Every week in our Q&ADR column, ADR interviews an architect, designer, object maker or industry person about who they are beyond the work – their life, inspiration, challenges and aspirations.
This week we meet Chris Mahoney – a landscape architect and horticulturist with a strong design, business and construction background. He is the founder and director of the Brisbane-based landscape architectural firm Verde Design Group.
Can you tell us about yourself and how you ended up working within the landscape architecture industry?
I grew up spending most of my childhood outdoors, whether it was in the garden with my parents, exploring bushland with my brothers or camping with friends. After high school, I studied plant science and horticulture at The University of Queensland with the intention of hopefully working in National Parks.
However, during this course, I realised a passion for the horticultural side and gained work experience with a design and construct landscape architectural company during summer break, and that’s where it all started.
After working in the landscape construction and horticultural industry for a few years, I became increasingly interested in the design aspects and decided that it would be a great opportunity to go back to study. I enrolled in landscape architecture at QUT and haven’t looked back since. I launched my own landscape architecture firm, Verde Design Group, in 2006.
What is it that you love about landscape architecture?
I love the variety of project types and scales that encompass the field. I’ve been very fortunate to work on an inspiring mix of projects throughout my career. I also love the challenge, regardless of project scale or complexity, of producing great design that has a positive influence on the end users’ experience.
Has rapid population growth and a movement towards higher-density living resulted in a rise or decline in the demand for landscape architects?
I believe it’s resulted in an increase in the need for landscape architects. As our population continues to increase and our natural systems are manipulated, we’re seeing a decrease in the opportunities for people to connect with nature at every scale. I think landscape architects will play an important role in envisioning and creating alternative ways for us to remain connected to nature. We will also be actively engaging with communities and governments to realise ways of ensuring growth whilst protecting our natural systems so that they can be enjoyed and can function as they should.
What makes landscape architects more important now, more than ever?
Similarly, as populations increase and higher-density living becomes the norm, we’re seeing opportunities for the integration of green space becoming more and more limited. It’s startling when I see statistics that report two-thirds of the world’s population is now being deprived of regular access to nature or green spaces. I believe that the need for forward-thinking landscape architects who develop creative ways to integrate nature into our built environments are more important now than ever before.
What’s something many people don’t realise about the role of a landscape architect?
Contrary to many people’s beliefs, landscape architecture is much more than just plants and gardens – it’s everywhere, at every scale. From a small suburban pocket park, local bikeway or inner city apartment development, to large-scale environmental projects, civic plazas or public parklands, landscape architecture is key to our communities.
Who/what/where are you inspired by? Which landscape architects have influenced your work?
I’m continually inspired by our natural environment and its ability to adapt and change, especially when confronted with human intervention. Sometimes it’s the little things that inspire me, like noticing a fig tree seedling sprouting from a crack in a wall.
At an international level, the work of SWA Group in the United States has influenced the way I approach a site and the language of a project. Their attention to detail and respect for the story of the site, regardless of scale, is exceptional.
Closer to home I am influenced by the work of some of the founders of landscape architecture here in Australia, such as the work by Allan Correy who brought landscape architecture into the public realm.
What is your favourite space/place in Australia – is there a spot you wish you had designed?
My favourite place, and somewhere that I can recharge and also be inspired, is the area around south-east Queensland’s Scenic Rim, especially the Mt Barney National Park – it is a rich blend of natural areas and dramatic peaks.
From a design perspective – I would have loved to be part of The Garden of Australian Dreams project, having the chance to collaborate with a diverse mix of designers and artist on such an iconic piece of work would have been fantastic.
What is your pain point with the Australian design/landscape architecture industry?
From a landscape architecture perspective, I think we can do more to ensure that a holistic approach to sustainability is the foundation of every project and ensure it is given due consideration for the benefits such an approach can provide. Unfortunately, it is often the case that the economic factors of a project overshadow the environmental and social benefits that can be achieved.
What do you think will be the key issues affecting landscape architects over the next decade?
Climate change is, of course, a big issue that we will play a role in addressing, but on a smaller scale, we will be challenged to find new ways that ensure people are connected with nature and greenery.
What are you currently working on/what are you looking to do next?
It is a busy year for Verde Design Group, as we are currently working on a range of projects from large scale highway corridors to a small nature based community pre-school. One of our upcoming projects includes a large mixed-use and residential precinct that involves a number of internal and external green walls and community gardens.
If you’d like to be featured in Q&ADR, simply email firstname.lastname@example.org with a little introduction of yourself.