MKSK Studios

Disciplines: landscape architecture, urban and regional planners | City: Columbus, OH | Scope of Work: all scales
Date Visited: 09.27.12

Location: 462 S Ludlow Alley, Columbus, Ohio 43215
Firm Size: around 60
Founded: November 2011 merger between MSI and KKG

Located in the historic Brewery District, MKSK is the shining result of a merger between two award-winning firms: MSI Design and Kinzelman Kline Gossman. Now one of the largest landscape architecture firms in the midwest, the firm includes more than 60 designers across four different offices: Indianapolis, IN; Covington, KY; Pasadena, CA; and its headquarters in Columbus, OH.

I visited MKSK on my first full day in Columbus and although I initially wondered whether it would have been better to explore the city and see their landscape architecture sites before visiting, I’m glad I went to MKSK first. I couldn’t have asked for a better warm and enthusiastic welcome to Columbus, as I was nearly bombarded with recommendations to places and events such as the (awesome) Columbus Design Week’s Ideabook Exhibit and Opening. It would be my first exposure to the type of growing energy, optimism and creativity that I’d later come to identify with Columbus.

MKSK is now just shy of a year old since its mid-November merger between the MSI Design and KKG, and when I spoke with various designers at MKSK, I was impressed by how easy and smooth the transition was. For one, there were no merger job losses. In “recession-proof” Columbus, the merger seemed to be the inevitable result of uncanny similarities, rather than that of economic necessity: both founders were graduates of Ohio State University, both firms were established in 1990 and located in the Brewery District (a block away from the other), and their design teams often competed (and later increasingly collaborated on) the same design projects.

MKSK is now located in MSI Design’s original building, accessible by an unassuming side door on a cobblestone-lined alley. But even if the office entrance is a bit hard to find, I really liked how the spatial layout of the firm was clear and easy to follow. Along with the massive wall of framed ASLA walls to the right of the entrance, I liked the timeline of projects that lined the hallway wall leading into the main building area and culminating into a small sitting area backed by a library; the remaining space fanned out into a series of conference rooms and studio spaces.

My tour and introduction of the office was led by Tony Roell, who has been working in the landscape architecture department–the majority of staff is composed of landscape architects, with a small division of planners along with administrative staff–for over half a decade, starting at MSI Design. Tony also mentioned that their studio layout has been undergoing some experimentation for perhaps greater collaboration–some of the larger desks accommodate three people side by side with a work station in the middle.

MKSK currently juggles around 200 projects in various stages and types, from small residential projects to large urban design projects; one of the defining aspects of work at MKSK is their diversity. Their projects are mostly based in the midwest, and their design team is largely credited with uniting and revitalizing downtown Columbus. They also do work on a number of international projects–mostly related to the entertainment industry–out of their small Pasadena, CA office. For the most part, however, the focus of MKSK will largely stay on the midwest, which I, after having traveled through a number of these midwestern cities, think are exciting and important markets to tap into.

I also had the opportunity to talk with Senior Principal Tim Schmalenberger, right before he was about to leave for the ASLA Conference down in Phoenix, Arizona. MKSK currently has nine principles–a number which is likely to increase in the future–each of whom pick up projects based on their interests, whether it be community planning or university campus development. The typical design team is then composed of a principal, a planner in the beginning project phases, two registered landscape architects and a few other designers grouped as support staff who are often shared on different projects; since there are no set design teams, this setup makes it conducive for everyone, particularly new hires, to get a feel for a number of diverse projects.

MKSK also has strong ties with the Knowlton landscape architecture department, unsurprising since most of its employees are OSU graduates. Besides opening their doors for office visits, MKSK also has a formalized co-op agreement with the school, meaning that every year, rising landscape architecture seniors competitively submit for the chance to take a year off from school to receive professional training at the firm. But MKSK doesn’t attract all of its talent in-house from Ohio. Although I don’t know the specifics, they do welcome interns from other parts of the U.S.; their two most recent interns were from Purdue University and the University of Pennsylvania.

Since this is my first time in Columbus, I have no clue what the city looked like before the landscape architecture sites by MSI Design and KKG were implemented, but it’s also kind of hard to imagine Columbus without them. Visiting places such as the Scotts Miracle Gro Community Garden and the Scioto Mile were very distinctive Columbus experiences for me. I’ve really enjoyed my time in the midwest so far, and I love that MKSK took root in Columbus in order to revitalize and design great public spaces in this fantastic, yet underrated, city.

One Response to “MKSK Studios”

  1. John Petrushka says:

    I don’t think we met when you visited our office. My work space is on the other side of the studio.

    I wanted to compliment you on your photography. The shots you took of our office seem quite professional.

    Best of Luck in you travels!

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