Landscape architect practices “at the crossroads of the natural and the man-made” | Local News



If you’ve been around Madison, you’ve probably experienced the artistry, beauty and serenity of landscape architect Ken Saiki and his organization.

A Madison native, a graduate of West High School in 1972 and UW-Madison with a BS in landscape architecture in 1979, Saiki’s efforts with his colleagues improve some of the area’s most familiar spots – Capitol Park, State Street, Lisa Link Peace Park, Picnic Point, Olbrich Botanical Gardens, Edgewater Hotel and more.

Saiki collaborated with artists to transform the Monroe Street Plaza near Camp Randall from an underutilized space to a pocket park and to spruce up the reconstruction of Verona Road. He helped shape the Taliesin Restoration Master Plan in Spring Green, the Bee Break Creek Restoration Master Plan in Dubuque, Iowa, and the Mitchell Domes Conservatory Master Plan in Milwaukee.

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Interest in landscape architecture came through “a collision of circumstances”. Saiki was traveling in Europe for a semester out of college unable to declare a major and visited a friend from high school who was studying architecture in London via UW-Milwaukee. Saiki was interested and learned that UW-Madison did not teach architecture but offered landscape architecture. The following summer, he took a studio design course from a visiting professor and was hooked.

While still in high school, Saiki took a job at McDonald’s and worked there until he finished college, leaving as a full-time swing manager and saying these days that most of what he knows about managing people comes from that experience.

Later he worked for David Schreiber and Associates / the Sanborn Group, Stockham and Vandewalle, and Schreiber-Anderson, all of Madison. In a “total leap of faith”, he started Saiki Design in 1989 because he wanted a company that dealt with landscape architecture in a straightforward way, unhindered by boring and unnecessary business practices.

Ken Saiki, who did landscaping work to beautify Capitol Park, walks along the State Capitol Parkway. We don’t “create space,” says Saiki. “The space is already there. We only manipulate what we can to make it work better and look good.”


Saiki, whose wife, Patricia, is a landscape architect who retired from the business last year, has a sibling living in California. His mother, Jeanne, will be 101 in September. He enjoys golf and live music for recreation.

What is the most important element to create a great design?

Agreement. We operate at the crossroads of the natural and the man-made, and the issues are unique to each situation. We do not create space. The space is already there. We only manipulate what we can to make it work better and look good.

Do you have a favourite?

Not really. For me, it’s much more about the journey than the destination. We have been blessed with a long term relationship with Olbrich Gardens, and it is always a pleasure to go there with friends, family, clients as it is always in top condition. But I also love the outdoor space at Madison Sourdough (916 Williamson St.) where we swapped design for coffee years ago. Shortly after setting up this 1,200 square foot space, Madison Sourdough told us that sales had increased by 20%. My staff will tell you that I like to do parking lots.

What are your inspirations?

I am mostly inspired by the people closest to me. My wife, Pat, is a tireless landscape architect, and it shows in her projects. It reminds me that our most valuable design tool is time. Our office is full of talented, bright, and committed young professionals, and they push me to improve and try to convey the decentered perspective on landscape architecture that we have practiced for over 30 years.

Madison struggles to agree on many things and can be very critical of art and design. How do you create something that is widely acceptable?

Ha! Several answers come to mind. A globally acceptable goal is a good target, but we make the mistake of confusing broad acceptance with unanimity. Is our city better at having less visual controversy? Are we losing quality, diversity, dynamism, to avoid controversy or criticism? Is it good? Is it cool that all our buildings are brown? A vocal minority can often create enough chaos to kill a great idea.

A significant challenge for designers: Madison created their Racial Equity and Social Justice Initiative. It aims to hear from underrepresented people and address diversity in our community. It’s a beginning. We have a long way to go in understanding how design can be engaging, welcoming, available and non-threatening to our racially and socially diverse community. We designers are only scratching the surface to gain this understanding and it will take generations. We all need to listen to each other.

During your travels, what are the most inspiring landscapes you have seen?

In our practice, we have tried to collectivize our movements. We have a “vacation bonus” incentive that trades a travel allowance for photographs. … We have a collection of photos from around the world. These photos are definitely ideas worth checking out, but the incentive program was really meant to make us aware of the spaces we live in in other climates, cultures, and to surreptitiously keep the landscape architecture brains on even when you try to escape.

How Madison managed to arrange her public places?

All in all, we have a beautiful city. The “bones,” as we say in design jargon, began tens of thousands of years ago with the glaciers that carved out our lakes and hills. We were visited by locals from our professions and allied professions, remembering that Madison’s first designers were indigenous peoples with an extensive catalog of work, thousands of years before Europeans came along and took them. largely destroy. More recently, John Nolen, Frank Lloyd Wright, John Curtis, Darrell Morrison, Paul Friedberg – their work, and many others, have set the bar very high.

We Madisonians should also congratulate ourselves for acknowledging these contributions and choosing to continue in their direction, preserving buildings and places where possible, and not simply submitting to development pressures to bring drastic changes. Although it is a fine line and change is inevitable. I feel like Madison is the best of both worlds.


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