My home of Charleston, West Virginia, is a quaint capital city of less than 50,000 residents and is nestled along the shallow banks of the meandering Kanawha River valley. Amongst the modest skyline, two imposing glass towers stand in the middle of town in near opposition to one another. One is clad in blue glass that shines brightly in the light of day, the other in deeply tinted black glass that absorbs more light than it reflects.
As a child, my family lived outside the city limits in a rural neighborhood and my parents worked in town. We frequently made the journey into the city, and I recall being captivated by the striking glass towers as we traveled along the highway that cut across Charleston. With the towers in view, my mind would race with thoughts of the important people that must work there.
My blue-collar parents sacrificed more than I’ll ever know to give my brother and I a fighting chance to succeed, so my perception of those working within the towers didn’t necessarily feel unreachable. It was more the uncertainty and unfamiliarity of the path I would need to take in order to reach a career and lifestyle of those seemingly important people that felt so distant.
A Fork in the Road
As a decade passed, the glass towers became a two-part symbol of success for me. On one hand, they stood as a figurative example of my personal and professional goals. On the other, my fascination with the urban form, architecture, design, and city dwellers began due in part to my curiosity and imagination surrounding them.
My first “glass tower” of success was becoming a first-generation college graduate with a bachelor’s degree in Landscape Architecture from West Virginia University. Following graduation, I ambitiously sent my resume to landscape architecture firms up and down the East Coast and into the Midwest. Soberingly, my graduation date birthed me into the middle of the Great Recession – a time when personal towers were crumbling. While my goals twisted and turned in an early lesson of adaptation, I managed to land my first job back home in Charleston.
From that moment on, I’ve pursued several glass towers that have led me down opportune courses of my own. I took a chance to move to Orlando through an inter-company transfer, and decided that by age 30 I would capture the goal of becoming a Project Manager. When that year came I hadn’t quite reached my goal, but was presented with a fork in the road that would change all that.
I chose the now-familiar challenge, an uncharted path with a glass tower deep into the horizon, and left a safe job with a known brand to lead the opening of an Orlando office for an out-of-market planning and landscape architecture firm.
Three years later, I’m chasing an assortment of glass towers as Director of Florida Operations for RVi’s new Orlando office.
My Next Glass Tower
I now find myself with the confidence to pursue new challenges for personal growth, and to strengthen my ability to use design as a tool to effectuate positive change for urban centers and the people within them. I enrolled last year at the University of Central Florida in the Master’s degree program for Urban and Regional Planning. Continuing my formal education means more to me than just the next glass tower.
As a Landscape Architect, I’ve been able to positively impact the places people live by contributing to notable projects across the United States. But I’ve also come to realize the limitations of landscape architects to fully shape and plan for the growth, vitality and sustainability of our urban centers. While Landscape Architects can provide value through thoughtful design that elevates the quality and functionality of space, we’re often late to the game.
Too often, land development projects can feel like an assembly line where the planner, civil engineer, architect and landscape architect operate in their own vacuums – to the detriment of the project. The integration of Planning and Landscape Architecture that we achieve as an integrated firm at RVi allows for unique synergies between phases of a project.
My fundamental understanding of how a space will function, how users will experience it, how it will be maintained, and how much it will cost to build stems from my Landscape Architecture training. I can now couple that with a clear grasp of the economics, demographics, opportunities and constraints that go into developing a master plan.
I hope to apply this new education in Urban and Regional Planning to broaden the lens through which I view the design of space for people on a macro and micro scale.
On a More Sentimental Note
Aside from my professional ambitions, I’m a father. Within the past three years as I chased big career moves my wife and I were expecting the greatest glass tower of our lives: our first child.
I chose to take the more difficult path to make a strong bet on my own success, as an example for my daughter. At three years of age, she has begun noticing the ways in which her mother and I operate.
She mimics us in play and sincerity. I hope that she notices the hard work, dedication, and pursuit of life-long learning that her mother and I believe in.
One day I’ll tell her my glass tower story. I’ll encourage her to build a glass tower of her own and pray that someday she will feel the satisfaction of gazing out of its highest window, figuratively or literally.