Urban landscape architecture is Daniel Woodroffe’s passion.
“Did you know,” he tells Modern Austin, “that Austin’s parks and open spaces have more open space per capita than most US cities but that as a city we spend $67.00 per resident, per year, on our parks in Austin. We rank lower than Lubbock and as a comparison, it is likely you spend $60.00 on coffee. Each month. This concerns me.”
We ask him to put this in context, and he is happy to do so. “We have 330 parks and open spaces in Austin, or close to 30,000 acres or 18% of our city landmass. Put another way, that’s 20,000 UT football fields., and we have 40,000 people, more or less, moving here a year.”
What is to be done? According to Daniel, whose 20 person firm, StudioDWG, located on Congress Avenue a block or so from the Capital, landscape architecture is going through a renaissance in the USA, in the world. “Austin, a Tier II city, a creative city, is not innovative and sustainable in that it does not have a transportation system. If Austin can collectively promote local distinctiveness, then that’s where you build a true identity of place.”
Daniel cites the benefits of the culture of the city, it is a nomadic place, he believes, one that people are drawn to in order to collaborate, like the musicians of the 60s and 70s and today, the tech community, people who move here for work, and to participate in the technological enterprises throughout the city. “Austin is less about boundaries, there are fuzzy boundaries here, and that is what attracts people, who come for the experience,” he says. “East and West coast sensibilities are rubbing off here. The city has a way of meshing creatives. For example, the metal and mill workers here are artists but here they are often working as industrial designers, in their creativity and attention to detail.”
(Photo: Studio DWG Lamar Union)
Originally from the UK, Daniel studied at the University of Edinburgh and moved to Louisiana State University on an architecture and exchange program. He worked for landscape architecture firms in Dallas, and in Austin, before starting his own firm, 6 years ago. When asked to define his firm he says, ‘we think of ourselves as scrappy, nimble, and we set out to redefine urban landscape architecture. We are not engaged in planned unit developments, but in retooling the definition of urban planning, in tactical urbanism, and we see the landscape as part of the social infrastructure. We are, I am, particularly obsessed with green infrastructure.”
(Photo: Bill Sallans. Daniel Woodroffe of Studio DWG)
He defines green infrastructure as “landscape plus urban plus ecology plus low impact.” “Landscape,” he says, “in an urban environment, the landscape should be seen as a healer, as a cleaner of water. We’re there for the pedestrian, primarily,” he adds.
(Photo: Studio DWG Fareground at One Eleven)
Working on an international scale on projects in Morocco and the UAE, Daniel sees the landscape from a broader perspective. “There are new opportunities and perspective for urban sites when not only engineers and architects are leading but urban planning incorporates landscape architecture because,” Daniel goes on to say, “urban planning is a lot about the spaces in between.
“Today, the most successful projects set out to re-inform the traditional process where not only a civil engineer handling the site plan but there exists greater co-efficiency with the collaboration of urban and landscape architects, architects, and designers.”
Daniel feels there is tremendous opportunity in Austin. He cites the 5.6M raised for Republic Square and the future impact of Waller Creek. He feels that there are many involved and concerned people working in the city, designers such as Thought Barn, Serabi Studios, Michael Hsu’s firm, Boka Powell, Gensler and Nelsen Partners, and lighting designer Kelly Francis, people who make a difference, people who are leading the way.
(Photo: Studio DWG. Hotel Van Zandt)
Austin offers a respite for Daniel on a personal level at his home, with chemical free gardening, a foraging garden, a pecan grove and herb garden, as well as 8 chickens, where he lives with his family in “gritty” East Austin. He recharges by running on the Lady Bird Lake Trail System.