Reflections on 2023
As we wrap up a transformative year for our firm, we asked our president and founder, Daniel Wodroffe, to share some dwg. highlights from 2023.
As we reflect on the past year, could you share a moment or project that truly encapsulates dwg.’s mission?
For me, Springdale Green encapsulates the essence of our mission and brings me immense pride. Beyond working with an amazing design team and having a fantastic client, the project is a game changer. It reimagines the convention of a campus workplace by placing emphasis on the role and importance of outdoor open space in the modern workplace and, perhaps more profoundly, transforms and heals a 30-acre former petrochemical storage facility into a shining example of environmental consciousness, green infrastructure and urban ecology—adding green roofs, transplanting massive oak trees, and reestablishing native meadows, woodlands, and an urban creek tributary.
Built on a brownfield site, from its inception the vision of the landscape is about “toxicity transformed“—taking a contaminated site, healing it, and revealing the power of nature to cleanse and restore balance.
In the world of landscape architecture and urban design, challenges are inevitable. What obstacles did our team face in 2023?
The last few years have undoubtedly been challenging: Covid, a lockdown, and an uncertain economic climate that continues to reverberate through the design and construction industry.
While these issues have been challenging for a small design firm, and have tested our resilience and our capacity to embrace change, they have also been liberating moments that have become catalysts for growth. The lockdown allowed us to perfect and fully embrace remote working and allows us to support our existing talent that choose to live away from Austin. In addition to the San Antonio crew we now have a Denver-based “mountain division” … and, well, we will see what happens in 2024! Current economic conditions have led us to focus more deliberately on diversifying our work and we are now thrilled to be working with the University of Texas San Antonio, Austin Community College, and the Greenhill School in Dallas.
The concept of sustainable and sponge cities is gaining momentum. How has dwg. actively incorporated principles of green infrastructure and sustainability in recent projects, and what impact have you witnessed?
This has been a great year to celebrate the concepts of sustainability and green infrastructure in our work. St. John Encampment Commons at Austin Community College’s Highland campus is a place richly layered in powerful and moving stories of past systemic racism overlayed with uplifting stories of redemption—of coming together, rising up, and learning. This is also a story of the healing power of landscape. From a parking lot to a park, we were able to convert acres of asphalt parking into a central campus park—a nearly 90% reduction of paved surfaces into sponge gardens and native plants. From a complete lack of consideration for stormwater management to a place of filtration, sponge gardens and green infrastructure where 100% of the park irrigation comes from reclaimed water. St John Encampment Commons is a shining example of green infrastructure and the capacity of parks and the public realm to be performative and vital on many levels.
What advice do you have for young professionals aspiring to make a difference through landscape architecture? What qualities or mindset should they cultivate to thrive in this ever-evolving landscape?
I would hope that everyone that works with me and the entire dwg. team has come to expect that “everything is subject to change,” and that the role of the work we do is to lift up, heal, clean, restore and improve the way we interact and live on this planet. I often say, we always aim for “x 10” in everything we do, hoping we get everything but always knowing that “x 5” is many times better than just settling for business-as-usual.
I would also hope that young professionals aspiring to make a difference in landscape architecture and urban design know that this profession absolutely has the capacity to have huge positive impact and change. We are stewards of the environment and, as such, we are on the front lines of climate action and positive change.
Specific to dwg.’s focus on urban design and adaptive reuse, I often describe cities as living machines where the basic principles of nature, ecology, and biodiversity can (and must) be intertwined with art, infrastructure, emotion and place. As every flood shows us, pushing it downstream only amplifies the problem. Our profession must lean into nature-based solutions to right the errors of an outdated engineering culture of controlling nature with pipes and concrete. It's all about balance—and hiring a good landscape architect early in any design process.
Additionally, I believe it is critical for the next generation of brilliant LA’s to know AND believe passionately that our profession has the capacity to be carbon positive. Architecture cannot claim that, nor can civil engineering. Consider urban ecology, green roofs, native plants, restored meadows and parklands, green infrastructure and a heightened emphasis on local materials, recycled content, soil biology and, of course, bees.
And finally, on a personal note, reflecting back on 2023, what is a moment that stands out for you as a leader? A moment that resonates in your heart and symbolizes the journey you and our team have embarked upon in shaping our cities for the better?
With 35 brilliant teammates and countless game-changing projects it's tough to pinpoint just one, but this story does resonate above the others.
This is a moment that started back in September of 2005 when as a young LA I was finding my way in landscape architecture (and my way in America). This was the moment that a young, emerging firm called MVVA released their book on the Allegheny Riverfront Park—a seminal project about the profound power of landscape architecture to lift, stitch, bind and reconnect the city to its river in an incredibly poetic and profound way. It told a story of ecology and urban nature that was pioneering in its day, and it had an impact on my professional direction.
Fast forward to 2011 when Michael Van Valkenburgh asked dwg. to join his team for the international design competition of Waller Creek, which for the last decade has been the most influential force that has shaped the direction of the firm. Now in 2023, we were selected to reimagine Allegheny Landing, a park directly across the Allegheny River from MVVA’s Riverfront Park. Needless to say, we are thrilled and incredibly proud to help Riverlife, the stewards of the city’s river corridors, complete their vision of “river rooms” along this iconic river that flows through the amazing city of Pittsburgh.
For us, winning this commission was a process of being bold and deliberate—about speaking from the heart about our vision for sustainable, artful, fun and funky landscapes that can change the world! We are incredibly proud to call Austin our home, and have invested over 13 years in making this city more innovative, sustainable, and resilient. However, we are also excited to continue to expand our work beyond this wonderful city into places such as Pittsburgh, Denver, Omaha, and New York, just to name a few.
So, perhaps I should close by saying we should “cheers” with a perfect cuppa English tea to remarkable new adventures in 2024.
Onwards and upwards!