a member of the tool kit team. “There’s a lack of diversity within the profession. We talked about how we could impact that and start to change what the industry looked like for the future.”

Discussions about a college-level mentoring program quickly gave way to a plan that would engage kids much earlier in their life’s path. Support for the project came from the firm’s internal MatterLab grant program, which provides seed funding and studio hours for staffers to develop passion projects.

The design team is working with community groups to use the tool kit as part of existing mentorship and outreach programs. One organization is ourBRIDGE for KIDS, a Charlotte, North Carolina-based nonprofit that offers tutoring and other opportunities to refugee and immigrant children. The firm is helping pilot a series of workshops that will employ the Studio Toolkit. “With COVID, in-person mentorship is really tricky to do,” Schiller says. “So we were like, ‘How can we show what landscape architecture and civil engineering look like [in a pandemic]?’ We decided a really great way would be to create the baseball cards.”

The Studio Toolkit contains typical tools of the trade, as well as a range of sample projects. Photo courtesy LandDesign.

Will Talero is one of the landscape architects depicted on a card. “The whole idea is that human connection,” Talero says. “Not just educating the kids about landscape architecture but giving them a more personal touch with the questions and background information.” The kit includes an intro video as well, accessible via a QR code—combining digital and tangible learning modalities that can reach kids with different learning styles.

In addition to the cards, each box includes lesson plans, wax paper, Play-Doh, an engineering scale, a circle template, colored pencils, a sketchbook, and a sign pen—nearly all the tools of the trade short of a computer. Activities include arranging a series of parks from smallest to largest, learning how to read a plan view, making a bubble diagram, and creating a miniature water pipeline. “For kids to see how their messy, scribbled bubble diagrams could turn into a real swimming pool one day,” says Amanda Cole, a business development representative for the firm, “that’s exciting.”

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