W’s principal, Barbara Wilks, was interviewed on Madame Architect and it is featured today! You can read the entire interview – which includes the story of how Barbara got started in the field, how her interests evolved to landscape architecture, the beginnings of the firms she started, challenges faced, where the firm is today, and her current interests here.
Here are some excerpts from Julia’s interaction with Barbara:
Julia: Take me through your years with W, and the significant moments throughout.
Barbara: Well before W started, I already had a lot of experience – twenty years’ worth of experience, in architecture. So coming up to New York, even though we were a brand new firm, I was used to running large projects and large teams. I started the firm with a large project in Baltimore, Tide Point, which was part of my negotiation in leaving my first firm. That was a waterfront project, the old Procter & Gamble site that had been vacant for five years, so we started with that. At that point, Enrique Norten had also come up to New York, and he became a partner of mine then. We worked on that project together. I learned a lot from Enrique.
As we started these landscape projects, I had a predilection for working on renovated buildings in the past, deciding what to edit and keep, and I was very interested thinking about sites this way and in bringing in natural forces. As an architect, you develop a strong understanding of what people need – you interview them, you understand their needs for movement, gathering, rhythm, and you choreograph around that. And then with landscape, I’d try to incorporate other forces as well that they can notice and focus on, and for me that became water. We worked on a lot of waterfronts. So in the first part of my career as a landscape architect, Tide Point and the West Harlem Piers Park were significant, and then The Edge and a series of other waterfronts where we designed all kinds of ways for people to interact with and experience the water, all which were very rewarding.
Julia: Where are you in your career today?
Barbara: What I’m interested in now is giving more agency to nature. Landscapes are dynamic and always changing, and most of the things we design are static, and will have to be replaced. What we design nowadays is not meant to regenerate itself. I’m interested in regenerative landscapes, landscapes where we let nature have some agency – we need to let the systems work, the soils develop, the trees seed themselves and grow, the animals help with that, and for us to find our part in that.
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