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Common Space: A Public Practice Series—Q&A with Linda Komes, ASLA

Linda Komes, ASLA, is a landscape architect and project manager in the Park Development Division of the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission. This interview was conducted on June 22, 2020 by Julie Higgins, PLA, ASLA, Principal, Hord Coplan Macht Inc.

Here is some background information about Linda Komes:
  • B.S. in Landscape Architecture, University of Wisconsin-Madison
  • Past positions held: 
    • The Sanborn Group, Madison, WI, entry level landscape architect—1 year
    • Dewberry & Davis, Fairfax, VA—5 years
    • The Maryland-National Park and Planning Commission, Department of Planning, Prince George’s County, MD—6 years
    • ASLA Fellowship Capitol Hill 1993
    • The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, Department of Planning, Montgomery County, MD—5 years
  • Current position: The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, Department of Parks, Montgomery County, MD—19 years
  • Originally joined ASLA in 1988
  • Other affiliated professional organizations: American Planning Association, American Institute of Certified Planners, National Recreation and Park Association, Certified Playground Safety Inspector

Q: Public sector versus private sector, what made you choose the public sector path when you were starting your career? Was this your first choice or did you choose this path as a result of an event or experience?

A: I had a professor in college who became a mentor and had a huge influence on me. He emphasized that every landscape architect should experience working in both the private and the public sectors. In the early 90s when a recession was predicted in this area, I took the opportunity to move from the private to the public sector. The time I spent in the private sector prepared me for the work I continue to do today in the public sector and equipped me with the skills I need to work with landscape architects in the private sector.

Q: How did your education and training prepare you for what you do today?

A: An undergraduate degree in landscape architecture provided a strong foundation of design, grading, and graphic presentation skills. The subsequent years I spent working in both small and large offices as a landscape architect in the private sector, and in the planning and parks departments in the public sector, provided the breadth of experience needed to design and oversee the development of all scales and types of park projects—from a simple planting design to the design and construction of major public parks.

Q: While practicing as a landscape architect in the public sector and working with landscape architects or design teams from the private sector, what in your opinion are significant differences? Has anything surprised you?

A: I have been really fortunate to work with and learn from some exceptionally talented landscape architects in both the private and public sectors. I think probably the most significant difference between working as a landscape architect in the public vs. the private sector is in our focus and purpose. As public sector landscape architects our focus is as stewards of the land, dedicated to protecting invaluable resources for future generations. Our client is the public, and on their behalf, we operate and maintain the land in perpetuity. This fundamentally affects our approach to design. Private sector landscape architects are driven to develop the best possible design solution which meets their client’s vision, but unless it is a public project, the design approach may not be wholly centered upon long term design, operation, and maintenance considerations.

Q. Can you share the notable challenges you have had through your career practicing as a landscape architect in the public sector?

A: Securing adequate public funding can be very challenging. As public sector landscape architects we need to be really clever and creative about how best to leverage limited taxpayer dollars. This always includes designing to reduce maintenance costs. There are also times when politics derail or delay a project which can be very frustrating.

Q: Can you share the positive experiences you have had while working as a landscape architect in the public sector, especially at a prestigious institution?

A: I feel very fortunate to work as a landscape architect for the Parks Department in Montgomery County, MD, located just outside of Washington, D.C. Our award-winning agency truly values the diversity of its employees and challenges every one of us to do our best work on every project. We are encouraged to pilot new projects and ideas and try new materials. Because our projects are entirely team based, I almost always have the support and expertise I need within the agency to make my projects successful.

Q: If there was one tip you wish to share with the next generation of landscape architects for them to take to heart, what would it be?

A: Site analysis is critical to the success of every project, regardless of scale or whether it is private or public. At the beginning of a project, spend as much time as possible at the site, visiting at different times, to develop a thorough understanding of the spirit of the place. From that understanding a thread of a design idea will form and design development will follow. Be very present during construction and celebrate your impact!

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