Mayra Filippone, PLA, ASLA, LEED® AP
Mahan Rykiel Associates
Talk a little bit about the project you worked on for NDC and its impact on the community.
The Dewees Park project was a community-driven planning effort, structured around three main goals: to provide a memorial garden, to expand opportunities for activity, and to improve safety. Dewees Park is located in Baltimore City, within the Mid-Govans neighborhood; it is several blocks east of York Road, and is bounded along its southern edge by Woodbourne Avenue. The 14-acre site is nestled between low and medium-density residential areas. The Park currently includes a community garden, recreation center, basketball courts, a playground, and athletic fields.
The Memorial Garden served as the impetus for the entire Dewees Park project. The original idea for the garden was to commemorate Councilman Kenneth N. Harris, who fought aggressively against crime and violence in Baltimore City, and became a victim of the very same crime against which he fought as a City Councilman from 1999 to 2007.
How many people participated in the design creation? Talk a little bit about that process.
The design team consisted of five people: Laura Bowe (NDC), Charles Brenton (Brenton Landscape Architecture), Xiaoxue Huang (Parks and People Foundation), Cherise Orange (US Army Reserve, Military Community Planner), and myself. In addition to the design team, the enthusiastic involvement of several stakeholder organizations was essential to a successful design process; these organizations include: Mid-Govans Community Association, York Road Partnership, Loyola University, and Rebuilding Together Baltimore.
The NDC design team met several times with the various stakeholder groups who provided valuable input and direction. The Visioning Workshop with the community members greatly informed the programming and design of the project. The Workshop participants were well-informed and provided thoughtful insight on what their vision was for the park.
Is there a particular part of the design that you feel really “works” or oppositely, something you wished you’d done differently? Were there any surprises?
I was particularly surprised with the consistency of feedback we received from the community members during the Visioning Workshop. Workshop participants (divided into four teams) marked up base maps with various programming elements, identifying the most suitable locations for various activities and amenities (e.g. placement of the memorial garden, fitness trail, etc.). The teams presented their plans, and while there were differences, the primary components were consistent amongst all four teams.
The participants also provided valuable information on the interaction between different demographics within the community. For instance, there is some senior housing located adjacent to the park, and people were genuinely concerned about potential conflicts between the senior citizens and younger groups whose activities and behaviors are fundamentally different. Some community members had discussed instances of having to diffuse high-tension situations regarding some subgroups in the community. They informed us of the need for a particular sensitivity of design with respect to adjacent uses, of which we would not have been aware, had we not had the opportunity to listen to the community.
How did you get into design? Was there a turning point in your career, and if so, how did it shape you as a designer?
I have always loved art and drawing. When I got to high school I considered the fact that I like to eat regularly, and how the life of a starving artist may not be the best path for me; I figured, “hey, architects draw, and they make good money” so I decided to go into architecture. Fast-forward to my freshman year of college, where I learned about architect after architect after architect who died in poverty; but despite the slightly gloomier outlook, I was hooked. Prior to college, I (like many people) never knew that landscape architecture was even a thing. Fortunately, the School of Architecture and Planning at Ball State University had a common first-year program where architecture, landscape architecture, and urban planning were taught collectively (students were not allowed to declare a major until their second year), and I found myself at home with landscape architecture.
How long have you been in Baltimore/ DC area? What projects are inspiring your work now?
If you could change one thing about your career to date, what would it be?
I moved to Baltimore in 2005. One project I currently have the privilege to work on is located along Coastal Highway in Ocean City, MD. The main purpose of the project was pedestrian safety and the prevention of mid-block crossings. We were able to take things further by creating an opportunity for place branding. We are developing designs for the median that will connect the main corridor (through which all visitors arrive) to the imagery of the beach, colors, and family fun, for which Ocean City is so well-known.
While there have been some low points, everything has ultimately led up to my being a licensed landscape architect, working at arguably the most prestigious landscape architecture firm in Baltimore. While I continue to grow and take on additional responsibilities, to be honest, I wouldn’t change anything about my career.
If you had to name a favorite Baltimore place or landscape, what would it be and why?
Where do you find inspiration? Are there any online resources (blogs, websites, feeds etc.) that you’d recommend?
An unfortunate truth is that many locations in Baltimore require heightened vigilance, more so than in most other cities. The BMA Sculpture Garden may be the only public place in the city where I feel safe enough to go by myself and lie on the grass, close my eyes, and just relax. The scale, the balance of open space and enclosure, the proximity to institutions and the corresponding density of people contribute to the feeling of safety. As landscape architects in Baltimore, I feel we have a responsibility to be sensitive to issues of safety and perceived safety, and to ensure that public spaces are inviting and that people feel comfortable using these spaces.
As for inspiration, I am reminded of a quote by Yoshio Taniguchi: “Architecture is basically a container of something. I hope they will enjoy not so much the teacup, but the tea.” As landscape architects, we create spaces in which people live their lives. I find greater inspiration in observing how people live, which ultimately informs the kinds of spaces we create.
In your career, have you seen the field of Landscape Architecture change, and how has it affected the work produced?
I made certain to take (and pass) my Landscape Architecture Registration Examination (LARE) before the test changed to being completely computerized. I had a feeling that part of what the test measured would be lost along with the hand-drafting portions. My discussions with other LAs who’ve since taken the exam would seem to confirm this. There is a fundamentally different demonstration of understanding when drafting up a design layout or a preliminary grading plan by hand than by using a computer. In college, we were taught to use CAD, as well as to hand-draft. Technological advances have improved the way we work, but if we ever stop teaching students in the design profession how to draw and draft by hand, I shudder to think about the future of our profession.