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October 29, 2015

Survey: Karen Kiest Landscape Architects

Specialty: Landscape architecture

Management: Karen Kiest, owner

Founded: 2002

Headquarters: Seattle

2014 revenues: $600,000

Projected 2015 revenues: $725,000

Projects: Cross Kirkland Corridor, with 1,000 feet of paved pedestrian and bike trail and fitness opportunities framed by Google’s campus; new courtyards in a neglected quadrant at the University of British Columbia Health Precinct; Odin Apartments in Ballard

Image from SRM Development [enlarge]
The Cross Kirkland Corridor includes 1,000 feet of paved trail between Google offices where a basketball court, sand volleyball court and other fitness opportunities can be found.

Karen Kiest, the owner of Karen Kiest Landscape Architects, answered questions from the DJC about trends and issues in the industry.

Q: Your firm appears to be growing quickly. Why is that?

A: Like many of our architectural clients, we stepped away from a prominent firm (following 9/11) and hung out our shingle. Now, our clients and ourselves have evolved into the next generation of firms. When you’re a small firm, every new employee is a leap in size. We are also happy to work across several project types — campus to corporate to residential to larger public planning projects — which keeps us busy from the Puget Sound region to Vancouver, B.C.

Q: What challenges and trends are you seeing?

A: In mixed-use projects, we’re seeing a rapid sophistication and rising expectations for the potential of outdoor spaces — particularly rooftops — to sell a project. Clients are more interested in our work, and trust us more, and are more willing to invest in a “wow” factor.

We’re also seeing more projects blurring the potential between residential and office environments, with all clients seeing the value of amenities — indoor and outdoor — for tenants.

We’re adding dog runs to the offices, and Wi-Fi spots for the residences, and fitness and fun — from bocce to pingpong to putting greens — for both.

We’re starting an office project in South Lake Union that sees the roof terrace as the ultimate recruiting amenity. In this project we’re including “dunes” of mixed grasses and raised planters for urban agriculture separating the barbecues and dining spots from the “beach” of wood decking with fire pits and endless views.

Q: Is there a recent project that has given the firm a chance to stretch its capabilities?

A: For Google’s Kirkland campus, the client has been anything but typical. Google’s phase two expanded to envelop the former railroad right of way to create the first completed segment of the Cross Kirkland Corridor. With Google, “fitness” includes anything from boot camps to sand volleyball to zip lines. The completed project includes 1,000 feet of fitness along a paved pedestrian and bike trail.

Q: What can designers, developers and government do to make cities more livable?

A: Look beyond the immediate “project” — i.e. beyond the individual parcel, building, etc. — to see how the investment can address the larger context.

As landscape architects we advise our clients that sustainable goals (stormwater, urban forestry, bike and pedestrian routes) are best realized in the neighborhood, not the building site. Living streets are better streets that have attracted retail, restaurants and residents.

Q: Where will growth come from locally in the next few years?

A: In this region we’re still seeing the pendulum shift back to the urban neighborhood. However the successful neighborhood will be one that addresses the needs not only of the young, but of the senior population, which has financial resources and is seeking barrier-free access ... Seattle’s hills are tough!

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