For the love of landscaping
Designer Casey Case infuses energy into outdoor spaces
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 installed lowmaintenance and droughttolerant plantings, stone seating areas and covered lounge spaces to the PG&E Training and Conference Center in San Ramon.
San Ramon's Gates + Associates designed this rooftop healing garden space atop the John Muir Medical Center in Walnut Creek.
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.