Following her studies in the Urban Studies Department of Columbia University, Lily S. Kwong began working for Island Planning Corporation, a landscape and urban design firm. Her work as a Project Director allows her to pursue her interests in environmental sustainability, community planning, and improving the quality of life we experience in urban settings.
Originally from San Francisco, Lily took the opportunity to travel the world after graduating from high school. The experience helped her develop an interest in how architecture and public space’s impacted residents living in the cities she visited. Now she’s brought her experience and ideas to Miami’s Design District, where she’s helped create a majestic oasis in South Florida’s most exciting urban neighborhood. Visit the Palm Court and see for yourself.
What inspired you to focus your career on landscape architecture?
I spent a couple years after high school exploring - I was always chasing the next adventure. I visited cities all over the world and became fascinated with how the built environment impacted our social, psychological and economic interactions. This curiosity landed me in the Urban Studies Department of Columbia University. During my studies, I kept looping back to the value of green infrastructure in an urban context. I’m a California girl, and I’ve always appreciated nature. When I realized the potential of natural ecosystems to improve the overall health, beauty and sustainable growth of our communities I felt like my path was clear.
What types of projects excite you?
The urgent and growing threat of climate change is the challenge of our generation. I’m excited by large-scale urban reforestation programs, spearheaded by organizations like American Forests, MillionTrees NYC and Friends of the Urban Forest. Projects like the Miami Design District provide an incredible opportunity to model the value of urban trees. By making roof gardens, street plantings and green walls a mandate for the District and integrating the landscape design into the architectural, artistic and commercial goals for the area sends a powerful message. Projects that excite me are ambitious in their scope and are deeply committed to developing green infrastructure in core urban areas.
Do you work mostly for private and corporate clients?
Island Planning Corporation develops projects for both private and corporate clients. The projects are varied, ranging from large-scale urban design projects to high-end luxury hotels in locations as diverse as Alpine Switzerland, the Balkans, the Caribbean and Central Western Africa. The company specializes in providing design and planning solutions in diverse and challenging locations through a synthesis of architecture, horticulture and environmental engineering.
Are there other art and design disciplines that influence your work?
Absolutely. Photography and fashion have deeply impacted my understanding of landscape design, and I’ve had very influential mentors in both fields. The way I was taught to approach work in those disciplines was to always consider texture, proportion, color and composition. I ask myself similar questions when working with plants - is this balanced? What’s the color story? What is the correct scale? With landscape design, you get this exciting added element of working with living material that has its own logic and properties. To design with the possibilities and limitations of distinct plant species in mind is special - in a way, you’re never totally in control of the craft. Nature simply does what she wants. As IPC’s revered horticulturist Stan Matthews says, “We’ll have to wait and see how it develops.”
You’re in the process of completing a fantastic project in the Miami Design District, Palm Court, what is it you hope to accomplish? How do you anticipate the public interacting with the design?
Island Planning Corporation put significant thought, energy and sweat into creating Palm Court’s landscape installation. IPC was on the ground nearly every day of the summer putting close to 100 native palms in the ground as the Buckminster Fuller dome and Fugimoto facade were being installed simultaneously. It is an extraordinary feat. The vision was to create a dynamic green oasis that was properly scaled with the network of roof gardens and retail spaces around Palm Court. I see this special space evolving into an iconic and defining feature for the area.
Have you ever had the opportunity to work with artists to incorporate their work into the public spaces you create?
We had the privilege of working with many artists for MDD, from those featured in Palm Court to industrial designer Konstantin Grcic. In 2010, IPC teamed up with Aranda\Lasch to design a series of indoor / outdoor sculptures for the Venice Biennale.
What makes Miami such a great place to work?
There is a kinetic, buzzing energy around Miami lately. Undeniably the city is having a moment world-renowned architects, developers, musicians, business leaders and artists seem to be flocking to the area in a hurry. I think it’s a great place to work because it’s a diverse, global city with so much potential to grow. The weather doesn’t hurt, either.
What’s your favorite indulgence?
What are you reading or listening to now?
Civilizing American Cities: Writings on City Landscapes by Frederick Law Olmsted & The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster.
How would you spend your “perfect” day in Miami?
The perfect day around Miami is getting lost among the rare tropical palms, cycads, flowering trees & vines at Fairchild Botanical Garden or eating your way through the Fruit & Spice Park in Homestead.
Photo credit: Justin Namon