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Chris Reed | Work-Life

Landscape Lecture Series
Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
September 8, 2016

City Deck is part of a redevelopment project along Fox River in Green Bay, Wisconsin. Photo: Mike Roemer

Stoss, a landscape architecture firm, was born 15 years ago. So was founder Chris Reed’s eldest son, a fact that Reed employed to reflect on his work and life. Speaking in Calderwood Hall, Reed offered a thoughtful perspective on landscape architecture that was founded on his passion for landscape urbanism, ecology, and research. He effectively drew parallels between his teenage son at home and his teenage practice at work, both in awkward stages of morphology between youthful exuberance and a more serious adulthood.

By integrating a keen sense of humor into the presentation, Reed grounded his talk in a way that underscored that work is life and can be fun. His projects span a wide range, from the speculative and “a bit over the top” (LA Freeway) to built landscapes that improve quality of life and beckon people to engage with one another, a rarity in the denuded landscapes of our urban environments. Case in point: Green Bay, Wisconsin, where his project, City Deck, was intended to be — and has become — the front porch of the city. He was also retained to assist with the design and programming of the retail storefronts abutting the site. And, as he said, “The confluence of activity and design has created a vibrant public open space that supports social equity in the city.” 

Reed reminded the audience of Frederick Law Olmsted’s trans-
formative interdisciplinary work at the turn of the 19th century, urging fellow landscape architects to renew their role in reshaping cities to overcome social inequity, climate change, and rapid urbanization. Civic leaders, he said, are investing in physical and social infrastructure by reclaiming forgotten real estate and supporting the idea that landscape should, can, and will play a more prominent and formative role in our vibrant public spaces.

Reed’s interest in creating operative, living, vibrant landscapes reminded me of Abraham Lincoln’s directive, “Whatever you are, be a good one.” As he steers his developing practice through growth spurts and the dating scene (by teaming with oma on Kentucky’s West Louisville Food Port), he seems poised to be a role model for landscape architecture leadership in the reimagination of our cities. ■