Do you ever wonder why your fellow students joined the program? What their professional goals are in landscape architecture, and what they are up to once they leave the program? Well the Landscape Architecture Program does and we want to share these stories of current and past students. This month’s Program Showcase features Aiko Strasser, current program student set to graduate in Winter 2017.

Here is what she has to say:

Aiko StrasserWhat brought you to the Landscape Architecture Program at UCLA Extension? When I was working for the City of Culver City in planning and redevelopment, I was using GIS as a tool in urban planning to create maps, manage spatial data and solve issues related to land use. During my time there Sol Blumenfeld, Director of Community Development and a teacher at UCLA, told me about the program. It sounded good and I was fortunate to live close by so I enrolled right away.

What drew you to the profession?  I’ve always wanted to be a part of building a better community and finding a way to improve the environment and help others. So when I learned about what the profession really does I was instantly hooked! I think the culmination of having a bachelor’s degree in environmental geography, working in urban planning and pursuing my passions for both nature and design has made landscape architecture an ideal career path for me.

What was your favorite course in the program and why?  There were many good courses. Learning about the “design process” was invaluable. Design 1 was so experimental, abstract and pure fun. Design 5, environmental design, was when I really felt I was starting to develop my own unique skills as a designer. I also loved the history courses!

Who if any was your favorite instructor in the program and why? Francisco Behr, Nancy Griffin, Patrick Reynolds and Sol Blumenfeld are excellent teachers. They have the ability to articulate complex ideas in a way that is easily understood and provided helpful, constructive criticism which pushes one to do their best. Also, it was great to have visiting professor Charles Anderson!

What are you doing professionally these days? At the moment I’m self-employed as a landscape designer and consultant. I sub-contract my skills in drafting for a licensed landscape architect in order to gain experience as well as hours for licensure. I also design for my own clients.

If the phone rang right now and someone offered you your dream job, what would it be?  Joining a creative team in a mid-sized interdisciplinary firm that values its employees long-term and encourages mentorship and both personal and professional growth.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?  I feel good about where I’m at these days but I also have so much more I want to achieve.  I’ll continue what I am doing now, but I also hope to get involved in some pro-bono projects and humanitarian efforts. There are so many people in this world that are in too much poverty and that need a tremendous amount of help.

Who is your favorite Landscape architect or designer? Any specific site or project?  Modernist landscape architect Dan Kiley. He envisioned beautiful spaces based in natural order of geometry and pushed the boundaries of defined edges to created unexpected juxtapositions.

Aiko adv studio

What do you enjoy most about working in the profession?  I love the fact that landscape architects have the potential to make the world a better place to live in so many ways. I feel incredibly empowered with a skill set that can help people and the environment while also making a living by pursuing my passions as a designer. I am grateful that the lines between my work life and personal life are definitely blurred as I am continually inspired and draw from my every day experiences to think creatively and come up with unique design solutions.

What advice would you give to incoming students?  In my mind landscape architecture comes down to continually being challenged and having to problem-solve. It involves the understanding of people, places, things, history, technology, the plant kingdom, the animals, nature, climate, the airshed, the watershed, soil, time and change and their complex relations to each other! It requires a lot of time to get through each class but if it is something you are passionate about you will find a way to get through it and it will definitely be a rewarding journey into a lifelong career!

What book are you currently reading?  I was inspired to read ‘A Path Appears’ after visiting an exhibition called “A Path Appears: Actions for a Better World” at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles. The book is a documentary about how everyday citizens are finding extraordinary ways to significantly improve the lives of poor and disadvantaged communities around the globe. It is so inspiring.