Landscape Architecture firms in the United States are leading an evolving initiative to engage their Ukrainian counterparts displaced by the war. The idea is for US-based companies to hire Ukrainian designers to work remotely, providing them with much-needed income, and also some agency over their lives during this difficult time.
Kinder Baumgardner, Managing Principal of SWA Houston and one of the initiative’s leaders, explained, “My team in Houston has been researching and contacting landscape architects and urban designers either located in Ukraine or displaced by the war… it’s an opportunity for the U.S. Landscape Architecture community to help a few people in a very real and tangible way that will raise their spirits, give them something to focus on other than war, and see firsthand that they are not alone.”
Anna Kulvanovska, a Ukrainian landscape architect who escaped the country and is now working with SWA, expressed appreciation about the engagement. “It’s been good to focus on this part of life and the connection with others. I am enjoying the project work—the brainstorming, the exchange of ideas, work culture, and design culture. Life in Ukraine will never be the same, and of course we are angry and upset and want to rebuild our cities. It’s affirming for us to be connected to the broader professional community, and it makes a difference for us individually.”
“Some firms are keeping it fairly simple and using Ukrainian designers on a task by task basis … others are remotely embedding them into their office culture. We have found that you just have to take the first step of reaching out to someone on the list, chat with them about their expertise and situation … and then just give it a try. Some have refugee status in neighboring countries, others remain in Ukraine … all are motivated to make this work, extremely resilient in the face of so much uncertainty, and immensely grateful for the opportunity,” says Baumgardner.
In addition to SWA, site design group, ltd. (site), a firm based in Chicago has also reached out to and engaged with Ukrainian designers since the initiative was launched. They are currently working with one individual designer on a full-time basis, and a 24-person firm contracted on a monthly basis. A goal of the arrangement is to allow the Ukrainian designers to serve as an extension of the site’s team, providing design, rendering, and visualization assistance.
“The process has been straightforward and easy to navigate, as we’ve been able to utilize a lot of the infrastructure and communication tools that we, like many other firms, had already mastered through the Pandemic and collaboration with remote team members. The designers we have connected with are very talented, and eager to start collaborating. We are thrilled to be participating in this outstanding initiative and to have come up with a mutually beneficial agreement so quickly.”Brad McCauley, Managing Principal at site
Many other firms, such as Olin, Civitas, EDSA, OJB, TBG, Sasaki, and Gensler have expressed interest in participating in the program, and SWA and site are committed to sharing their experiences with anyone who is interested to help progress the initiative. The Landscape Architecture Foundation and ASLA have also been supporting the effort.
This is an important opportunity for the U.S. Landscape Architecture community to come together and provide assistance that is orders of magnitude larger than the associated cost and effort. In the process everyone will have an opportunity to meet and work with some amazing people.
Text Credit: SWA