Great Spaces 2013: Green days

Posted on 19 Apr 2013 at 11:15am

Landscape architect Ken Howell can turn an outdoor space from an ‘Oh, no!’ to an oasis

landscaping

A landscape architect isn’t a fancy gardener; he or she transforms an outdoor area into a unique living space.

By Rich Lopez

When a potential client decides to enlist the aid of a landscape architect, many questions need to be answered — but not by the expert. The client is grilled on all those crucial pre-work questions, but the one that leads Ken Howell down the right path isn’t about materials or budget: “What is the most memorable space you have ever been in?” is the query he makes. The answer sets the foundation for transforming any regular yard space into a living sculpture. Of course, sometimes he has to clarify.

“Well if they say the Grand Tetons, I have to rephrase, ‘OK, what manmade space,’” he laughs.

Ken-Howell

Ken Howell

As part of the firm Solutions By Design (founded by his interior designer wife), Howell, who began as an urban planner, found his calling in landscape architecture and now strives to bring design to people’s homes … just on the outside. But first, Howell’s work is to partly dispel the myth that hiring an expert isn’t just for those with deep pockets. Everyone deserves a beautiful space to live in and Howell is that combination of both licensed professional and sympathetic expert to provide such services.

“Design is inherently our philosophy and good design should be affordable, but it is accomplishable with modest materials,” he says. “It’s less about all those sexy, expensive materials and more about an environment that’s functional, beautiful and safe.”

Howell assures that fabulous work can be done with basic concrete, wood and inexpensive materials, but part of many (if not all) landscape architecture involves going green. Reclaimed and/or repurposed materials are valuable resources. The point of each project isn’t to build so much as it is to manipulate the space in a positive way while understanding and respecting nature.

“I like to say we [landscape architects] were green before green was green,” he says. “We’ve been involved in that for so long and it’s absolutely critical to embrace green design alongside technology and man-made development that will preserve the planet. We do it to be respectful to our profession and our clients.”

When does one hire an architect? Definitely not when you need a gardener, he cautions. (It’s a field only licensed professionals can practice, he notes.)

“Legislation has elevated our profession, so when we become part of a project, that ensures the person is qualified by meeting Texas’ requirements,” he says. “People will hire us when they want to improve space outside their building by adding elements like a plaza, lighting or a fountain. For people who just want flowers and plants to beautify, they might want to work with horticulturists, but we also work with some of those similar elements and principles.”

Howell finds that often, by the time people call him, they might be in over their heads. His first words of advice: Think ahead.

“People come to me when they’ve started a project but can’t finish it because they don’t know the end result.

Most people don’t have a plan, but I do think it’s what I do best. I help them get that plan in place,” he says.

For those DIY-ers, Howell hopes that they will leave the planning to the professionals before breaking out the tools.

“If I can help them in an inexpensive way, then I’m happy to,” he says. “When some people look at their yard or space, they don’t know where to start and often start where they shouldn’t.”

Contact Ken Howell at 972-724-2034 kenksu89@gmail.com.

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