For the landscape architects at The Office of James Burnett (OJB), each project is about creating spaces that are individually suited to their unique environments and end users, which is a creative philosophy that 18-year OJB veteran Ronald “Chip” Trageser, ASLA, knows inside and out. In his 25 years of experience in the landscape architecture profession, Trageser has refined a design technique that combines this placemaking approach with an environmental consciousness.
When it comes to putting this design approach into practice, some of Trageser’s favorite types of projects are campus landscapes, both corporate and educational. The challenge when it comes to designing campuses, he says, is making them feel like they’re just the right size for the people who experience them, whether the site is large or small. “Having a space that doesn’t feel too large if you’re alone but that still gives you the room to meet in a group is an important design consideration,” Trageser says. “This ties back into OJB’s placemaking approach. You can create a beautiful environment, but if people aren’t actively engaging with it, then you’ve missed the mark.”
At the Brochstein Pavilion at Rice University, OJB’s landscape design fused these principles with elements of sustainability. The landscape at the Pavilion features a 10,000-square-foot outdoor terrace under a canopy of elm trees. In this shady space, two simple, black concrete water features were envisioned. Conscious of the need for smart water-use strategies from both environmental and economic standpoints, the features were designed so that they not only use less water, but also waste less, as well. The twin rectilinear water features contain slowly moving water that glides down on all sides into a bed of pebbles. No water leaves the basin, and little to no evaporation occurs since the site provides ample shade. This low-usage, low-evaporation technique conserves significant amounts of water. The water features can also be turned off and drained if necessary, while still acting as the sculptural focal point of the terrace. Trageser’s technical skill and artful hand in this space produced a landscape that provides low environmental impact with high-impact design.
It’s these sustainable design practices, as well as his impressive body of work, that earned Trageser a place among the ASLA members being elevated to Fellow in 2015. “I’m honored to be recognized by ASLA and become a part of this esteemed group, many of whom have been my mentors and past colleagues,” Trageser says. “I’ve been lucky to be surrounded by amazing people who’ve led me to incredible opportunities. When I started at OJB, there were just three of us, and every project that came in seemed career-defining. But we just kept getting better and better projects. When you work with exceptional people, you get exceptional work.”
One of the cornerstones of this exceptional work is Vectorworks Landmark software. “I was the first one at OJB to do a project with Landmark, and that was almost 20 years ago,” says Trageser. “Our firm has been built around it. We used it from day one on our projects, and it’s a part of our daily operations. The quality of the graphics always impresses our clients.”
So what advice would soon-to-be FASLA Trageser give to an aspiring landscape professional? “I would tell them to find their niche. The landscape industry is so diverse, from small residential design to regional planning. Find the best professional in that field and work with them, but also be sure to work with someone who has lots of passion for what they do. It's contagious.”
The new class of ASLA Fellows will be recognized at the 2015 ASLA Annual Meeting and EXPO on November 6-9 in Chicago. To learn more about all of the upcoming Fellows, check out the ASLA website.