Walking with Karla Dakin
Karla Dakin walks most every day. Whether on the streets of New York City, the trails of the Rocky Mountain foothills or the bluffs of Northern California, close observation of outdoor spaces provides the foundational knowledge and inspiration for her designs. Trained first as a fine artist, Karla is practiced in the art of looking. As a plant-expert, food gardener and designer, she looks with all five senses, noticing the way an aggregate feels underfoot, the contours of the horizon, the way the scent of a grassland changes with the seasons.
Dakin’s knowledge of plants far exceeds plant lists and the nurseries. She looks beyond the manicured landscape and notices the aberrations of nature: the way plants struggle, thrive and survive in both urban spaces and wilderness. The texture of the bark of a street tree, the way a succulent takes root in a rotting stump, the way meadow flowers add dabs of color in the springtime grasslands -- these are the observations that shape how Dakin approaches landscape architecture.
She relates her observational walking to looking at art, her other constant activity. Both practices comprise a kind of sensory looking that draws from both previous knowledge and the wonder of fresh encounters. Modulations of temperature, light and darkness that we experience walking a garden path in dappled light may relate to the optics of a painting while the vastness of a coastal horizon harkens to the visceral experience of a body-sized Minimal sculpture.
As a designer of edible gardens (and an avid food gardener herself), Dakin’s view of landscapes is more than ornamental. Plant ecosystems are the basis for all other life on earth, processing the energy of the Sun to feed humans and animals. Whether she is designing a rooftop grassland visited by local pollinators or a vegetable garden of heirloom crops, Dakin understands the value of plants, both aesthetic and ecological.
Karla’s vision of the world integrates these experiences, and in turn, informs her practice of landscape architecture. She approaches every project as a work of art, growing things, building things and relishing the chaos. This view gives her respect for the dynamics of the design process as it unfolds: a collaboration between designer, client and the specifics of the site itself. Beginning with her walks, she sees the horizon and understands of the ground underfoot.