Kim Mathews, ASLA, is a founding principal of Mathews Nielsen Landscape Architects, P.C., a 27-person design studio located in New York City. The firm’s award-winning portfolio reflects her ability to achieve consensus on the most complex design issues and guide others to outcomes that are sustainable, practical and inspiring.
Her keen interest in cultural and historic landscapes combined with her commitment to sustainable design resulted in the firm’s work at West Point Foundry Preserve project being tapped as a pilot project for the Sustainable Sites Initiative (SITES) program. Kim also directed the firm’s recent work for the Soak It Up! Design Competition which challenged interdisciplinary teams to design stormwater infrastructure that can transform Philadelphia neighborhoods. The entry, entitled Stormwater reStore, was the winner in the Commercial Retrofit category.
Kim has been practicing as a landscape architect and planner since 1983. She is the recipient of over twenty design awards, is past-President of the New York State Council of Landscape Architects, and lecturers frequently on environmental design. She holds a graduate degree in Landscape Architecture from the University of Pennsylvania and an undergraduate degree in Fine Arts from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She is an active member of the American Society of Landscape Architects and the American Planning Association.
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 learned about landscape architecture when I was in my mid-20’s after completing a BFA in fine arts (painting). I was attracted to the field because of the materials of the profession and the collaborative nature of the design process. I was extremely fortunate to go to graduate school (MLA) at the University of Pennsylvania; Ian McHarg was the Department Chair and my advisor and if I had to pick a mentor, it would be Ian. It was at Penn that I learned to “read” the landscape through understanding the layers and natural processes that create a place. That visual connection to nature opened up the profession to me.
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 landscape architecture and the built environment?
Architecture and landscape architecture in the United States are two very different professions and the educational system here would benefit from a more robust integration of the two. Each is a licensed profession dealing with the way people use the environment, but the two often seem at odds. I do see a genuine respect between the two professions in the young designers I meet and I think this is in large part due to the focus on environment and climate change. I feel that our future is in educating youth (elementary, middle school kids) about our professions so that they will be able to grow up seeing the world in some of the ways we do as professionals. In our work we have welcomed youth design teams on to projects with great rewards for everyone involved.
Advice for someone interested in entering an architecture-related field?
Identify and commit to personal design projects or goals early on in your career that will allow you to maintain a balance in your profession life. Architecture and landscape architect are all-consuming fields and you will be a much better designer if you have your own road to follow, at least part of the time.
Favorite site, place, building? Why does this particular location speak to you?
Natural beauty – Isle of Skye in Scotland.
Great park – Luxembourg Gardens, Paris.
My own work – West Point Foundry Preserve, a cultural landscape in the Village of Cold Spring, NY.
Photo Credit: Elizabeth Felicella