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American Society of Landscape Architects

 

February 2007 Issue

WITHOUT MIDDLE MANAGERS—OR STARS
The SWA Group is notable for its attempt to flatten the management pyramid.

By Morris Newman

Without Middle Managers-Or Stars Tom Fox

Landscape architecture firms generally come in one of two forms. “Boutique” firms, on one hand, offer designers plenty of work, if not always the most interesting kind. Large firms, on the other hand, often have exciting and important projects but do not always allow junior landscape architects to stretch their wings. (Those limitations can be especially true when the boss is a famed designer, often with an equally famous ego, who insists on putting his or her signature on every project in the office.)

Principals at SWA, a Sausalito, California-based firm, however, claim they have created a third model: a firm big enough to attract interesting work, with offices small enough to allow junior staff to gain experience in a wide range of work, rise through the ranks, and best of all, do some design work.

Located amid the hills and bayfront breezes of Sausalito immediately north of the Golden Gate Bridge, SWA’s home office is within earshot of the ferry boats that shuttle many of the staff between Marin County and the northern tip of San Francisco. The office itself is a simple, shedlike building that cofounder Peter Walker, FASLA, helped design in the 1970s. If well lit, the office is otherwise unprepossessing; the company’s chief executive officer, Bill Callaway, FASLA, works in a spacious but otherwise ordinary-looking office, his desk piled high with construction documents and the walls filled with presentation boards, like the office of any other working landscape architect.

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