Occasionally as landscape architects we are tasked with designing an environment for a user group that we ourselves belong to or have belonged to in the past – such as designing for a college campus or a neighborhood park. But more often than not, we must put ourselves in other people’s shoes. Not every project that comes through our office is targeted to someone like me. We design for the young, the old, the sick, the fit, for moms, for dogs…and personally, I don’t fit into any of those groups. So, how does one do this? For adults it can be very challenging, but in reality, kids do this thing all the time. They just play pretend. It involves imagination and a lot of empathy (which is something I’d argue the world is sorely lacking right now). It might sound like the lesson learned at the end of Lifetime Christmas movie, but I’m going to go ahead and say it. We need more childlike wonder. We need to never grow up.
I’ve been working on the Kissing Tree master planned community in some capacity for my entire RVi tenure. It’s a fifty-five and better community. I don’t qualify, so I play pretend. It turns out that the better in “fifty-five and better” involves a whole lot of childlike wonder. I don’t think I’d be insulting any KT residents by saying there’s a big Peter Pan and the Lost Boys element going on there. With that in mind, the Kissing Tree team has built a playground for its residents that allows for all kinds of fun at the amenity center complex, called “The Mix”. There’s horseshoes, bocce, live music, exercise areas, as well as indoor and outdoor swimming pools. All these activities are pulled together through a cohesive soft and hardscape palette, some creative grading, and beautiful native and adapted Hill Country plantings. Turns out that designing for the “better” isn’t all that much different from designing for kids. We all just want to have fun. There might be a few more adult beverages involved in the fun at Kissing Tree, but hey, that just helps with the childlike wonder.
The key to designing for someone you don’t feel like you have much in common with is to use your imagination. Talk to them, learn from them, and play pretend. In the end, you might just find out that you have a lot more in common than you think.