By Delle Willett
Growing up in Colorado, Marcie Harris — who now lives in North Park — loved art, drawing, gardening, hiking, biking and just being outdoors. And when searching for a career, she asked her aunt, “If you could do anything, what would it be?” Her aunt replied, “a landscape architect.”
“I happened to be at the right school, Colorado State University (CSU), where they had a great program, and the more I learned about it, the more I realized it was a perfect match for what I wanted to dedicate myself to,” Harris said.
Though arguably not widely recognized in our society, landscape architecture is a very rewarding career. Depending on a person’s interests, there are many different directions to take such as urban design, city planning, small or large development, and more.
“I think landscape architecture is going to become more important as we respond to climate change. Hopefully our profession can lead teams towards creative solutions to preserve our planet and change the way we develop,” Harris said.
After graduating from CSU in 1998, Harris moved to Laguna Beach to work at SWA Group, an international landscape architecture planning and urban design firm, as a project designer. During those two years, she fell in love with the ocean and Southern California. From there, she moved to San Diego to work at Spurlock Poirier Landscape Architects for four years.
Next, she took some time off to travel and live in Mexico City, studying the language and culture. On her return, friends started asking if she wanted to work on projects, so she decided to start her own firm, Marcie Harris Landscape Architecture in 2004.
“It happened organically,” she said.
What Harris likes most about being a landscape architect is seeing things get built, working on teams and coming up with creative solutions.
She has had the pleasure of working with Yuko Sugiyama since 2007 and the two are a great team.
“Yuko is smart, detailed, the most positive person I know and has endless energy,” Harris said. “I like designing with her, our energy and the efficiency of our office.”
Harris enjoys designing projects in a variety of scales and collaborating with architects and builders.
“I think I’m a good listener and try and make each project meaningful. I love planting design and enjoy when a client or project pushes us to do something new,” Harris said.
Harris’ vision is that people have a heightened experience and spend more time living outdoors on their projects.
“The biggest compliment you can get is people really using and enjoying the space you designed,” she continued. To achieve that, they design spaces very pragmatically, paying close attention to the architecture and the larger context, “but we intuitively have an artistic approach.”
Harris said she believes their work can be subtle and isn’t over-designed.
“We like to design spaces to be timeless, not trendy,” she said. “We pay close attention to the scale and feel of the space and try to complement the surroundings. We are always considering the longevity, maintenance and sustainability of our design but strive to keep the design fresh and fun.”
Marcie Harris Landscape Architecture has a varied portfolio that includes residential and public spaces.
A favorite is the Baca residence, where her firm renovated the landscape including a pool, spa, dining/lounge space with a firepit and water features.
Harris worked closely with the owner, a flower distributor, who has a great appreciation for plants. Each planting combination was carefully considered to make it interesting, cohesive and drought tolerant. The firm achieved creating distinctive plant vignettes that complement the space, context, and enhance one’s experience throughout the site.
Another favorite is the Quad, a state-of-the-art student housing complex adjacent to California State University San Marcos.
Harris worked with Safdie Rabines Architects, a frequent collaborator, on the project. The courtyard is graphic and visually interesting to look down on and invites students to spend time outside. Colorful succulents, native plants and shade trees soften the site and create respite. Shared common spaces include a central lawn, pool terrace, outdoor BBQ area, long seat walls and numerous cafe tables for gathering and studying.
Life is busy with business, her husband (Edd, a marketing professional), and her two young boys (ages 2 and 5) but she tries to make time for herself each day. The early morning is a precious time for her, walking in her Uptown neighborhood or practicing yoga.
“This is a contemplative time and an important part of my design process; having some down time allows good ideas to flow,” Harris said. “I’m also always looking closely at the landscape on my walks. Seeing how plants grow in a garden setting definitely influences how I approach planting design.”
Harris is not sure where she will be in 10 years; for the moment she is focused on the present.
“But I’m sure I will be practicing, I love what I do,” Harris concluded.
To see Marcie’s portfolio, visit marcieharris.com.
—Delle Willett has been a marketing and public relations professional for over 30 years, with an emphasis on conservation of the environment. She can be reached at email@example.com.