Hoerr Schaudt Landscape Architects

Disciplines: landscape architecture | City: Chicago, IL | Scope of Work: variety of scales, both public and private
Date Visited: 10.29.12

Location: 850 West Jackson Boulevard Chicago, Illinois 60607
Firm Size: medium; 30
Founded (merger): 2008

The product of a successful merger between two independent firms with deep roots in Chicago’s urban fabric, Hoerr Schaudt Landscape Architects is an award-winning leader in green design.

The work of Hoerr Schaudt deserves much credit for Chicago’s revitalized streetscape, from the beautification of Michigan Ave along Chicago’s Magnificent Mile to the renovation of Daley Plaza.

They have also been the designers of some particularly impressive rooftop gardens, such as the Nathan Phillips Square Roof Garden in Toronto (blog entry), Chicago’s Apple Store, and the Gary Comer Youth Center (blog trip entry).

From their mission statement:

Our purpose is to connect people with the land in an inspiring way by synthesizing our client’s needs with the essence of a site or region and its surrounding architecture. We collaborate with nature to express a project’s larger vision and to draw people outdoors into memorable, meaningful experiences.

The largest landscape architecture firm in Chicago, Hoerr Schaudt’s thirty-some designers sit in an open, collaborative environment, brightly lit by ample skylights at the top floor of a building in the West Loop.

I briefly sat down with Peter Lindsay Schaudt, one of the founding partners, to discuss the impact of landscape architecture in Chicago, the story behind the recent merger, and the workflow of the business. An Illinois native, Peter returned to Chicago to found his firm in 1991 after gaining considerable influence and experience from his years as an associate for Dan Urban Kiley and an MLA degree from Harvard University.

In 2008, your office merged with Douglas Hoerr’s to create the largest landscape architecture firm in Chicago. How did that decision come about?
Both our firms opened in 1991 and we always knew of each other. We actually competed against one another on a number of public projects such as universities, but we had a good relationship and respected one another’s works. So even before the great recession, we were talking about bringing the two offices together. Merging became a great asset because it lets us diversify our methodology and reach, which helped us considerably through the recession. It’s allowed us to create a diverse portfolio and expand our opportunities.

Can you describe the scope of your projects?
Both of us carried over the type of work we did at our individual firms before the merger. Doug has a much more of a horticultural background and he focuses heavily on private, public and botanical gardens. His projects are typically smaller and detailed, and he really gets to innovate through plant selection. My firm’s work was less residential and focuses more on institutions and corporate campuses. So when we combined our work, we were able to cover a broader spectrum of landscape architecture while continuing our former focuses.

Where are most of your projects located?
We’re licensed in about fourteen states so our work is all over the U.S. I’d say about 60% is in the Midwest and we’re in the process of spreading our wings. We do have a little international work, mostly contracted through architects.

Since your merger, how has your design process changed?
Since many of our projects come from repeat clients, Doug and I tend to work on them individually and consult with each other over the design process. At the time of the merger, Doug’s firm was much larger at around thirty-five people and mine was smaller at around seven. And so, he’s brought in a larger number of repeat clients who are interested in the same kind of design work that Doug’s developed for them in the past. I, on the other hand, focus heavily on the marketing side by developing relationships with architects with whom we team up with to get projects.

You spent many years in New England working on your MLA and working for Dan Kiley. What influenced you to move back to Illinois to set up a firm in Chicago and what has that been like for you?
Well, I moved back here because I’m originally from Illinois. Chicago is historically a city best known for architecture and engineering, and so it can be hard for landscape architecture to break into the field. Chicago’s never had a large landscape architecture firm. So when Doug and I started our respective firms in ’91, our success here had a lot to do with Mayor Daley being here starting in ‘89. It was as if the stars aligned. He was a great mayor and he did a lot to advocate green design and open space. He really created a niche for us through his top down decision-making. Both Doug and I have since served on his design committees for Chicago.

Can you describe the set up of your office?
Our office is organized into three major parts. On the left hand side (side note: where Peter sits) we do mostly institutional, commercial work, on the far right hand side the focus is on residential and botanical gardens and the middle sits those who work primarily on final details and construction process.

So your office setup is like a road map to your design process. It starts from the far ends with the partners developing the big design concept and then the design flows through to project managers and designers who further refine the design idea and either sits in the residential or commercial section of the office. When a design reaches the end of the cycle, it’s handed off to the team seated at the middle of the office for final construction process and details before the design is sent out the door.
Right, we think that the execution at the end of a project is just as important as the design itself so we have people who just focus on that end product. And even though we’re organized into three major groups, we can still all work collaboratively across the room.

Oftentimes a built landscape is overlooked as being the result of rigorous engineering and design because it looks so naturalistic. Your work with Soldier Field is one such example. It was previously 17 acres of flat, asphalt; now, however, it looks very naturalistic with its rolling green hills. Even though people can appreciate the landscape, the public may tend to write it off as something that just naturally exists, rather than is designed. What do you think of this problem in landscape architecture and what do you think the best way is to approach it?
I think landscape architecture is a glorious profession and it’s really complex. Soldier Field is a green roof that conceals more than 2,500 parking spaces and the architect on the job just wanted to put a flat green turf onto the structure. But I envisioned recreating the prehistoric dune landscapes of Chicago to disguise that parking structure underneath and create the illusion of “terra- firma”. I was greatly inspired by Hargreaves and his designed landforms. By using topography, we were able to lessen the bulk of the building.

As for getting people to look at landscape architecture as a rigorous profession, collaboration and professional relationship building is key. The best thing to do is to engage with the other disciplines and work alongside them, to speak up and operate as a team rather than separate parts. Some architects tend to just take landscape architecture for granted, but it changes once they’ve worked closely with a landscape architect that has leadership abilities and they see how much goes into a project, such as grading, integrating infrastructure, storm water and plant material.

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