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Thomas Woltz of Nelson Byrd Woltz: Guest Speaker

Thomas Woltz represents something in the profession beyond just high quality design. Having had multiple chances to hear him speak and engage in conversation with him, I realized that he embodies a level of dedication and professionalism that can inspire future and current practitioners alike. As the leader of Nelson Byrd Woltz, Mr Woltz has established a strong company with over 45 designers in house. What’s more impressive is the care and consideration that has gone into fostering the culture and expectations of the company, and it all begins at the top. Mr Woltz has a firm position about being able to provide for his employees and their families, whom he views as an extension of his own. At any given point, should there be an economic issue or general lack of work, he is prepared to pay his employees salaries for an extended period of time – a security not guaranteed by many offices. Thomas Woltz values his people and he is willing to prove it.

Woltz also had some interesting views about what landscape could or should be. With backgrounds in both architecture and landscape, Mr Woltz had a respect for the built environment but confessed to lacking a perception of “what landscape is or should be” when he finished his undergraduate. This ultimately lead him to pursue an MLA to better realize that the landscape is more than just plants, but is rather the culture, terrain, systems, and interactions of a space and how they are experienced by visitors. NBW designs are well known for their strong cultural ties to their surrounding communities and contexts. A prime example of this would be the Centennial Park design for Nashville. Obeying the intent of the original design while still creating a modern park, NBW created a space that respects its heritage and the heritage of the site.

The last thing that stuck out to me was Thomas’s opinions on the value of education and how a new designer should present themselves. One student at the morning discussion asked Mr Woltz, as someone with experience in both architecture and landscape, what his views on licensure were. Mr Woltz swiftly and firmly replied that licensure is great and that it shows a level of expertise in your profession, BUT that you should really focus on one field and use your understanding of the other to influence and guide your decisions. He had a similar view on portfolios and the way students present work: show one thing well rather than two things only OK. Lastly he made a point to emphasize ownership and pride of work – too often do students back down on their decisions or fail to support their designs out of fear of failure. Just own it and be able to explain yourself, then learn from the experience… and “show the damn plan.”

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