Oslund and Associates

Disciplines: landscape architecture | City: Minneapolis, MN | Scope of Work: mostly private of varying scales
Date Visited: 10.11.12

Location: 115 Washington Ave. N. Minneapolis, MN 55401
Firm Size: 8 – 9 (3 principals)
Founded: 1998

It seems like a funny choice to locate your landscape architecture firm in a city that experiences freezing and bitterly cold weather for eight months out of the year. But at Oslund and Associates, they welcome that challenge–and it looks as if they’ve been very successful.

From the Harley Davidson Museum master plan in Milwaukee to Minneapolis’ small yet moving I-35 Bridge Rememberance Garden, Oslund and Associates consistently produces award-winning designs at all scales. Founded by principal and Director of Design Tom Oslund in 1998, this small yet effective team of designers has quickly risen to become one of the most influential landscape architecture firms in the nation.

As the Director of Design, Tom Oslund not only has a hand in every one of his projects, but he’s also in charge of coming up with that big, preliminary design idea. He leads a busy life, as an artist, designer, speaker, and educator–every other week he flies out to Cambridge, Massachusetts to teach at his alma mater, the Harvard Graduate School of Design.

I had the opportunity to sit down with Tom at his office, located within the popular Warehouse District in North Minneapolis. Past an unassuming door and skinny flight of stairs, the office opens up into a large warehouse-like space brightly lit by natural light. I loved the office’s open gallery space at the front of building, filled with art and sculpture from former mentors and projects, from a mock-up engraved steel and glass I-beam column from the I-35 Remembrance garden to a scaled-down version of Ned Kahn’s Wind Veil Sculpture from Target Field Plaza.

That creative, yet relaxed feel extends to the rest of the office: designers sit in an open layout beneath skylights; a bag of golf clubs sits beneath racks of large, meticulously detailed construction documents; a single-speed bicycle leans casually in plain sight against an exposed brick wall; a collection of baseball caps hang adjacent to a collection of ASLA awards. There’s a very friendly feel to the place, even in the back office spaces and the conference room, which are divided only by a few walls from the rest of the space.

Minneapolis is a fantastic city, but notorious for its winters. Why did you start a firm here?
It began with an offer to start a landscape architecture practice within the architecture firm HGA in Minneapolis. I was a Principal at MVVA in Cambridge at that time and I didn’t intend to come back to Minneapolis after I had moved to Cambridge to pursue my MLA at the GSD. But I did, and it’s worked out well.

The winters are a challenge, but we also tend to do our best work in the winter. You really have to put your nose to the grindstone, develop and push ideas.

Is it difficult to find work out here?
It can be if you’re trying to break into it brand new, but we’ve been extremely lucky because we do something that’s different from anyone else. We look for the quirky and hard projects and it’s been rewarding. We’ve built a reputation for ourselves for not being afraid to take risks.

Can you describe the scope of work that you do?
We work mostly in the private sector, but the scale of our work ranges anywhere from a 5,000 square foot roof garden to a 500-acre development. It’s nice to work with a diversity of projects though. We really enjoy that scale change.

So how many projects are you currently juggling?
At any given time, we usually have been fifteen to twenty projects.

Where is the majority of your work based?
About 35% of our work is international, mostly in Korea and China. Another 35% is based in the Midwest. We usually work on the international projects through contacts in Chicago.

Your work is known for melding sculpture with the landscape. I’ve also noticed a portion of your website dedicated to art installations. Can you talk a little more about that?
Yes, we do art installations as a way to test our ideas or we’ll enter competitions. The work that is put up is usually temporary. Sometimes we’ll even solicit other organizations and institutions to see if we can set something up. We had an installation a few years back at the Walker Art Museum, a mini-golf hole inspired by a minimalist work by Frank Stella.

Does it also translate over to model building?
Yes, we do a lot of model building. We even have a make shift workshop in the office. We used to do nothing but model building, but with the advent of 3D modeling software, the medium of model building has shifted. Still, study models continue to be widely used and are integral to our design process.

What guides your firm structure?
Our model is attracting the kind of work that we really want to do and to do it really well. We want to do great work but we also want to have fun with it.

So we don’t have a rigid firm structure. It’s not based on hierarchy; it’s the experience and interest that really counts. I’ve worked in places that are strictly hierarchal. Here, our tangential spheres of influence are much bigger. Depending on the scale of the project, I’ll sit down with anyone from a new hire to a principal during the design process. Being a teacher has also helped me to identify what people’s skill sets are and who wants or needs to further develop in other design areas.

And not everyone’s a trained landscape architect. My business partner, who I started the firm with, has a business background.

And what do you look for when hiring?
Personality. The personality fit is just as important as the talent and skill set, if not more. You can always teach someone new skills, but you can’t with personality.

One Response to “Oslund and Associates”

  1. Shaun S. says:

    “It seems like a funny choice to locate your landscape architecture firm in a city that experiences freezing and bitterly cold weather for eight months out of the year.”

    Why’s that?

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