Imagine Magazine - Johns Hopkins - May/June 2014 - (Page 38)
Exploring Career Options
gerdo Aquino, CEo
After earning his undergraduate degree in landscape architecture from the
University of Florida and his graduate degree in landscape architecture from
the Harvard University Graduate School of Design, Gerdo Aquino went
to work for the SWA Group, a Los Angeles-based international landscape
architecture, planning, and urban design firm. Now, some 15 years later, as
CEO of SWA, Aquino works to establish-or, increasingly, reestablish-cities
and other public spaces based on their connection with nature.
How did you become interested
in landscape architecture?
it was serendipity, honestly. one of my
favorite shortcuts through some amazing
sand dunes in florida disappeared due to a
new "development." it bothered me, so i set
out to understand how i could get involved in
preserving these everyday experiences in
What experience opened your eyes to
the potential of landscape architecture?
When i was in college, one of my professors suggested
that i call local landscape architecture firms to see if i
could visit and see them in action. everyone opened
their doors to me. they walked me around and showed
me projects. i thought the work they were doing was
so important, and i wanted to be part of it. i wanted to
help others appreciate what good design is and why
it's important to people and the space in which they
live, work, and play.
Can you describe the work you do?
i am a Ceo, an academic, and just a responsible
landscape architect. as Ceo, i make sure that all 230
employees of sWa understand the issues that are
important to us, and i provide them with the resources
they need to, say, do a research project on coastal
resiliency or travel to a part of the world that we're not
familiar with to understand the issues and maybe get
us involved. as an academic, i have the opportunity
to focus on complex research topics such as the latest
innovations in infrastructure, including things like freeways, power lines, and wastewater.
interview by Amy Entwisle
Being a responsible landscape architect really
comes down to how i handle the projects on my desk
right now, because someone-a public agency, or the
mayor of a second- or a third-tier city-is always looking for big ideas. they see what's happening in other
cities. they look at their city and say, "We can do better. We can do what those big cities are doing, but we
need help." i try to help these cities move forward.
What is an example of a project
that you're working on now?
el Paso, texas, is a great city that has grown significantly in the past 10 years. the city planners have
looked to new York, L.a., san francisco, dallas, and
minneapolis and seen all the great things happening in
the public realm. they've come back to their city and
are embarking on some of the most ambitious public
space projects in the U.s. right now, and i'm involved in
a lot of them. there are probably 10 different projects
all linked together by a robust network of bicycle and
transit systems. they're bringing the light rail back,
they just put in a aaa baseball stadium, and all the old
buildings are being retrofitted and brought back to
life. it's incredible. We're involved in the planning, the
urban design, and the landscape architecture. We're
out there every week watching it get built.
What do you find most rewarding
about your work?
design means creating not only objects and places,
but also experiences. i love being able to sit down
at a desk, address specific kinds of problems, and
figure out solutions that are highly creative and spatial.
Probably the most satisfying part of it is seeing my
designs implemented and seeing these places built.
What is a typical day like for you?
Usually i get really involved in a discussion with an
architect, developer, city official, or representative
from a public agency-whether on the phone or in
person-and time just evaporates. much of what we
discuss focuses on topics such as quality of life, urban
ecology, and design. it's basically 30-minute meetings
spread over a very long day. it starts around 8:00 a.m.
in L.a., but sWa also has an office in shanghai. in asia,
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Imagine Magazine - Johns Hopkins - May/June 2014
In My Own Words
Imagine, Design, Build
A Schematic of the Possible
My Life as an Architect
Blueprint for the Future
DesertSol: A Model of Sustainability
Across Space and Time
The Art of Summer
Selected Opportunities & Resources
A Digital Canvas
Rising to the Technovation Challenge
Off the Shelf
Exploring Career Options
One Step Ahead
Planning Ahead for College
Creative Minds Imagine
Mark Your Calendar
Imagine Magazine - Johns Hopkins - May/June 2014