Curbed Young Guns semifinalist Matthew Strange has known since age 10 that landscape architecture, a "natural marriage" of his interests in architecture and horticulture, was the field for him. Strange, 28, worked for nurseries in high school and college, studied landscape architecture at Purdue, and spent the fourth year of his program in a year-long internship at Hoerr Schaudt in Chicago. For the past six and a half years, he's been at the Manhattan-based landscape architecture firm Thomas Balsley Associates, where his work has included a number of university projects, as well as a waterfront park in the Bronx. Balsley (a Curbed Young Guns panelist) describes Strange's work as "thoughtful. It's articulate, it has a strong command of form and textures." Strange also has what Balsley calls a "strong presentation muscle," a crucial skill for an architect, and is an active participant in the earliest phases of conceptualizing the firm's projects.
Strange describes his design philosophy as a blend of approaches he picked up at Hoerr Schaudt, where he did almost solely public projects, and at Thomas Balsley Associates, which he describes as taking a "very people-based approach" to design. "I've been very into?revealing elements of history?that might not be immediately apparent to the public but bringing that to the surface in an interesting and unexpected way," Strange says. (His creativity takes extracurricular forms, too, with work in spoken word poetry and graphic design and as a church art director.) He will have a chance to further explore the fusion of his approaches to landscape architecture in a few weeks, when he returns to his native Chicago to start a new job back at Hoerr Schaudt, focusing primarily on upscale residential projects.
One of the projects Strange worked on at Thomas Balsley Associates was a redesign of York College in Jamaica, Queens. The campus redesign, which had Ennead as its architects, came out of a change in the school's population, which had once consisted primarily of commuters and non-traditional students but now includes many younger, more traditionally college-aged students as well. The goal was to build some green space and other new structures to support student life.
"The building basically folds down," Strange explains. "Someone can walk off the subway and walk right onto the roof of the building, so it lifts all the program up to the second floor." The sloping green lawn is like a "traditional campus quad space?re-imagined in a more contemporary way."
The school also asked the architects to think about borders and security. "Looking at this folded green plane going up the building, we took that same language and incorporated it throughout the perimeter of the project," Strange explains. A berm of earth separates the school's property from the world outside, with thorny shrubs serving as a classier, more architected "keep out" sign. "The whole concept and where it [evolved from] was sustainability, security, playing into the whole architectural language of these sloping planes."