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Landscape Architecture Month: Q&A with Nikki Schlepp

April is World Landscape Architecture Month. Join our Landscape Architecture and Urban Design Group as we kick off a month-long celebration honoring the profession. Be sure to check our website and social media channels to learn more about our team members, favorite projects, and the expertise and energy that we bring to our work.

Nichole Schlepp, PLA, ASLA | Landscape Architect

Joined SRF: 2008

Master of Landscape Architecture, University of Minnesota
Bachelor of Arts, Gustavus Adolphus College

Why did you decide to study landscape architecture?
I found the profession of Landscape Architecture during a search at the library.  I was working at an art store and freelancing in theater design at the time.  I loved the design process but strongly felt that the theater was not the right medium.  Landscape Architecture is a perfect blend of my interests.  In middle school, I was obsessed with archeology.  In high school, ecology and biology.  In college, I studied studio art and theater design.  Landscape architecture connects my passions for the environment and art together through design.

How did you get started in the field?
Right after graduate school, I was offered a research fellowship with the Center for Changing Landscapes at the University of Minnesota. I traveled across Minnesota working with small rural communities to design and plan trail systems, trailheads, town centers, streetscapes, and parks. I worked there for three years eventually becoming the Design Coordinator for the center.  In this role, I learned so much about design, leadership, community collaboration.  (I also know the Minnesota River Valley extremely well!) All our projects were planning and conceptual design and ended with a publication.  I longed to know more about the technical aspect of the profession and see some of my projects get built- which is how I came to SRF.

What project are you the proudest of, or has been your favorite?
It is way too hard to pick a favorite but…ONE of my favorites is designing the amphitheater for Camp Widjiwagan, located outside of Ely, MN, over eight years ago.  “Widji” is a special place and the campers that have gone there are positively impacted and are bonded together by their experiences of this unique place that is adjacent to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.  I had so much fun during the design process producing multiple amphitheater concepts and then refining it down to a preferred concept for them. It was so rewarding to see how much my perspective drawing of the proposed amphitheater resonated with the client and the Widji community. They used the drawing to help their fundraising efforts and seven years later, they had the funds to build the project and came back to us to help them again.  Then I got to be on the design team to see my conceptual design through to design development and construction documents.  This process was very collaborative as well as the construction was being done by the resident site manager and his crew.  He kept sending us pictures of boulders he found and we figured out how to incorporate them!  In the end, the final space does not look exactly like my original drawing but the essence and spirit of the design is there.  The finished amphitheater provides the Widji community a ceremonial place, tucked in the woods, with stunning views to the lake.  I feel honored to be a part of making that place.

If you weren’t a landscape architect, what would you want to be?
A children’s book illustrator (and perhaps author too).

How do you spend your free time?
I have a 5 year old, 2 year old, and a 4 month old.  Currently, I spend my free time running after my kids, pretending to be superheros, playing legos, reading stories, going to the zoo, and listening to the Moana soundtrack nonstop.  This summer it is my goal to resurrect the garden and get the kids involved in the process of growing food too.

If you could visit anywhere in the world you’ve never been, where would you go?
There are SO many places I would love to see but next on the list would be a learning trip to Copenhagen.  I am particularly interested in experiencing their urban form, bike infrastructure, and their green infrastructure methods to adapt to extreme rainfall events.

Connect with Nikki.

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