Today’s interview follows the genesis and the rising of the passion for landscape architecture. Designing outdoor and public spaces is a fascinating field for the creator as well as for the beholder. We provoked Jeffery Smith from JGSDesigns, a talented landscape architect, to answer our Freshome 15 Question Interview. We also added some of his company’s works, for a fun reading:

  • Freshome: What determined your passion for design? Tell us about the moment when you decided this is the way to go.
  • Jeffery Smith: I grew up with a passion for drawing and building things, not quite understanding it was design until I was exposed to it in College.  I wanted to go to a great architecture school and Cal Poly SLO was it at the time. Unfortunately my grades and SAT score were not that great to get into the architecture department, so my father, an electrical engineer, suggested Civil Engineering.  I spent a year learning Calculus, Physics, chemistry and taking numerous engineering classes only to find I was missing my passion, more of what I call the ‘Art’ side.  I found out about Landscape Architecture and have not looked back. In fact I consider myself a born again Landscape Architect.
  • Freshome: Can you remember your first design project? Describe it a bit, whether it is a gizmo you worked at as a little kid or something that was sold at a large scale.
  • Jeffery Smith: Yes. In college we had to design a 3-d sculptural piece, modeled with a small  10″x10″ sheet of foam core. I cut hundreds of tiny 1/4″x1/8″ blocks which were then glued to each other to form an arch with the blocks dripping off.  Big mistake on materials and construction! Seemed like a great concept and idea but the execution was not fun. It took days and many x-acto blades to cut well shaped blocks and glue them together.  One of my great problems is being so anal on detail it killed me.
  • Freshome: What field of design are you most interested in? Do your works have anything to do with it ? (We are asking this because not many designers do what they actually want)
  • Jeffery Smith: I enjoy all design in general but I Love my field!! There are so many materials to work with in landscape architecture.  Working with hardscape and softscape creates a real cross between art and science; Never static but always changing and evolving with time and season.
  • Freshome: Chronologically describe what you are going through (feeling and thoughts) on your way to work.
  • Jeffery Smith: I always work. Even when I’m sleeping I’m designing. I’ll wake up in the middle of the night and dream up a solution to my design problem.  Going to work is more of the same thinking of how to solve a problem.
  • Freshome: What is your favourite book/magazine on design? How about your favourite site?
  • Jeffery Smith: Sunset Western Garden Book is pretty much the plant bible, but it is certainly not the only resource we use frequently. “Landscape Plants for Western Regions” by Bob Perry is incredibly useful for designing in California. It is our most worn book at the office, but unfortunately is out of print. Lastly Rick Darke’s “Encyclopedia of Grasses for Livable landscapes” has amazing pictures of grasses not even found in the Sunset Book. We are constantly cross referencing all of our plant books to ensure suitable combinations for soil and environment.
  • Freshome: What inspires you?
  • Jeffery Smith: Nature!  I am inspired by the work of Andy Goldsworthy. He can capture a place and moment so simply as if he is in touch with it.
  • Freshome: What is the most frustrating aspect of your job as a designer? And the most rewarding one?
  • Jeffery Smith: Money is the most frustrating!  Most rewarding, clients that are continually amazed how we transformed their world!
  • Freshome: From your point of view, is design an art or a science?
  • Jeffery Smith: Aspects of design can be taught as if they are a science. In landscape architecture there are certainly scientific ways to approach a site, through site or “field” studies where we take into account surrounding native plant materials, native rock, stone, soil…etc. But just because you can come to a project with the right materials, does not mean you will come out with a great design. Paint colors do not determine the making of a masterpiece for an artist. It’s art to put plant materials and hardscape into a balance, and to create spaces that invite you to spend time in them.
  • Freshome: Tell us something unusual that happened in your carrier.
  • Jeffery Smith: I was designing a 27 hole golf course in the Fujian provence of China and had no background in the Chinese language. I found out I could use Latin to communicate about plants with the chinese botanist and we completely understood each other.
  • Freshome: Let’s say you entered a contest. You have to come up with a design for the first house on the Moon built for extra-terrestrial living. How would your project look like?
  • Jeffery Smith: Out of this world!
  • Freshome: If design were a product, what would it be and how would you design it?
  • Jeffery Smith: It would be a circle. It’s never finished you keep coming back to the concept and refine.
  • Freshome: If you had no limits (money, resources), what would you create?
  • Jeffery Smith: I would love to design a resort. Those are the ultimate sanctuaries where people are trying to get away from it all. So many resorts/hotels are all the same, but there is so much more that can be done! We need to escape the stereotypical palm trees and pool and create spaces that have greater connections to their surroundings.
  • Freshome: Share something you would like the world to know about you or your ideas.
  • Jeffery Smith: Passion, follow what’s in your heart! Celebrate where you live and get in touch with your surroundings!
  • Freshome: What do you think of our site?
  • Jeffery Smith: It could use more Landscape Architecture
  • Freshome: What advice do you have for young designers or architects reading this interview?
  • Jeffery Smith: Follow Passion, not the dollar! It will come!