Zeljka Carol Kekez
01 / People
Zeljka Carol Kekez
02 / PlACE
I noticed that you have some motorcycles in the studio. Why?
M：There are many reasons, I love riding motorcycles. It is something that I've done since I was 15 years old. A way to release energy. I love going fast and I love playing on the motorcycles. I take them to the racetrack or drive them across beautiful landscapes from Portland to Washington DC.
The other aspect is that everything we do and everything that is around us at PLACE is based on good design and on the creation of beautiful things - the creation of a cup, creation of a motorcycle, creation of a coffee pot, creations of a place. Everything that surrounds us, has an intent, a purpose and a thought behind it. Similarly, the motorcycles are beautifully made. So in one way, they're utilitarian, a piece of machine. But in another way, motorcycles are beautiful pieces of art. Designers thought about it and craftsmen built it by hand. Somebody created beauty. Motorcycles are in our studio because, in one way, they're just a tool and in another way, they're artistic expressions. We love to be surrounding with good ideas, good design, good people, and good inspirations.
Why did you name the studio as “PLACE”?
说真的，合伙人和我们两个员工讨论过，说我们是不是应该叫Earth，Wind或者Fire？还是应该叫 Water或者 Green（笑），因为水是维系我们日常生活的一个很重要的部分。我们很多对话还围绕着我们该怎样、该如何来保护我们的自然资源。我们不仅应该创造让人们享受的环境，还应该创造那些可以反映出人们的、社区的以及人类群体想要创造出美好有趣事物的愿景的环境。
M：When we started the studio in 2010, we wondered about the studio name. The four partners and two employees that we had at that point literally sat down around a table and spent a week exploring ideas. At first, we said ‘it could be called Villarreal, but nobody would be able to pronounce it.’ No, I didn't really say that (laughs). But we didn't really want the practice to be named after the letters of our last names -J K L N B-something in that order. So we focused on what is it that we do? Why is it that we practice landscape architecture? What is at the core of our passion and desire to engage in a creative process? Why are we creating this studio? What is it that we want to achieve? And then the conversation leads us to the fundamental idea - we create places - places for people to enjoy. Our name should be PLACE. It was a very democratic and exciting process.
Literally, the partners and our two employees discussed if the name should be Earth, Wind, or Fire? Should it be Water and Green (Laugh)? Water is such a big part of our lives and a lot of conversations focused on what and how we do our work to protect natural resources. We create environments for people to enjoy, environments that reflect people's goals, community goals, and reflect our collective desires to create something beautiful and interesting.
█ PLACE 在新加坡、北京、西雅图和波哥达等地都有分部。你们是如何管理不同的事务所？各个事务所之间又是怎么协作的？
PLACE has branch offices in Singapore, Beijing, Seattle, and Bogota. How can you manage the different studios? How do those studios coordinate?
M：The important element about our studio networks are friendships. Our studio in Singapore, studio in Beijing or Seattle, were not rooted in a business model, but in a friendship model. So what does that mean? The people that lead each one of these studios are colleagues we knew before we decided to open the studio. They have worked in Portland and know PLACE culture. They understand how we work and they believe in how we approach design. For a variety of reasons, these colleagues simply opted to practice in different geographic locations. They approached us with: “We want to continue to work together,” and we said: “We miss you too. Why don't we open a studio in Singapore or Seattle?” as we have accomplished in a collaboration with Phoebe Bogert, Principal. She worked in Portland for several years before moving to Seattle to be with her family. That's a very important part of the story. The people we partner with, know us and have worked with us on numerous occasions. They understand the studio culture and the goals of PLACE. We don’t go around the work with an advertisement to open a new studio. We prefer to build on existing friendships. Beyond that, daily work focuses on communication. One of the things that Carol stresses all the time is transparency and instant communications across studios. Anything in the studio is dealt with in real-time. That has allowed us to be effective at maintaining enthusiasm and excitement for the work. No question about it, there are challenges sometimes.
The Principals have rich working experiences before starting PLACE. What was the motivation to start your own studio?
M：So, I can park all my motorcycles (Laugh).
C：It was really three things. First, the design at the center of everything we do, including the studio itself and the way it looks.
The physical space. Our studio is a resource for us and for our community. Then, from that physical center, two other things. One is the connection to academia; we teach locally and globally. Finally, it is the studio’s workshop with a hands-on approach to design including a 1:1 scale model, which is very unique.
M：We think differently about our studio space and our practice. We started our practice at the best time possible; in 2010, in the midst of the US recession (Laugh). Everybody thought that we were completely crazy since we had good jobs and yet decided to start a new practice while LA firms were laying off staff and had no work. However, we desired to provide services differently; building on relationships and creating a sense of community with a lot of attention to each project.
How did you run the studio and the business?
C：It was a great idea from the professional design perspective as well as the business model perspective. We wanted to practice landscape architecture by celebrating our cultural heritage. Mauricio is from Colombia, and I am from Croatia. Practicing in Portland felt exclusively small. We wanted to reach out to our friends and professional colleagues around the world. Initially, we were curious about possibilities or experimenting with international practice. We couldn't possibly dream that we would have projects in Europe, Latin American, and Asia. Thanks to all of our colleagues and our clients who have given us the vote of confidence and gave us a try. We are committed to these relationships. So, when we work on projects, they are an extension of us, we want to make sure we give it our best every single time, regardless of a scale, scope, or location.
03 / Design Philosophy
Your design philosophy is about connecting the cutting-edge ideas and technology with the traditional landscape architecture practice. How do you define the cutting edge and traditional landscape practice?
M：When we started PLACE, we had a couple of goals in mind. The design was an integral element at the core of our practice. Art was also a big influence. Art, either by collaborating with artists or developing our own creations. At times, landscape architects are not considered integral to art-making. Despite the collaborative process, clients may say: “That's great. Let's hire an artist.” We prefer a collaborative process, exchanging great ideas with interdisciplinary teams. Similarly, teaching is very important to us. Working with the community allows us to remain current and understand what is important to society. Seeing what's happening around us in the world is paramount, providing us opportunities to offer a personal interpretation and facilitate a new experience. The academia, I think, is a great influence on understanding what's cutting edge. When teaching at a university you're working with young people. 23, 24, 25-year-old young students that think about the world in a completely different way. It opens our eyes to new perspectives rather than practicing in the same old way, over and over.
I've been doing landscape architecture for 31 years now. I realize that I often draw and take a pencil in the same way. However, what if I take a pencil in a new way? What would that mean? So, students are great for experimenting with us because they make us think in a new way. They have no judgment and no expectations. In return, our collaboration provides us with new influences and engagement with the community. Collective input makes a change in our work and approach to design.
Traditionally, people wanted a place to sit, a little bit of shade by a nice tree, and a calm space to enjoy. It was very simple. One could distill an open space to a bench and a tree. Or a bench and an umbrella. The idea of claiming open space for relaxing or taking a break. From there, landscape architects may take practice in numerous directions. The bench can be a simple piece of wood. It can be a beautiful piece of marble. It can be a very complex design element. The shade can be just a tree or it can be a very complex structure. The essence of it is always the same. I think people just love to be outside; love to be comfortable. It doesn't have to be complicated. However, we can take essential elements and amplify design depending on the goals of the project.
C：To amplify the design process, we have set up our studio with the workshop where we can build working models to 1:1 scale design features. The workshop allows us to work across a variety of scales and materials. Our team members can walk five feet away from their computers and quickly translate digital ideas into a built form. We also use the studio to explore new ideas with the students.
When you first walk into our studio, there is no reception to greet you. Instead, you are immediately greeted by artwork displayed in our Galeria. So anyone from the community, anybody from a street can walk in and enjoy the artwork that it's continuously evolving and changing. It is also how we blend the traditional and contemporary aspects of society to inform and inspire our daily lives. It is not just having a number of landscape architects sitting behind the computers and working on projects. It is about blending disciplines together to celebrate and inspire the creative process. Our studio practice requires awakening and engaging all the senses rather than just focusing on a business of landscape architecture.
Can you share with us your insights into PLACE’s focus on People, Planet and Peace?
C：可以说我们的实践就是为人们提供场所，因此公司命名为PLACE – 也是旨在为人们创造美好的场所。我们创造的第一个场所就是我们的事务所和我们的企业文化。然后我们希望通过与各种各样的人建立联系来复制和传达它。我们最关心的就是我们的事务所，我们的员工和我们的家庭。如果一切进展顺利，我们可以将关系和联系扩展到我们的客户。我们努力建立友谊，在北京、新加坡、东京和波哥达的合作网络都是建立在那些我们认识并且有着数十年交情和专业合作的朋友上。如果项目机会出现，无论在世界上的哪个角落，我们都会和我们的朋友们取得联系并一起参与其中，如果所有人都达成共识愿意开展这个项目，那将是一件很棒的事情。有时几年过去了我们才等到下一次机会，但是对我们来说时间仿佛没有流逝一样。因为我们没有预期，所以只有欢乐。我们坚信我们可以将学术界和学生联系在一起并回馈社区，因此我们大部分的项目都是公共项目，我们很享受和客户乃至全世界范围的人们合作。
C：Our practice is about placemaking for people. The company name is PLACE - it’s about making great places for people. One of the first places we created was our own studio and its culture. Then we desired to replicate it by connecting people. Our studio, our people, and our families are our first priority. If that is going well, then we may extend the relationships and connections to our clients. We strive to create friendships. The networks in Beijing, Singapore, Tokyo, or Bogota are with people we have known and enjoyed personally and professionally for decades. If the project opportunity comes up in a corner of the world, we reach out to our friends to play together. If agreeable to all - fabulous. Sometimes years pass prior to a next opportunity and yet it's just like no time has passed. No expectations; just fun. We strongly believe in connecting the world of academia, students, and giving back to the community. The majority of our work is for public projects. We enjoy partnering with clients and engaging people worldwide.
We were impressed by the models, sketches, the studio settings. It's very different from other firms. And we were talking about the current trend of using computer renderings. Sometimes students are just using the computer to make pretty images but they never think about how the place really looks like.
M：Digital technology has the potential to become a challenge. Today’s students are ultimately computer wizards. They can create beautiful images. Yet, they might fall in love with tools. We often caution them to remain focused on a creative process, clients, and users.
Graphics could become a make-belief. A part of the graphic process is essential to create a dream, a vision. Going to school is about dreaming. That's the beauty of it. There's no client, there's no budget, no schedule. Letting loose is super fun. Exercising that part of the brain is crucial.
The school is a perfect moment for exploration. Along the way, you also need to realize that the landscape architect has a responsibility beyond creating a pretty picture. That's what makes a design good – an understanding of peoples’ behavior, understanding the environment, understanding of nature, understanding of the surroundings and how they come together to create a special moment for each individual. Is the placemaking only for one person? Two people? Four people? 100? 300? 3000? Is it for today, for tomorrow, a hundred years from today?
That's the beauty of landscape architecture. We are privileged with opportunities to create timeless places for generations to enjoy; that my kids and my kids’ kids will be using and enjoying - public open spaces that will become civic elements, a part of the city, a part of the identity of the place, and a part of the identity of people.
C: Having the privilege to work in different scales locally and globally comes with the responsibility of understanding people, history, culture and impacts on our environment, especially in the times that we live now. Climate change is an important reality. As landscape architects, we must embrace leadership roles to learn from each other and be at the forefront of progress in our society.
04 / Design Practice
Congratulations on the ASLA professional award. Can you share some insights about this project with us?
M：谢谢。Hassalo on Eighth 是一个的“环境友好”型项目的典型案例，它包含了我们刚才谈到的所有要素，同时也是基于多年友谊进行合作的案例的很好体现——这个项目中包含我们的客户AAT以及我们在GBD建筑事务所认识了24年的朋友。基本上景观行业中的人际关系以及对我们创造出具有持久价值的事物的信心是很重要的。我们的目标是为新的场所创造鲜明的身份和社区归属感。
M：Thank you. Hassalo on Eighth is a great environmental project example; of all the things that we're talking about. It's a good example of a project created in partnership with our client American Assets Trust and passionate collaborators and friends at GBD Architects led by a Design Principal, Kyle Andersen, we've known for 24 years.
Basically, relationships in this business are very important along with the trust of creating something new of lasting value. The goals are to create a strong identity for a new place, to create a community.
That project is in an urban area designed in the 70s, with the concept of business towers and parking lots. You park a car on a surface lot, go up to an office and at the end of the workday, drive home to a suburb. Today, these parking lots have been transformed into a community and an eco-district neighborhood. Our client, the developer, The American Assets Trust, and the whole team believed in creating something that can serve as root to a new neighborhood. It's a really exciting vision to translate three blocks of asphalt and cars into human-centered neighborhoods vibrant with bicycles and habitats - a new place people call home.
█ 在参观Hassalo on Eighth的时候，我对之字形的模块和水街留下了很深的印象，它们和周围的环境非常不同。这个设计语言背后的灵感是什么呢？
When visiting Hassalo on Eighth, I was impressed by the zigzag pattern and water street. It's very different from the surrounding environment. What's the inspiration behind this design language?
C：Hassalo on Eighth的精彩之处在于它是波特兰环境复兴使命的某种象征。作为个体，一个人可能很难改变世界，但如果我们可以与Hassalo on Eighth这样的先进社区合作，就可以通过集体的努力来实现更大的目标，这也是Hassalo on Eighth项目成功背后的思考。
Hassalo on Eighth
M：We wanted to create an iconic and memorable place with a unique identity. Water street is an element that we created as the spine of the new development. As the neighborhood continues to develop, the aspiration is that the water street continues to tie one blocked to another.
The water street is symbolic of our Pacific Northwest rainy environment as well as sustainability. The treatment of the rainwater and the black water is visible in the landscape. It's an asset instead of a utilitarian element to hide. The water system is actually amplified and showcased as the epicenter of the development. As you walk within nature, you experience its power of cleansing and restoration. The system also has an environmental education purpose. The science behind the NORM (Natural Organic Recycling Machine) is to decentralize treatment and reuse system to divert 100% of the wastewater generated in the three new buildings away from the municipal sewer. The planting bed also serves as a habitat and a water treatment area. You just think about it 3-dimensionally.
C：What's awesome about Hassalo on Eighth is emblematic of Portland’s environmental agenda. As an individual, one might not be able to change the world; however joining with a progressive community like the Hassalo on Eighth, collective efforts are leveraged to accomplish more. That's the idea behind the success of the Hassalo on Eighth.
As I know, Mauricio is also teaching at Beijing Technology University. Can you share with us the experience?
M：It is always interesting to engage students worldwide in a conversation. It opens your mind and your eyes because each academic institution is different. In Beijing, the format was somewhat formal, in a lecture style.
We consider engaging with academia an important aspect of our work. It is an opportunity to share thoughts, ideas, impressions, an opportunity to influence thinking. We believe that by going to different cities, different places, we exchange knowledge. We share and we acquire knowledge too. So being in Beijing at the prestigious university is a two-way street. We talk about ideas and we see and hear new ideas. The exchange process allows us to learn and grow.
C：As professors at the Portland State University School of Architecture we also extend invitations to our colleagues and friends worldwide including Beijing to visit us in Portland. We have a number of colleagues from China that have come to Portland State University and engaged local students. There is an ongoing exchange of ideas and we hope to continue building a network of friends and professional colleagues.
Have you considered working with international students in the studio format?
C：We are in the process of preparing a curriculum with hands-on experience exposing students to our practice. The idea of creating PLACE academy in China engaging a small group of students. The curriculum would focus on environmental issues and sustainability, exporting Portland values of environmental stewardship and community engagement. We found that, for example, in the last few years, while working in Japan, we were able to engage the public in a design process of the public realm. It would be interesting to explore a similar effort in China and see if it resonates with the public.
M：Community involvement in the Pacific Northwest, especially in Portland, is a big part of our practice, meaning that a lot of the design happens very much hand in hand with the community, with the residents and their voices and presence are strong. We embrace the process and make it fundamental to design. However, as we go to different cultures, different places, many times, that is not the norm. In China, people are used to that the government leads a park design. The design process is a reflection of the government system. Perhaps, if the communities were involved, people would feel a greater sense of ownership like in the US.
I think it's especially important in China as a landscape architect to really listen to the community and also listen to the voice from the government and combine them together.
C：The landscape architecture profession is very young in China. The design process is evolving.
M: Worldwide, the younger generations are also learning to balance the multitude of stakeholders and the same is true in China.
We have many opportunities and the market is pretty good. You mentioned that there's a PLACE studio in Beijing. Do you have projects in China already?
Interview with ArchiDogs at ASLA 2019 © ArchiDogs
M: The opportunities in China are absolutely amazing. The amount of development and the pace at which it occurs is just incredible. Opportunities to be a part of this influence is really exciting. You can be a part of constructing and creating a narrative that will benefit Chinese society. It is just really interesting.
C：Willingness to innovate and create unique environments at such a grand urban scale and pace hasn't been done before. China’s desire to be the first, wanting a large scale, to be progressive and provocative is attractive to design professionals worldwide including PLACE. To establish a network of professional colleagues in China is of strong interest to PLACE. In terms of our personal reward, we look forward to creative exchanges with professionals who intuitively understand history and culture to create a richer project. We are currently creating partnerships with local firms and are jointly pursuing projects with the leadership of our Principal, Peng Zhou.
访谈｜Xiao Zhou, Sherry Li
翻译/文案｜Xiao Zhou, Rugui Xie
校对｜Sherry Li, Sara Li
摄影/摄像｜Chao Sun（Chao Vision）