April was Landscape Architecture Month!

We, at Firma Design Group, were so busy doing the art of landscape architecture, that we forgot that April was Landscape Architecture Month (for all of the United States)!  We are very proud to have a landscape architect/planner – Michael Cook – one of the partners and a landscape architecture grad – Steve Kovanis.  Both Michael and Steve graduated from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, and Steve will soon be beginning the process to become a landscape architect (by the way, a very arduous process involving 5 different tests, much like the architecture licensure process, two sections of which are very discretionary!), so, we should soon have two landscape architects in house!  We should be hiring a third landscape architect in the coming months!

Throughout the month, we practiced the sustainable practice of landscape architecture with our many clients, developments, park projects and other types of projects.  We are happy to have such wonderful clients that allow us to do the work that is best suited for their site and project.  In every instance, we try to make projects as “green” and sustainable as they possibly can be.

During the month of April was also Earth Day, and on April 19th, Steve Kovanis participated in one of our clients’ Earth Day conference and show.  Over 100 people attended the conference and show and Steve represented Firma Design Group very well to attendees!  We also discussed Bay Friendly Landscape Guidelines ( http://stopwaste.org/home/index.asp?page=378 ) with attendees and what we will be doing specifically within their office project campus.

It was our pleasure to participate in this day and other activities during Landscape Architecture Month!

Finding the right firm for your large project

Are you looking for a planner, civil engineer, or landscape architect for your next big project?  Firma Design Group has decades of experience working on large and complex projects like hospitals, medical office buildings, schools, shopping centers, commercial buildings, hotels, and more.  Our principals manage our large projects so you have the most senior person involved in the important decisions.  And, you can always count on the effectiveness of our three to four member teams to finish on time and at or under budget.  We have the right combination of rapport, knowledge, and work commitment that will fill your needs, and have your project on a fast track towards construction.  Give us a call today to set up a phone call or in-person meeting.

What is a Terminated Vista?

You might know what that term means, you might not.  But, I bet you can guess pretty closely to what it means!  Terminated Vistas are the backbone of urban design in older civilizations, they entrigue the visitor to go around the corner and check out the next terminated vista.  This is a great article by the Congress for New Urbanism, Scott Doyon was the author.  As a member of the Santa Rosa Design Review Board, our design guidelines talk extensively about the idea, and I look forward to receiving projects that accomplish these more!:


I’ll admit it: I wish there was a more user-friendly way to say “terminated vista.”

Perhaps I’m more sensitive to it because, as regular readers here  know, I’m not an urban designer. I just work with them. That means I’m  more inclined to scratch my head like any other layperson when I hear  wonky expressions that sound far too highfalutin for an everyday  community.

That’s too bad, because the terminated vista plays a pivotal role in good community design.

Basically, “vista” refers to your view as you look down a street or  corridor. “Terminated” refers to any building, object or feature serving  as the focal point and blocking the view from extending further.

Think about when a street angles or dead-ends into another street.  For the person heading that way, that spot becomes a focal point of  greater prominence, so an urban designer would tell you its building  should reflect that. Depending on the importance of the street, the  parcel might be suited to an important civic building or monument.  Downtown or on Main Street, it might be a church or prominent commercial  anchor. Or, in an everyday context, the occupying building should  simply make a small architectural nod to its surroundings, noting that  it recognizes its enhanced role in community aesthetics and wants to  contribute.

According to designers, there’s a variety of reasons for doing this. In their handy compendium, “The Smart Growth Manual,” authors Andres Duany, Jeff Speck and Mike Lydon, explain:

“Street networks that include staggered intersections,  deflections, and slight curves improve spatial definition and  orientation by creating memorable visual events .. When a street vista  terminates on a building, it should reciprocate by placing a special  architectural element on axis.”

This, they assert, speaks to community values, contributes to the cues of basic navigation, and reduces car speeds.

Personally, as a layperson, I like them for another reason: They make  our communities more interesting, and interesting places engage people  at a more intimate, emotional level. When we talk of making places more  pedestrian friendly, we often focus on sidewalks, road geometries and  diversity of destinations but it’s less often that we also focus on  delight — the visual candy that engages our senses as we travel from  point A to point B.

At the end of the day, you can build complete streets that provide  safe, walkable destinations and amenities but if the surrounding  environment’s a bore then it’s a bore and walkability suffers as a  result.

As my colleague, Nathan Norris, chides regularly in his Design 101 tutorials: Don’t bore the humans.

Leverage the power of delight. Terminated vistas, both grand and  simple, used to be an everyday part of community building. It was just  how we did things.

We could do so again. Below are a number of Flickr examples — some old, some new. Roll-over and click for photo credit.

Slope Stabilization

Firma Design Group recently completed plans for slope stabilization at the East Wing of the Santa Clara County’s main office building.  The project involved stabilizing two hillsides that were depositing silt on an annual basis onto the road below and a loading area.   The hillsides are mostly tree canopy area, with one area being comprised of mostly redwoods.  Firma combined civil engineering and landscape architecture to come up with a design that fit the site conditions.  And, the site was designed as drought tolerant, as there is no irrigation for these hillsides.  Torres Construction was the lead contractor during the design phase, and we partnered with Cornerstone Earth Group for geotechnical recommendations.

Santa Clara County East Wing Slope Stabilization_location

Santa Clara County East Wing Slope Stabilization


Firma Design Group acquires Ralph J. Alexander & Associates

Firma Design Group (FDG) recently acquired the planning and landscape architecture firm of Ralph J. Alexander & Associates (RJA&A) of Novato, California.  Mr. Alexander was a renowned landscape architect, working on countless important projects throughout California and Nevada over the past 38 years.  Michael Cook, Vice President at FDG, had the privilege of working for Ralph from 2001-2006.

FDG is a multi-disciplinary firm that provides a full range of Planning, Civil Engineering and Landscape Architecture design services to public and private clients.  We have in-depth experience with a wide range of project focuses from streetscapes, downtown redevelopment, urban and rural parks, mixed-use commercial/residential, high density and single family residential developments, custom homes and much more.  And, with the addition of RJA&A’s portfolio of projects over the past 35 years, we are even more suited to assist our clients, private and public.

FDG hired RJA&A’s long time employees, including Carolyn Kintzley, who is now our Office Manager, in order to assist with the transition and with hands-on knowledge of Ralph’s projects.

Ralph J. Alexander passed away on October 7, 2011, after a short battle with  pancreatic cancer.  Ralph worked up until the last minute and was dedicated to his business and clients, Firma Design Group is honored to have acquired the firm from Mr. Alexander’s family.

Press Democrat: Half-Page Advertisement

I don’t know if you saw a recent edition of the Press Democrat, but Michael Cook, Vice President of Planning & Landscape Architecture was featured on the back of the main section in a Sonoma County Water Agency advertisement for work that he did at Ramekins Culinary School, Events Center & Inn in Sonoma, California.  You may not have seen this one, but you might have seen him prominently displayed on banners in Sonoma, heard him on KZST 100.1 on the radio, or even in the movie theaters on the big screen!  We are very proud to have partnered with the Sonoma County Water Agency on this campaign!