With the world in recession it might not be the best time to open an office however, many think that this is the best time due to lower cost of office space, hiring staff and the Stimulus package in the USA. Damian Holmes of World Landscape Architect (WLA) had an interview via email with David Tobar of Outside Partnership who has recently opened an office in Detroit.
David Tobar of Outside Partnership
David Tobar, a LEED AP accredited landscape architect with 20 years professional experience who obtained his BLA from Michigan State University and then went on to California State Polytechnic University in Pomona to complete his MLA.
His professional experience lies with project design management and implementation of complex and challenging redevelopment. David has worked with public and private clients on large demanding projects that involve special development agreements with disconcerting government agencies on environmentally challenged sites. David also enjoys working to find solutions for development constraints and maintaining critical schedules.
His clients ranged from public municipal agencies, non-profit housing developers and casino resort developers.
WLA: Opening an office is a big step why now in the current economic climate?
DAVID: Opening an office now is based on desire and necessity. I’ve always thought I could run a business differently and better. People spend so much time of their lives at work, so it extremely important to find a work – life balance, prioritizing happiness at work and being creative and innovative to make a profit.
Necessity is involved since my former company of 12 years, who I help establish and grow, was downsizing and my ideas and goals didn’t have a place there anymore. I needed to feed the family and no one is hiring landscape architects in Detroit (yet). I choose not to wait.
I’m finding with the current economic climate is providing opportunity for small, efficient start ups to prove themselves and get their foot in the door. My first project was awarded based on being small, local and having an attitude of teamwork and willingness. I’m finding that one time rivals are also willing to work together and share the pie.
WLA: How long have you been open?
DAVID: Officially I filed paperwork opening Outside Partnership on February 15, 2008 in anticipation of pending separation from my former employer. I didn’t actively pursue work until I was laid off on March 18, 2009.
WLA: Why Detroit, what are the positives and negatives?
DAVID: Detroit is home. Besides my family and roots, my experience, connection and portfolio is here. Detroiters are tough and stubborn. We’re not done and we won’t stop fighting.
The city is shrinking fast, losing a population from 2 million to 900k now with projections anticipating 500k. The population can’t support the 40-some square miles of vacant land and infrastructure left abandoned. As a landscape architect with a spirit for renewal and redevelopment there couldn’t be a better place to work our craft. Nature is renewing without us already. There has been increased sightings of pheasants, fox, snakes and other wildlife on vacant neighborhoods, not seen within the city limits for generations. With nature leading the way, landscape architects have a great role model to follow with renewal. Inevitable city contraction and “right-sizing” will bring opportunity for good land planners and designers.
WLA: What is the best opportunity/strength for landscape architecture in Detroit and the USA?
DAVID: As I mentioned previously about city contraction, it will really be about renewal and helping nature do its work. This whole “green” movement is landscape architecture 101 and comes second nature to us. We know this not because of some building certification but because how we were taught and why we entered into this profession to begin with. My late professor and mentor, John Lyle, would be proud to see the teachings of his generation are finally taking root with the mainstream. Let’s see if his students will see it through.
WLA: How do you see your office evolving?
DAVID: I’d like to stay small and efficient (5-10) focusing on doing whatever it takes right now to survive. Immediately this may involve using our design and graphic skills and applying them to other fields. For example, Michigan has targeted burgeoning moving industry. With some training, can we apply our computer and graphic skills on post-film production work? Whatever it takes.
Our practice has a chance to evolve and and become experts with natural regeneration at a scale not seen before.
WLA: How do you think the federal economic stimulus will effect landscape architecture?
DAVID: I was real hopeful given it was mostly directed towards infrastructure programs but I don’t think or haven’t seen it “trickle down” to the small start up firms. I think the big multi-disciplinary A/E will position themselves to swallow up most of the work.
Thanks to David Tobar of Outside Partnership for taking the time for our interview.