For the love of land­scap­ing

De­signer Casey Case in­fuses en­ergy into out­door spa­ces

San Francisco Chronicle (Sunday) - - REASL ES­TAE - By Jor­dan Guinn

Casey Case’s mis­sion in life is to get peo­ple out­side.

En­er­getic, op­ti­mistic and al­ways in pur­suit of learn­ing more, the land­scape ar­chi­tect plays an in­te­gral role in shap­ing how peo­ple ex­pe­ri­ence out­door spa­ces around the Bay Area. As pres­i­dent of San Ra­mon’s Gates + As­so­ciates, Case are her team are in­volved in scores of projects around the re­gion, in­clud­ing the Boule­vard mas­ter­planned com­mu­nity in Dublin, the Fre­mont BART sta­tion and the John Muir Med­i­cal Cen­ter in Wal­nut Creek.

A grad­u­ate of UC Davis, Case worked for a com­pany in the Cen­tral Val­ley be­fore shift­ing to the firm her par­ents, David and Linda Gates, started more than 40 years ago. She took over reins as pres­i­dent last year.

In this in­ter­view with the San Fran­cisco Chron­i­cle, Case talks about her ini­tial hes­i­ta­tion in join­ing the fam­ily firm, why she loves land­scape ar­chi­tec­ture and the tech­no­log­i­cal in­no­va­tion that’s been a game­changer for her and her clients. Q: Why did you ini­tially avoid join­ing the fam­ily busi­ness? A: When I grad­u­ated in 2008, it was not a great time to be Case, the sec­ond-gen­er­a­tion leader of the 40-year-old Gates + As­so­ciates de­sign firm, earned her land­scape ar­chi­tec­ture de­gree from UC Davis in 2008. Be­fore join­ing the fam­ily firm, she worked for two other land­scape com­pa­nies in North­ern Cal­i­for­nia. As pres­i­dent, she runs all op­er­a­tions of the com­pany while also lead­ing de­sign for some of the 35-person firm’s projects through­out Cal­i­for­nia.

leav­ing col­lege because jobs were hard to come by. Luck­ily I was able to tran­si­tion into an in­tern­ship and then full time for a firm in Sacra­mento. It was great because I wore sev­eral hats in mar­ket­ing, land­scape ar­chi­tec­ture and in­ter­acted with clients. I was wary of go­ing into busi­ness with my fam­ily and hon­estly, the first few months were stress­ful. I was chal­lenged with over­com­ing any per­cep­tion of nepo­tism and it mo­ti­vated me to prove my­self. Over time my ef­forts to cul­ti­vate a more col­lab­o­ra­tive at­mos­phere helped me evolve into a lead­er­ship role. And peo­ple be­gan to rec­og­nize that I was deeply in­vested in the culture and longevity of the com­pany.

Q: What is the most ex­cit­ing part of do­ing a land­scape or ur­ban de­sign project?

A: One of the things that’s re­ally cool is the prac­ti­cal and the cre­ative. There is a rules­based, black­and­white that in­cludes codes, grad­ing and water cal­cu­la­tions. But there is also an art­ful and cre­ative as­pect that trans­lates it all into beau­ti­ful set­tings. The bot­tom line is cre­at­ing a space peo­ple want to be in. The mis­sion is to get peo­ple out­side. But what’s com­pelling peo­ple to step out­side? One of the things I’ve seen move­ment in is cor­po­rate cam­puses look­ing to have more of­fice ac­tiv­i­ties take place out­side. We de­sign spa­ces for out­door meet­ings, con­fer­ence calls even ping pong. More and more of them want out­door spa­ces that are an ex­ten­sion of the in­doors. We’re see­ing our part­ners plac­ing more value on out­door space.

Our team par­tic­u­larly en­joyed work­ing on the Boule­vard com­mu­nity in Dublin. It’s an old mil­i­tary base that’s be­ing re­de­vel­oped into hous­ing. Work­ing closely with the de­vel­oper and ar­chi­tects, we cre­ated a num­ber of pocket parks, each with a dif­fer­ent theme based on spa­ces you’d find in a home, like a kitchen, gar­den and li­brary. The lounge pocket park has a re­laxed, rest­ful vibe as an oa­sis for res­i­dents to es­cape to at the end of a long day or on the week­end. There’s a large fire place for re­laxed so­cial­iz­ing and art­ful seat­ing el­e­ments that pro­vide in­ter­est yet are com­fort­able. They are much more than just pocket parks but cre­ate a so­cial hub of the com­mu­nity.

Q: What’s your de­sign process like?

A: A lot of what we do is fig­ur­ing out what prob­lem we are solv­ing, and what the client wants to ac­com­plish. Then, it’s about cre­at­ing a de­sign for the hu­man ex­pe­ri­ence. We break down into pieces how the de­sign will be ex­pe­ri­enced and how it will reach greater goals. We think about how some­one ar­rives at the space and how they en­ter and how we vis­ually com­mu­ni­cate where to go. We’re look­ing at sun and wind pat­terns and what’s ad­ja­cent to the site.

We also look at the history of a site to in­form how it’s go­ing to be used. We think about all the po­ten­tial users. What speed are they mov­ing at? Do we want them to stop and linger or not? How do lit­tle de­ci­sions we make play into the essence and ex­pe­ri­ence of place.

Q: What’s a piece of tech­nol­ogy you can’t imag­ine work­ing with­out?

A: Zoom calls have been a life­saver, es­pe­cially with COVID­19 caus­ing the whole com­pany to shift to re­mote work­ing. Zoom makes it so I can see some­body I’m talk­ing to, and it helps build more of a con­nec­tion of what we’re talk­ing about. If we weren’t able to have meet­ings with clients and re­ally un­der­stand their needs it would be a prob­lem. Our on­line meet­ings help make it feel like our clients are more ac­ces­si­ble. Ev­ery­one has adapted. I take live notes on the call so they can see what we’re hear­ing. We can edit things live in front of clients. It lets them view be­hind cur­tain and be even more col­lab­o­ra­tive on the process.

Q: What are a cou­ple of Gates’ in­ter­est­ing re­cent projects, and share a bit about them?

A: One of my fa­vorite things about the firm is that we do a lot of projects at one time. It’s awe­some. The di­ver­sity keeps us dy­namic and helps with re­cruit­ment. We worked on John Muir Med­i­cal Cen­ter in Wal­nut Creek and cre­ated a heal­ing gar­den, so pa­tients could have a con­nec­tion to na­ture. Stud­ies have shown that hav­ing a view of na­ture from your hos­pi­tal room can in­crease your rate of re­cov­ery, so it’s im­por­tant to us to craft a space where peo­ple can re­flect and con­tem­plate. Es­pe­cially lately, it’s re­ward­ing to know that peo­ple have a place where they can get a minute to take a breath.

At PG&E’s Train­ing and Con­fer­ence Cen­ter in San Ra­mon, we were given lots of out­door space to work with. We cre­ated eat­ing ar­eas, shaded nooks and out­door class­room spa­ces. In ef­fect, it nearly dou­bled the square footage of use­ful space at the cam­pus, and added a lot of nat­u­ral beauty to the set­ting.

Gates + As­so­ci­ates

Gates + As­so­ciates in­stalled low­main­te­nance and drought­tol­er­ant plant­ings, stone seat­ing ar­eas and cov­ered lounge spa­ces to the PG&E Train­ing and Con­fer­ence Cen­ter in San Ra­mon.

Pho­tos by Gates + As­so­ci­ates

San Ra­mon's Gates + As­so­ciates de­signed this rooftop heal­ing gar­den space atop the John Muir Med­i­cal Cen­ter in Wal­nut Creek.

Pho­tos by Gates + As­so­ci­ates

Above: The parks at Dublin's Boule­vard new home com­mu­nity, de­signed by San Ra­mon's Gates + As­so­ciates, have a va­ri­ety of themes. This park's theme is mu­sic and in­cludes in­ter­ac­tive sound play el­e­ments. Right: Gates + As­so­ciates used in­laid cus­tom tile to cre­ate a calm­ing water fea­ture at the en­try prom­e­nade of the John Muir Med­i­cal Cen­ter in Wal­nut Creek.

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