Kimberly Garza: Guest Speaker

A strong theme seems to be forming between the many guest speakers we have had so far this semester.  If I had to sum that theme up it would be this: you have the most power over your career path, and at the same time none.  Every practitioner we’ve met with has shared their version of the same story as to how one day they were planning to study X only to end up making the leap into Y instead.  Interests shift, jobs change, and you’re just along for the ride much of the time.  One professional who seems to be truly the captain of her own ship is Kimberly Garza, founder and director of ATLAS LAB inc. in Sacramento, CA.  On Thursday, February 16th we had the opportunity to discuss her career trajectory, unique design perspective, and how she utilizes her firm as a public engagement tool.

What stood out immediately was Kimberly’s drive and determination to succeed in the profession of landscape architecture.  One of the first things she shared with us was how she got to be the founder and director of a growing practice, and it boils down to determination and having a vision.  While working for other firms Kimberly would often take small side projects for public groups, competition, or just make a project up on her own.  The culmination of these projects is a diverse portfolio of built and theoretical works that test landscape architecture’s ability to engage the public on a professional level, rather than simply providing an end product for the user.  Kimberly often involves the public in the planning and critique of her projects and then uses the feed back collected to advocate to and inform different organizations on what the public finds most interesting and relevant to their unique communities.  I have not yet seen a firm that engages the public to the level that ATLAS LAB inc. does.  Whether it be booths at events, temporary exhibitions, or pop-up playscapes, ATLAS LAB inc has at its heart the notion of public engagement as a tool for bettering design.

The second piece of advice that Kimberly imparted was a series of steps and guidelines that she uses to direct her practice:

  1. What’s my point of view?
  2. Who am I?
  3. What am I doing/do I want to do?

When one answers these three key questions they are better able to guide the development of their professional career by guiding the work that they engage in and the partners that they engage in that work.  For Kimberly this meant developing a firm that had strong ties to public engagement with three key goals: research, interactivity, and playfulness.  ATLAS LAB inc uses these guidelines as the launching point for much of its work and as a ground for its design logic and personality.  It will be interesting to see how this firm develops over the years as it gains more prominence and develops stronger ties with its community.


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