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Designing dividends: Landscape architects help design, market Iowa


Gregory Jones, principal of Dunbar/Jones PLC, says money invested in infrastructures and green spaces helps fuel a city’s economic engine.

“I don’t think you can put a market quantifier on it, because we only have anecdotal evidence, but cities that do things to make them more attractive probably get that money back because the city becomes more marketable,” he said.

Jones is one of several local landscape architects working to improve the look, feel and function of downtown Des Moines and other parts of Iowa, working on projects including the Iowa Events Center, Gateway East and Gateway West, the Principal Riverwalk, Gray’s Lake and the Iowa Capitol – projects that are expected to revive the local and state economies. They are an integral part of a project’s success.

Who are these master planners and what do they do?

In addition to utilizing their own skills, landscape architects integrate elements of architecture, civil engineering and parks and recreation and urban planning to help clients, ranging from local developers to the federal government, design aesthetic and practical master site plans for both indoor and outdoor projects. They offer advice on topics that include the location of buildings, grading, historic preservation and reclamation, ecological planning and design, construction and planting. They also coordinate teams of design, construction, surveying and contracting professionals.

Brian Clark, who founded Brian Clark & Associates landscape architecture firm in 1998, said landscape architects are becoming more prevalent in Des Moines. His company recently completed the master plan for the Iowa Capitol’s west terrace, which he said will add a park-like space to the East Village.

“I think more and more people are aware of what we do,” he said. “Local landscape architects have become leaders in community projects, and it’s great to see Des Moines leadership recognize that.”

Jon F. Crose, CEO of RDG Crose Gardner Shukert, said firm’s landscape architects sometimes partner with other design professionals to complete a project. RDG has worked on several high-profile projects, including Gray’s Lake, the Principal Riverwalk, Blank Park Zoo and Valley Stadium; providing services that range from developing master plans and construction plans to installing trails, lighting and landscaping. Crose said he is encouraged by the convergence of new landscape improvements in Des Moines.

“It’s an exciting time for the community,” he said. “We need to be creative and make things happen.”

Though landscape architects say it is important to stick to master plans that include key amenities, at times they are forced to make cuts due to budget shortfalls.

“We’re affected by the greater economy, which is why those budget dollars have to get the most bang for the buck,” said Jones, whose firm has worked on the Gateway West and Fleur Drive projects. “In Iowa we tend to be fiscally conservative, and that kind of hurts us. I remind developers that we can’t make something out of nothing.

“Downtown, we have a lot of projects going on, and that’s a good thing. I hope we’re not biting off more than we can chew. But I think we can get there.”

Edward H. Arp, principal of Landscape Architectural Consultants Inc., a Des Moines firm that offers landscape architecture and civil engineering services, said the public tends to notice landscape architecture more now that spring is here. His company has worked on the Electronic Data Systems Corp.’s client fulfillment center and NCMIC Insurance Co.’s corporate headquarters.

He said Des Moines follows national architecture trends, but it also has a unique flavor, with prominent uses of square limestone blocks, boulders and other native materials. Regardless of the materials or the design, Arp said fulfilling a client’s vision for a project is rewarding.

“It’s pretty cool when it looks the way they envisioned it,” he said. “Sometimes it might even surprise you.”

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