The contrast from last week’s guest speakers, REALM Collaborative and ATLAS Lab, to PWP Landscape Architecture this week could not be more apparent. Having the opportunity to talk with two young firms still in their infancy and then turn around and meet with a well-established superpower in the LA profession shed light on the struggles and rewards of starting a firm in a competitive design field. The conversation shifted from struggling to find work to being deliberate and judiciary in your acceptance of projects offered. Monica Way and Eustacia Brossart sat down with us and discussed Peter Walker and Partners unique position in the landscape architecture profession and how that position is primed to change as Peter Walker is expected to move on from the firm in the future. (to be fair, he is 83 – I don’t know if he’ll ever be able to give it up)
As a young, aspiring professional you don’t necessarily expect to hear a current practitioner say that they don’t take certain jobs. At this point in our careers we are willing to pounce at any professional opportunity that presents itself and has the potential to build our experience. However, this is exactly the deliberate and critical mind set the associates at PWP expressed, expertly wading their way through the sea of opportunities to hand-pick only those projects that they know will be a good fit for their firm, the client, and the end-user. It was particularly interesting to hear that they actually generally avoid competition work. As Eustacia and Monica shared, the cost and time that goes into competition work more-often-then-not doesn’t pay off in the end. PWP is far more interested in the potentials that exist within built work from RFP’s and RFQ’s. I suppose when you have a firm as well established as PWP you have the opportunity to be highly critical in your project selection. It would be interesting to go back and discuss this point further with Kimberly Garza at ATLAS Lab who made much of her start solely from competition work.
Another advantage of having a well established firm is the free marketing that your name does for you. As Monica mentioned the PWP name practically brands and sells itself anymore. Magazines, websites, and academic institutions come to PWP to write and produce publicity pieces and academic works on their projects without the need for any poking or prodding from the firm. This does pose a potential problem for the firm, however, as Peter Walker prepares to pass the mantle to someone else the potential exists for the firm that carries his name to possibly miss a beat and falter from its position of dominance in the profession. In order to prepare for this the firm is undergoing a “long-term transition” of new leadership, advertisement, and engagement. It is unlikely that PWP will experience any negative results for Peter Walker’s leaving in the future. One needs only look at the continued success of firms such as Zaha Hadid Architects which continues to move forward despite loosing its captain early last year. Still, it will be a challenging and emotional process for those involved and a learning experience for other professionals looking to the future.