The Integrated Design Practice

As a landscape architect, I tend to think in ecosystems. Ecosystems are systems comprised of interacting parts (for example: trees, water, animals, insects) that support a whole (in this example a forest). The relationships between these parts are complex. The more complex the ecosystem and the greater the diversity of its parts, the more successfully it can resist and recover quickly from stress. Thus, the healthier the forest will be.

For example, in a forest composed of a diverse mix of tree species, if that forest is impacted by a disease or pest that affects one of those species, there are numerous seeds and saplings of many species in the understory that will grow in to fill the gap and heal the forest. If a forest is composed of only one or a few species, then a disease that damages that species will devastate the forest. The forest lacks the reservoir of seeds and saplings of diverse species to grow in and take over. These monocultures (the cultivation of a single crop in a given area) — typical of many of our urban forests of street trees — may appear orderly and stable, however they are less resilient to shock.

A design firm is like an ecosystem. It is made up of a number of professionals with varying levels of diversity on a variety of fronts (for example: race, gender, life experience, professional training, to name a few). These individuals interact in a series of complex relationships to create design. An integrated design practice, such as Strada, is one where the firm has sought to create a diverse and robust ecosystem of designers in a deliberate and thoughtful way. Professionals at Strada are trained in a variety of disciplines – architecture, landscape architecture, interior design, graphic design and urban design. They also bring unique and complementary backgrounds into their professions – carpentry, law, fashion design, contracting, farming, fire fighting and experience as a green beret. This diversity – of individual experience and professional training – leads to a culturally diverse and healthy design ecosystem.

This is more than just an analogy. Research supports the claims that diversity leads to better design. Scott E. Page at the University of Michigan has done extensive research into the value of diversity. His research demonstrates that groups with a diverse range of perspectives outperform groups of like-minded experts. Page asserts that innovation depends less on brilliant lone thinkers and more on diverse groups of people collaborating and capitalizing on their individuality. The Strada team is a diverse group of individuals collaborating in complex relationships to create extraordinary places for people.