|Houston, TX (April 12, 2022) – Landscape Architecture firms in the United States are leading an evolving initiative to engage their Ukrainian counterparts displaced by the war. The idea is for US-based companies to hire Ukrainian designers to work remotely, providing them with much-needed income, and also some agency over their lives during this difficult time.
Kinder Baumgardner, Managing Principal of SWA Houston and one of the initiative’s leaders, explained, “My team in Houston has been researching and contacting landscape architects and urban designers either located in Ukraine or displaced by the war… it’s an opportunity for the U.S. Landscape Architecture community to help a few people in a very real and tangible way that will raise their spirits, give them something to focus on other than war, and see firsthand that they are not alone.”
“The commitment feels personal. Many of the candidates that we are speaking with are women with families that have left their spouses, fathers, and brothers behind to fight. While some candidates have relocated to the west, others are still located in difficult situations and have families unable to leave the war zone. Having spoken to many of them, their stories are heart wrenching … they are ready and willing to work with us and see it as part of the resistance to the invasion of their country.”
SWA’s Houston studio has engaged seven Ukrainian designers as “contract” employees so far, and would very much like to see other firms do the same. SWA has held information sessions with interested firms and related professional associations to advance the program, including the introduction of a database of potential candidates along with some practical techniques for hiring and working with them.
Anna Kulvanovska, a Ukrainian landscape architect who escaped the country and is now working with SWA, expressed appreciation about the engagement. “It’s been good to focus on this part of life and the connection with others. I am enjoying the project work—the brainstorming, the exchange of ideas, work culture, and design culture. Life in Ukraine will never be the same, and of course we are angry and upset and want to rebuild our cities. It’s affirming for us to be connected to the broader professional community, and it makes a difference for us individually.”
“Some firms are keeping it fairly simple and using Ukrainian designers on a task by task basis … others are remotely embedding them into their office culture. We have found that you just have to take the first step of reaching out to someone on the list, chat with them about their expertise and situation … and then just give it a try. Some have refugee status in neighboring countries, others remain in Ukraine … all are motivated to make this work, extremely resilient in the face of so much uncertainty, and immensely grateful for the opportunity,” says Baumgardner.
In addition to SWA, site design group, ltd. (site), a 40-person landscape architecture and urban design firm based in Chicago, has also reached out to and engaged with Ukrainian designers since the initiative was launched. They are currently working with one individual designer on a full-time basis, and a 24-person firm, contracted on a monthly basis. A goal of the arrangement is to allow the Ukrainian designers to serve as an extension of site’s team, providing design, rendering, and visualization assistance.
“When we heard about the initiative that SWA was leading, we knew immediately that we had to participate. It is a great way to first and foremost, contribute to some semblance of normalcy for these Ukrainian designers who are facing unimaginable circumstances, while simultaneously opening new connections, meeting new collaborators, and alleviating the extra workload our firm – like many others – has been facing,” says Brad McCauley, Managing Principal at site.
“The process has been straightforward and easy to navigate, as we’ve been able to utilize a lot of the infrastructure and communication tools that we, like many other firms, had already mastered through the Pandemic and collaboration with remote team members. The designers we have connected with are very talented, and eager to start collaborating. We are thrilled to be participating in this outstanding initiative and to have come up with a mutually beneficial agreement so quickly.”
Many other firms, such as Olin, Civitas, EDSA, OJB, TBG, Sasaki, and Gensler have expressed interest in participating in the program, and SWA and site are committed to sharing their experiences with anyone who is interested to help progress the initiative. The Landscape Architecture Foundation and ASLA have also been supporting the effort.
This is an important opportunity for the U.S. Landscape Architecture community to come together and provide assistance that is orders of magnitude larger than the associated cost and effort. In the process everyone will have an opportunity to meet and work with some amazing people.
Interested in learning more? Email firstname.lastname@example.org to gain access to the database or to speak with an SWA leader about this initiative.
About SWA Group
SWA is a world-renowned landscape architecture, planning, and urban design firm celebrated for its creativity, responsiveness, and design excellence. Our work gives new life to outdoor spaces at multiple scales – from public plazas to waterfronts to entire city districts – harnessing natural systems while enhancing the unique characteristics of each setting. SWA has studios in Dallas, Houston, Laguna Beach, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Sausalito and Shanghai. For more information, please visit www.swagroup.com.
About site design group, ltd.
site design group, ltd. (site) is a nationally award-winning landscape architecture and urban design firm based in Chicago, Illinois. As landscape architects, urban designers, planners, arborists, architects, and creative thinkers, we are a staff of 41 diverse and innovative professionals. We are enlivened by our surroundings and strive to produce creative spaces that inspire, restore, and bring communities together. Throughout our 32 years in business, we have made our name for our innovation in landscape architecture, commitment to design excellence, and community-based approach. Learn more about site at: www.site-design.com.
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site design group, ltd.