Oct. 16: Open house, exhibit honor landscape pioneer, alum

By Seth Truscott, College of Agricultural, Human & Natural Resource Sciences

Tom-Berger-webPULLMAN, Wash. – Blending of the natural and urban worlds was pioneered by landscape architect Tom Berger at schools and universities, flagship stores, offices and parks across the Pacific Northwest.

The Washington State University alumnus, who passed away last year, is the focus of “Building Legacies, Designing the Future,” a free, public gallery opening hosted by the WSU School of Design and Construction (http://sdc.wsu.edu/) at 5-6 p.m. Friday, Oct. 16, at Carpenter Hall.

Designed by Tom Berger, the entrance to the Washington Department of Ecology offices in Lacey, Wash., mingles natural and urban environments.

A reception will follow at the WSU Visitor Center in downtown Pullman where architecture, landscape architecture, interior design and construction management alumni and professionals can meet and chat with students.

“Tom led the way for ecologically responsive landscape design,” said Kelly Rench of Berger Partnership, the design firm that Berger founded in Seattle in 1971. “He addressed global warming, water conservation and air quality while adding open, green space. As our cities become more dense and populous, that space becomes more important.”

Born in 1945, Berger worked at his family’s plant nursery as a teenager. That experience, and his education at WSU, gave him a lifelong love of the Northwest environment and its native and adaptive plant species. He believed a good design lives on and has its own life; if it has a strong character, it will make its own statement.

Bringing the outside in

Berger shaped the industry with an artistic and innovative approach to design. His notable projects include an outdoor learning center on Bainbridge Island called IslandWood, which received the first LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) Gold certification in Washington.

The LEED Gold-certified IslandWood education center on Bainbridge Island.

He designed the landscape for the iconic REI flagship store in Seattle, where an emergent forest complete with a biking trail and waterfall forms a dense woodland in the center of the city.

One of the exhibits at WSU’s “Building Legacies” looks at Berger’s Viewland Hoffman Receiving Station in Seattle, where he landscaped an industrial substation to make it feel like a public park.

“Tom’s approach looked to architectural elements that could be incorporated into the landscape,” Rench said. “He brought the inside out and the outside in, so that the two worked in harmony.”

Mentoring the next generation

At his firm, Berger encouraged young people to join the industry. He supported scholarships and internships for WSU students. He often welcomed students to visit his office and learn about his firm’s projects, and he enjoyed mentoring young professionals, Rench said.

Berger’s projects remain important touchstones for WSU students, said Jolie Kaytes, associate professor and head of WSU’s landscape architecture program.

“They learn about Tom’s innovative tactics, which are now expected in the industry,” she said. “Then, they go to places like IslandWood and see how everything is interrelated. Whether it’s a civic space that’s also green infrastructure or a restored or preserved landscape that responds to the urban fabric, students experience the importance of connecting multiple layers of the landscape.”


Jolie Kaytes, WSU landscape architecture, 509-335-7331, jolie@wsu.edu
Kelly Rench, Berger Partnership, 206-325-6877 ext. 231, kellyr@bergerpartnership.com