At the young age of thirty-one, landscape architect Martin Barry has already traveled the world and taken the role of designer for projects such as the India Street Waterfront Park in Brooklyn, the King Abdullah Financial District Urban Plazas in Saudi Arabia, and is currently negotiating the design of an urban furnishing line for a firm in Paris. A full-time employee of W Architecture, Martin perceives his profession as a meaningful way to shape the future and reinvent the way in which individuals interact within urban public spaces. Though only time will tell whether his work in urban landscape design will radically alter human interaction, there is no doubt about this international BR!NKer’s brilliant vision and eagerness to maintain and respect the beauty of local cultures.
This might sound fairly basic, but what exactly is landscape architecture?
When people ask me what I do, I say that I’m an architect and a designer. Simply put, we design exterior spaces for people all around the globe. It’s a multi-disciplinary field that spans from ecological design through architecture to cultural geography. It started as garden design in the nineteenth century and has since progressed to larger-scale projects.
Can you talk a little bit about your process?
It’s always the same. The first step has to do with understanding the place, the ecology, the people and the constraints. I do a lot of research. Since I studied history before I studied architecture, it’s important for me to understand and then act. Then, I sketch a lot – we model in three dimensions, and get our hands very dirty. I talk a lot to the clients and make sure that our visions are aligned before I start any construction.
One of your recent projects was in the Middle East, right?
I worked in Saudi Arabia for the King in a project to build thirty financial buildings ranging between fifteen and one hundred stories. It’s a major development. [laughs] We were essentially working with royalty, with individuals coming from such different backgrounds and cultures. We were there during Ramadan, so we had to fast and be respectful with dignitaries.
Which project are you the proudest of?
My work in Dubai – Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Crossing – was important for my growth, but I think the project that has been most rewarding and most important thus far has been Paseo Tabasco Master Plan (in collaboration with Enrique Norten TEN Arquitectos) in Villahermosa, Mexico. We worked with TEN on a master plan for the city, which is in dire need of urban regeneration/re-thinking. We are implementing two very important projects in that master plan, which are now under construction. The most important catalyst of the project is a pedestrian overlook, a public amphitheatre for 1000+ people on an urban lake and wetland gardens to clean storm water and sewage currently dumping straight into the lake. It’s been an incredible project and being that I spent months this past summer in Mexico City leading an international design team of ecologists, architects, landscape architects and engineers it was an incredible experience. I’m really looking forward to visiting soon to see how the space will be used and enjoyed.
Why is landscape architecture important to you, not only as passion but for society as a whole?
Landscape is the first thing people think about. If designers continue to exercise the profession, keep pushing it, and pursue their innovative projects, we have the potential to make changes and lasting impacts. Demographic and geographic data proves that cities are becoming important places for the future. Landscape architects have an important role to play in their growth and development, of course. They need to be at the forefront of this movement. By the end of my career, I want to know that I have enforced meaningful changes.
Since we’re living in an increasingly globalized world, would you say that exterior spaces are becoming uniform or do nations still maintain their own local aesthetic sense?
That’s a great question. The better firms up there are pushing the idea of idiosyncrasy. It is my deep belief that local cultures need to be, and always will be, dominant. American firms working in China and the Middle East need to take advantage of that potential. The good firms are the ones doing research and are concerned about public space, cultures and adapting designs everywhere.
Who are some of your inspirations? And you don’t have to limit yourself to your field.
I have an eclectic taste in people and heroes. Mostly, I admire leaders, people enforcing change; visionaries. Japanese-American sculptor Isomu Noguchi’s dedication to sculpting space is incredible. In terms of landscape, modernist Dan Kiley really pushed limits. And of course, Frederick Law Olmsted (designer of Central Park and Prospect Park).
Any hidden talents?
Photography. I love my Nikon, I take it everywhere…
What makes you different from others in your industry?
I think adapting to other cultures according to their differences is my strength. We can maintain the integrity of our interest and of our goals, but also adapt and fit. I want to be known to be pragmatic, and do work that is visionary… yet familiar.
How can Daily BR!NK readers contribute to your success?
I think holistically embrace change. My profession is all about change and innovation, making me think and move. Our society is quick to adapt to the next technology, but we need to confront change in our physical urban space. We need to embrace change in architecture. More practically, it would be great if there were any readers who share the same desires, are young ambitious designers and who want to collaborate; come talk to us in NYC! We love hearing what people think about our work. I’m always interested in talking to emerging, fun folks.