Andrea Cochran, FASLA, is a landscape architect and principal of the award-winning firm, Andrea Cochran Landscape Architecture, in San Francisco, California. The work of her firm sculpts and navigates space through the integration of landscape, art and architecture.
Beginnings – What attracted you to landscape architecture and how did you begin your career? Was there an influential experience, or mentor, that helped steer you toward this field?
I was attracted to landscape architecture because it combines my interests in art and natural sciences. As a child I liked to build forts in the woods and play outside, and I always loved to draw and make things. By the time I was in high school, I planned to go to art school but my parents strongly dissuaded me, saying that I needed to be able to support myself after graduation, and art school would not allow me to become independent. I entered college with plans to study veterinary medicine. I learned about landscape architecture in a freshman survey class, when the head of the department gave a guest lecture. I did not know the field existed, so I was extremely fortunate to discover this profession early on, through a complete coincidence. I immediately changed my major because I could see that it fulfilled my diverse interests and I have never regretted it.
What does “architecture culture” signify to you, and how do you go about contributing to, and/or changing, this culture? What are your hopes and dreams for the future of architecture and the built environment?
As architects and landscape architects we are uniquely qualified to visualize change in our environment and to translate that vision into reality. We lead by example and have the power to change long held cultural paradigms of how we live through our built works.
In our work, we aim to alter conventions of how people relate to their environment, by creating visually compelling landscapes that defy their expectations and contribute to sustainability. We try to lead by example; for instance the lawn is a ubiquitous part of American culture. It is resource intensive and unsustainable in much of the country where water is scarce and it requires extensive pesticides and chemicals to thrive. Legislating change can help but we strive to fundamentally alter cultural expectations aesthetically, to embrace a landscape that looks different or performs differently because it has a beauty of its own. Most people cannot envision something that they have not seen so we must show them a new alternative.
Looking ahead, I am very excited about the leadership role that landscape architects are taking in shaping how we build in an increasingly urbanized world. Our role has become more critical in recent years because our broad training in design, natural sciences, and related engineering uniquely qualifies landscape architects to lead the multidisciplinary teams required to address increasingly complex environmental issues.
Advice for someone interested in entering an architecture-related field?
In my experience, the professions of architecture and landscape architecture are tremendously rewarding. The financial compensation with regard to the level of education required continues to be a concern, especially compared to other professions. However, I would not trade my life with anyone and I look forward to continuing to work well past the typical age for retirement because I am passionate about what I do. I wonder how many other professionals can say that. I am always learning and experimenting with new ideas and that keeps me engaged and excited.
Favorite site, place, building? Why does this particular location speak to you?
I have been tremendously moved by several ancient sites that I have visited: Delphi and the Parthenon in Greece and the Pantheon in Rome. Each place had a profound emotional impact on me that almost brought me to tears. There is an underlying power to these places that must be experienced in person to be grasped. It makes me wonder what the ancient world knew and what we have forgotten.