Emerging Voices Spotlight: Susannah Drake, dlandstudio

Sponge park

Gowanus Canal Sponge Park Master Plan, New York City | © dlandstudio

dlandstudio, founded and led by Susannah Drake, is an architecture and landscape architecture firm that strives to integrate ecology, planning, engineering, and design to solve problems in urban environments and systems. Though dlandstudio works globally, many projects tackle infrastructural and ecological systems across New York City, including the Gowanus Canal Sponge Park (construction of which will begin early next year after recently reaching a funding goal), BQGREEN (a vision for reconnection and reviving neighborhoods divided by the BQE), and a series of green infrastructure system prototypes in the Bronx and Queens that detain and filter stormwater runoff from highways, as well as participation in MoMA’s Rising Currents exhibit in 2010.

This week, The Architectural League published an interview with Drake about her practice as part of an ongoing feature on the winners of this year’s Emerging Voices award. Emerging Voices is a juried portfolio competition that spotlights individuals and firms based in the US, Canada, or Mexico with distinct design voices and the potential to influence the disciplines of architecture, landscape design, and urbanism. Past winners have included many names familiar to regular Omnibus readers, including Interboro Partners, WXY Architecture + Urban Design, and SCAPE / Landscape Architecture, among many others.


Susannah Drake

Susannah Drake

In her interview, Drake explains the range of expertise of her staff:

Staff-wise, I have architects and landscape architects, as well as urban designers, and a graphic designer. We had an astronomer once. The office is a studio and there’s a lot of intermixing of people and ideas. It’s not very efficient financially, but great in terms of the development of very rich projects. Everyone brings their expertise to bear, whether it’s about horticulture or drainage or sculpture or policy.

The challenges of working on projects that span municipal, state, and federal regulatory processes:

We’ve worked with all different agencies. … Usually they all suggest that one of the others has the more complicated regulatory structure, but it’s not really any single one; it’s the entangled regulatory structures of all of them coming together. The space in between them is not only complicated to navigate, it’s also very expensive because of all of the administration and the sometimes-conflicting rules and regulations.

And previews a few new New York City projects she’s working on, including two in collaboration with recent Omnibus interviewee Paul Mankiewicz:

We just started work on the first wetland mitigation bank in New York State. Through a project initiated by New York City Economic Development Corporation, as a sub contractor to a larger engineering firm, dlandstudio is developing a healthy wetland in Staten Island. The idea is that developers, who are building in other parts of the city, can buy into this bank rather than doing their environmental mitigation on site.

We have two other projects under construction that we refer to as Highway Outfall Landscape Detention Systems, or HOLD Systems. They are essentially smaller, modular green infrastructure systems that are deployed around the drainage outfalls of raised highways. They capture that water and run it into a planted swale that will hold it where natural evapotranspiration can occur. … In the Bronx, we’re actually creating a floating wetland using [Mankiewicz’s] Gaia Soil.

Head over to the League website to read the full interview, where Drake also discusses what obstacles exist for women in practice today, and strategies dlandstudio has developed for raising support and money for pilot projects that might be deployed citywide.While you’re there, check out the other recently released interviews with and lecture videos of Drake’s fellow 2013 Emerging Voices:

+ MASS Design Group discusses the values embedded in architecture, the power and responsibility of the designer to the public, and the ability of the building process to promote community ownership and dignity.
+ SO – IL stresses the importance of working with physical materials in the design process and compares the environment for architectural innovation in the US, the Netherlands, and Japan.
+ graciastudio explains their improvisatory process on site during construction and the integration of craftsmen and laborers in design decisions.
+ PRODUCTORA (to be published in the coming weeks)
+ Ogrydziak Prillinger Architects (to be published in the coming weeks)
+ DIGSAU (to be published in the coming weeks)
+ cao | perrot Studio (to be published in the coming weeks)

The views expressed here are those of the authors only and do not reflect the position of The Architectural League of New York.