Speaker Spotlight on Susannah Drake, FASLA, AIA





Susannah Drake, FASLA, AIA 

dlandstudio architecture + landscape architecture pllc, Brooklyn, NY


Art meets science in the award-winning, multidisciplinary firm of dlandstudio in Brooklyn, NY.


It was founded in 2005 by Susannah Drake, who melds the scientific and the creative in the design of projects she hopes will make cities more ecologically, economically and culturally productive.

Drake shares an affinity for both worlds; her father was a geo-physicist and she thought about becoming a geologist at one point. Instead, she gravitated toward architecture and landscape architecture, graduating from Harvard with master’s degrees in both fields. She actually had three degrees and initially couldn’t find a job; instead of choosing between them she decided to incorporate them and feed her inner science bug. “I’m actually happier doing what I do – my profession allows me to combine science and art, which I see as a perfect combination because I’m good at drawing and have a sensibility,” she said.

Outdoor Systems & Spaces

Dlandstudio has a keen interest in urban design that layers multiple functions into a single space – land and city space is too valuable to be performing just one function, Drake says — and puts new sustainability and “green” ideas to work with nature to help solve infrastructure and system issues. A typical dlandstudio project may involve research, collaboration with scientific professionals at local colleges and the U.S. Geological Survey, water quality monitoring, soil testing and analysis, and experiments in evapo-transpiration – before any of the designing begins.

The firm has utilized greenways, porous streets, sponge slips and patented drainage systems to ease current environmental problems like flooding and runoff, and guard against future problems like rising sea levels. These achievements are illustrated in recent projects like “A New Urban Ground,” part of the New York Museum of Modern Art’s “Rising Currents” Exhibit, and the Gowanus Canal Sponge Park, designed to absorb and reduce the problems caused by urban storm water in the Brooklyn-area canal.

“My world is focused much more on the outside than the inside of buildings,” Drake explains, “but buildings are important in shaping outdoor spaces. As an architect you learn that a lot of systems within cities could be made so much better. Historically, building and engineering systems have worked in opposition to natural forces; what we’re learning now is those systems have a limit – they work to a certain point, and then they don’t.” Drake said building better outdoor spaces that service the public and the globe is a new theme for architects.

In the 1970s,Drake says the focus was on the planet; today, architecture has progressed to the point that its professionals are embracing both urbanity and the environment. “We are at a wonderful point in history where we can appreciate formal design and ecological design, and have them occupy the same space,” she said.

AIA Tennessee

Harkening back to a key moment in architectural history, Drake’s presentation at the AIA Tennessee Convention & Expo in Nashville July 30-August 1 will highlight the projects of the Depression-era Works Progress Administration (WPA). “Thinking about all the incredible energy and money that went into the creation of public buildings and open spaces back then – we need that kind of investment again,” she said. “That movement is an inspiration for what I’m doing now.”

Attenders will learn about making infrastructure more sustainable, how to use grant money to spark innovation in public projects; the ins and outs of designing public spaces; how to add active recreation space to cities; Drake will also touch on public health in learning how to reduce combined sewer overflows to improve public water quality.

Connect with Susannah Drake and dlandstudio

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