Online only: Read more from our interview with Brian Laverriere
Brian Laverriere, Horsley Witten Group, Inc.
Brian Laverriere’s zest for life is palpable. The 26-year-old landscape designer for the Horsley Witten Group, an environmental consulting firm, treats life like a classroom, eager for opportunities to better himself both professionally and personally. “Even if I’m 60 years old and I’ve got all of these prestigious awards, you ask me what I am: I’m a student,” he says, “always willing to learn, always willing to listen.”
CCH: Do you think that student mentality has been the key to your success?
BL: What’s allowed me to be successful is being adventurous. I’ve made mistakes, and I’m not afraid to start over, I’m not afraid to try something different—I’m not afraid of anything—and I think that’s what has made me the excited person that I am in loving what I’m doing and impacting the world in a positive way. If you’re not in love with what you’re doing, it’s probably not going to last too long, and if it does you’re probably not going to be the person that everybody’s looking to for precedence and ideas. It seems so cliché, but it’s really my desire to learn and my humility to admit I don’t have all the answers, and I probably never will, but I can continue to try and I can continue to improve.
CCH: Why did you decide to pursue a career in landscape design?
BL: My father is a civil engineer, and he had trained and bred me to become a civil engineer. I took a summer internship, in high school, at a civil engineering firm, and as I was working I looked across the aisle and there was a landscape architect. I was observing what she was doing and I thought, “That looks way better than what I’m doing over here.” So I started asking questions; I started learning about a profession that I didn’t even know existed. Entering college I declared as a LA (landscape architect), and green infrastructure (GI) was one of the many pieces we were taught, over and over. GI bridged the gap between civil engineering and landscape architecture. I wanted to find a way to take the theory I learned in school and find it in real life. All of the theory I was taught in school, I came here (to Horsley Witten) and started actually applying those principles. I realized, “Wow, this stuff is cool! I enjoy this! And I’m making a positive difference.”
CCH: You’re originally from Portland, Maine, and you went to college at the University of Rhode Island. What led you to the Cape and to Horsley Witten?
BL: During my senior year at school I was looking for jobs; I did look in Maine, I looked in Connecticut, I looked in Rhode Island, and I looked in Massachusetts. I was looking for the best opportunity for what I wanted to do with my life—at least off the bat—by learning from other experts. What attracted me here was the spectrum, the scale that Horsley Witten does. As a young professional, that’s what excites me—getting immersed with all these different professions, around all these different experts. And it’s panned out exactly how I wanted it to. I’m learning about different disciplines that the skillset I acquired in school can be applied to. The skills that we’re learning—regardless of what age you are—it’s how you apply your skills and staying open to find new applications for those skills. What I learned in school and what I’m still learning now is really snowballing to become my own definition of what landscape architecture and my career can be.
CCH: To keep learning, to keep growing—that’s wonderful to have that opportunity at a firm.
BL: If you’re not learning you’re dying. I love to learn. I love to get inspired. And if I’m not inspired, I have to go out and find some inspiration—whatever it may be. I actually do a lot of painting in my free time, and I find it as a great outlet to just forget about the stressful stuff in life and just be creative and see what bursts out. It may be worthy of the trashcan, but at least I experimented and put myself out there to grow.
CCH: What kind of painting do you do?
BL: I do all kinds. I started with watercolors. Lately I’ve been doing more oil paintings because I can work with it a little bit more—I can do a coat and put it away, come back and do another coat. It’s just something fun to experiment with. I’m not any good (after seeing some his paintings displayed in his office, I’d beg to differ) … I paint the landscape—that’s the only thing I know how to paint, because it’s the easiest thing for me to visualize. The most recent one I’ve done is the backside of a frontal dune, looking out over the ocean, with a wooded shoreline on the other side. If you’re on Town Neck Beach and you’re looking out with P-town in the distance, that’s what I had in mind.
CCH: How does sustainability factor into your design work?
BL: To me, green infrastructure is the biggest sustainable piece we’re driving home on almost all the projects I work on. There are so many times when development is happening and the landscape, which is what everybody sees first, is sort of put on the backburner. The client’s interest in the landscape maybe isn’t there, and that is a golden opportunity for a good landscape architect to come in and really emphasize the value of landscape design—not only because it’s what people see but because the landscape evolves with the project. It’s a different form of design, compared to engineering or architecture, because you need to embrace change, you need to anticipate how plants and people might respond to current and future conditions.
CCH: Tell me about the community outreach you do through Horsley Witten.
BL: One example would be public design charrettes. During these charrettes, you’ll have people come in and ask you questions randomly—opinionated questions—so you have to be quick on your feet. The goal is to educate by opening people’s eyes. I think the big picture is huge and understanding that everything we’re doing today is going to affect generations to come. And all of the little developments we’re talking about building—I’m not helping design them for me, I’m helping design them for the next wave that’s coming in, and I hope they’re going to make a bigger contribution because they were inspired by our contribution.
CCH: If you’re looking ahead 10 years, is there a goal you hope to have achieved by then?
BL: I don’t think I’m looking as far out as 36 because I think I can accomplish a lot more if I set smaller benchmark goals. Before I’m 30 is what’s been ticking in my mind. I want to become a licensed landscape architect. I think that will open a lot of doors for me. Also, another professional goal is to get more projects built. I know how to draft, I know how to draw, I know how to conceptualize something from nothing, but it’s the next step for me—the construction side—that I need the most help on. It really circles back to learning—my goal is to get more projects built so that I can continue to grow and improve. Personally, I’m going to start publishing some novels, and I’m going to travel more.
CCH: Tell me more about these novels.
BL: I’m actively writing a dark love story, in short. It’s fictional, for the most part, but I think anytime you write you have to understand what you’re writing about. I’ve been writing ever since I can remember. As a boy I couldn’t spell—I still can’t spell—I could barely read, and I remember promising to myself, “I’m going to learn how to be a great writer someday.” The skill to write is universal. I use it everyday at HW. I think a reason I enjoy writing is because it’s like painting in the sense that it takes me outside myself, and it makes me critically think about things that I would never think about. I can play narrator for a little while and really analyze the world—I analyze the landscape in the same way. It’s funny that analysis is a skill in both parts of where my mind loves to be—because creative intuition is how my mind naturally flows, but as I’ve grown from each personal and professional endeavor, I’ve gradually become much more analytical.
CCH: What words of advice do you have for fellow young professionals looking to succeed in the building and design industry?
BL: Stay aware while you travel, even if it’s down the street. I can walk around New York City, or the Cape, and pick up on how they’re developing and how they’re designing their communities, their parks and their streets. So staying aware is big. And then turning that awareness into inspiration, and using that inspiration to fuel you to make precedence of your own that somebody else can get inspired by.