Mia Lehrer uses advocacy and landscape architecture strategies to educate about the deep issues of our time

WLA recently had the chance to sit down with Mia Lehrer in new Los Angeles studio and discuss her career, inspirations and approach. Mia Lehrer is the founder of Studio-MLA and was raised in El Salvador in a family that engaged in community participation and leadership. She earned her Master of Landscape Architecture from the Graduate School of Design at Harvard University, and moved to Los Angeles with her husband, architect Michael Lehrer. She entered the profession with a focus on the design of residential gardens, establishing a methodology for her design practice that she would later apply at larger scales and projects that are more complex. The Los Angeles River work is exemplary of how Mia has shaped her firm to balance private work with that which contributes to the community. She and her team continue to practice with an advocacy ethic at all scales of design and planning.

WLA | What made you want to be a landscape architect?
Mia Lehrer | I grew up surrounded by nature in tune with the natural world. The lakes, rivers, volcanos, the animals the birds. We celebrated the orchids and hummingbirds, not to mention I was always drawn to art and felt that is was important.

At first, I thought I wanted to be a planner and then after seeing an exhibition of Olmsted and viewing the original drawings of Central Park I knew I wanted to study landscape architecture.

Lower Los Angeles River

WLA | Describe your approach to Landscape Architecture?
Mia Lehrer | In our studio, we use advocacy and landscape architecture strategies as a design tool. Through advocacy (to clients, communities, elected officials and non-governmental organizations) we can educate about the deep issues of our time, and how they impact our daily lives. Through advocacy, we create excitement about potential projects and find the means to make them happen. Through advocacy, we communicate the success and promise of our design ideas. In addition to the unique lens, landscape architecture gives to view solutions, ad~ocacy is a special language that we’ve developed over the past 30 years as a firm.

I see landscape as the means to remake our cities in light of our changing understanding of our world’s finite resources and capacities – especially water, food, land, energy, and waste. I share the belief that landscape design has the power to enhance the livability of a city, to connect people to natural systems, and to create meaningful spaces for recreation, reflection and exploration.

Through community-based design, outreach and advocacy we seek to elevate the role of landscape in contemporary urban environments by reinvigorating communities with vibrant place-making and connective open space. As designers and proud Angeli nos, we take responsibility for advocating for sound policies and projects.

WLA | What approach to a new project?
Mia Lehrer | Firstly, it is important to understand a place, its context and the people who live in and around it I think it is important not to design for people but with people. I strive to live by these core values engaging the community, working collaboratively, exploring design, form and materiality, implementing ecological education. And to do that we look at the many layers from soils to hydrology to habitat to experience always looking towards solutions that sustain.

First and Broadway Park (FAB Park)
First and Broadway Park (FAB Park)

WLA | What is the most rewarding part of being a landscape architect?
Mia Lehrer | Through the power of landscape architecture, we are able to investigate, deploy policies and build projects that have a lasting impact on our city. Unlike the previous generation, hopefully contributing to lasting holistic solutions that have a positive impact on the course of people’s lives and on the future of how our cities grow and are envisioned. Also seeing people sit, gather, play and dream in spaces that I have contributed to is nothing short of extraordinary through bringing meaning into people‘s lives is a joy.

Banc of California Stadium
Banc of California Stadium

Damian Holmes, Editor of WLA would like to thank Mia Lehrer for taking the time to sit down for the interview.