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Alumni Spotlight: Carol Whipple (BLA ’83, FASLA)

This month we are spotlighting landscape architect Carol Whipple (BLA ’83, FASLA). She currently lives in Bellevue and is enjoying retired life.

UWLA: Could you share a little bit about yourself? 

CW: I was born and raised in the Seattle area. My great-grandfather was sent here in the late 1860s by President Grant, to be the Washington Territory Chief Justice. He was active in civic activities as well, founding the Seattle Humane Society, serving as Vice-President for the design and development of the Washington Canal Association (Ballard Locks), and active in the Women’s Suffrage movement. I’m proud to be a 4th generation UW grad, following in their footsteps of arts, design and engineering. Growing up, our family spent a lot of time outdoors at our lake property or touring western National Parks. My early influence in design came from my father, who was a Planning Engineer for the Washington State Highways. He laid out the North Cascades Highway and many of the early  roads and bridge systems in western Washington. He always conveyed how important it was to design sensitively and aesthetically with the land. Being artistically inclined I also enjoyed botany. It was my high school science teacher who “planted” the idea that I could combine the two and become a landscape architect.


UWLA: Could you outline your professional journey between graduation and when you retired as a Landscape Architect?

CW: That is a lot of time to cover! In a general sense, coming out of school some grads are more focused on what they want to do but I wanted to start out as more of a generalist. I was fortunate enough to get a term LA position with the NPS in Washington DC. After a year and a half, being young and adventurous, I wanted to experience life in the Southwest. I got a job in the Phoenix, Arizona area with a high-end architecture firm that focused on resort and residential development. As a landscape designer, I worked on the landscape part of the projects -road layout, fountains, entry /planting features but architects drove the projects. It was challenging to learn a completely new plant palette as well as construction standards in a desert region.  After a few months I was asked to join a large engineering firm, Cella Barr & Associates and to help start a landscape architecture department. I went to work for the LA Director, Dan Cleland and wrote RFPS for local municipalities and parks. It was fun, creative work to write design guidelines for small cities looking to enhance their streetscapes and communities.  We grew the LA department as our project load increased on the design of small city and regional parks in the growing Phoenix area. Our firm stressed sustainability and environmentally sensitive design as water resources were limited but there was also the influx of non-native plants that were becoming invasive. After a time though, the career “fork in the road” came as I had an opportunity to join the National Park Service in the New England Regional Office. In this position I had a myriad of projects – from working on a new River Trail designation for Wildcat Brook in NH, to layout of a new visitor contact station in Acadia NP and, working on the rehabilitation of the Statue of Liberty. I was contemplating a graduate degree at the Harvard GSD when I received a call from the NPS in the Office of White House Liaison in Washington, DC to become their lead landscape architect. This would lead to more challenging, high profile work involving multi-million dollar projects. Along the way I also spent a year on a special assignment to the National Endowment for the Arts -Design Grants. I was responsible for reviewing incoming Design Grant applications and assembling the review panels. The Design Arts jurists consisted of well known architects, landscape architects, and artists. It was interesting to listen to their deliberations but it was inspirational to see the variety of extremely creative ideas out there. Wanting to return to the west, I transferred to the main design and contracting office of the National Park Service in Denver. During a reorganization of the entire office, I served temporarily as the Chief of Planning for a 60 staff group of planners, environmental and cultural resource specialists. Being a “bricks and mortar” focused landscape architect, I instilled new planning approaches to our projects to keep the process on schedule and within budget. The American Planning Association awarded us as “Federal Planning Office of the Year.” An important part of my professional career was being actively involved with the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) on a National Level. Along the way, I was fortunate to be a co-Chair of the annual ASLA conference, serve on a National Design Jury with Richard Haag, and promote the work of other public sector landscape architects. In 2002, I was honored to be inducted as an ASLA Fellow – only the 2nd NPS woman to receive that designation but proud to follow some of my previous mentors such as Sally Schauman, Gerry Patton, and John Parsons as public sector LAs who were Fellows.

The latter part of my career, I focused on NYC-based NPS projects in Gateway NRA. The projects varied from the design of a new Environmental Education Center in the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge to historic architectural restoration of the Floyd Bennett Field Ryan Center Airfield (NYC first airport). In my last NPS year, I was working on Hurricane Sandy recovery projects that had destroyed so many park facilities. The NPS was now actively focused on new approaches to storm-resilient planning, design and materials. Looking back, I never doubted my choice to be a landscape architect and working for the NPS 30+ years – each project was different and challenging. My father had supported my decision early on as he felt that doing work for the public good, people would always benefit and get enjoyment from the design of outdoor spaces that are done well.

“As Senior Project Manager for the design & construction of the FDR Memorial in Washington D.C. 1992-1997. Shown here on FDR construction site inspection with Lawrence Halprin and John Parsons 1997.”


UWLA: While you were working for the National Park Service, what kinds of projects and work did you do? I know you mentioned public work but I’m curious what kinds of projects you did while you were there.

CW: Traditionally when people think of the National Park Service, it’s campgrounds, natural features, and trails. In Boston, NYC and Washington DC, my work with the National Park Service involved a variety of urban-oriented projects – from planting plans to historic restorations, and new memorials.

An early pivotal career assignment was becoming the NPS Landscape Architect to the White House. The White House Liaison Office encompasses President’s Park, the White House grounds, parts of The Mall, Lafayette Park adjacent to Pennsylvania Avenue. My first task was to create a new streetscape framework design for President’s Park. At the time, Pennsylvania Avenue Development Corporation was focusing on America’s main street – the core that goes down to the capital. I needed to come up with a design that would unify President’s Park, so you knew when you crossed the street you were entering someplace special. Over the years there were patchwork projects done, but there was little design or cohesion. It was a big challenge but I developed alternatives, did my research and chose the landscape materials. In Washington DC, the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts has review authority over all design aesthetics involving construction projects. It’s an appointed board of design professionals who, at the time, included Jay Carter Brown as the commissioner and a panel of various appointed  artists, landscape architects, architects, urban planners. For a young landscape architect, it could be intimidating to present to this Commission. I had to sell my design to get the approval to proceed but it went well. There were eleven different agencies bordering President’s Park, so I had to get their buy-in and funding to do this project. I completed all of the construction documents (which was still pre-Autocad!), after the multi-million project was contracted, I was responsible for the onsite construction inspection. The stonework specialists were from Portugal and I learned a lot from them about materials. I was able to design street specific details and amenities – from benches to tree grates. Being a Seattle native, I remembered a Kenichi Nakano led tour to a local foundry -Urban Accessories. I invited them to bid on the project for the foundry work. When completed, the overall project won a Washington, DC Innovative Design Award. In the years ahead, I became a senior landscape architect and Project Manager. In all, I had over 50 different projects on the White House grounds. And that was a challenge within itself because politics play an important role. In my tenure, I worked with many of the First Families as it’s their “home” during the respective Presidential term. I was involved with special assignments such as designing a putting green for President Bush, updating and publishing a White House Gardens & Grounds book for President Reagan, re-designing the West Wing Executive entrance, and many “one-of-kind” projects.

One of my first projects, the Chief WH Landscape Gardener Irv Williams asked me to design a screening plant hedge so that First Lady Nancy Reagan could swim in the pool unnoticed from the adjacent building. So, where do you go to find a mature 30 ft tall hedge? We came up with the idea to drive out to the Virginia countryside where many of the farmers have hedgerows. After a time and many miles, we found one that was suitable. Mr. Williams struck a deal with the landowner to remove his entire hedgerow. It was my responsibility to tag each tree sequentially so that the entire hedgerow could be transplanted in the position it had grown. The work involved several tractor trailer loads brought into DC on a quiet Sunday morning. The hedgerow is still there today and was a success.

Another time, I was called over to Franklin Park, which is on an adjacent corner to the White House grounds. I was to meet a Secret Service agent who had an order, “I need a tree planted immediately to block this view directly into the Oval Office as it’s a security issue. And I want it to be a maple tree.” I’m thinking quickly to myself that  it wasn’t best to plant a maple tree in that location as it would impact the historic Olmsted plan.  I had a solution, but I asked him first, “What are you going to do in the winter when there’s no leaves?” He stared at me with a blank look so I said, “May I suggest an upright evergreen close to the gate that would blend in with the design and the landscape?”  And that’s what we did. I had to learn to be very quick on my feet, have knowledge of the historic setting but have a solution to address more modern issues.

“As a National Park Service landscape architect assigned to the White House, I worked with the WH Gardens and Grounds crew on updating seasonal plantings (here outside the Oval Office).”


UWLA: Was that your favorite National Park project?

CW: While working at the White House could be inspiring due to the history, for me, my favorite project was being assigned as Senior Project Manager on the FDR Memorial. Lawrence Halprin was the landscape architect and had been working on it since the early 1950s. There had been several reiterations of designs over the years and ongoing issues. Finally we got to a point where “this is going to happen now.” With Lawrence Halprin leading his design team, I was responsible for coordinating the reviews, sourcing materials and working through the bureaucratic challenges involving a high-profile project. For a landscape architect, this project had everything – beginning with the last design approvals from the Commission of Find Arts on the various sculptures to selecting granite at the quarry and working with the stonemasons on the various finishes. I worked with the sculptors, engravers and other artists through the process to the final placement onsite. We went to an old family nursery in NJ to select mature trees that would need to be triple-laced, ball and burlapped 3 years before installation. Accompanying Lawrence Halprin on these design trips were an insight to how he approached the design process and worked through ideas to perfection. The construction documents numbered over 400 sheets. Finally, being involved with the construction, inspection and ensuring Lawrence Halprin’s vision for this memorial was realized – was a once-in-a-career opportunity. The $52 million dollar project was completed on-time (despite a record cold winter and Government shutdown) and within budget along with zero change orders. Following the ribbon cutting, I, along with the team were presented with the “Federal Award for Design Excellence & Outstanding Achievement” at a White House ceremony by President Clinton.


UWLA: What would you say motivated you to continue your work with the National Park Service? 

CW: It goes back to what my dad instilled in me that working in the public realm is an opportunity where you can do something positive for the entire public to enjoy. What you’re doing has to be very good design because you have the health, safety, and welfare of the entire public. Given the long, rich history of the NPS – it was an honor to be able to continue the long tradition of past landscape architects, and to be involved with so many facets of LA work from historic restorations, new construction and one-of-a-kind memorials. Additionally, it felt professionally satisfying to use my LA skills to work with other allied professionals, through new design challenges related to environmental, social and political issues.


UWLA: What was your favorite aspect of the UW program?  

CW:  Overall I’ve always felt that I received an excellent education. This was especially true when following graduation, I went back east to work. I was surrounded by so many LAs from the bigger, storied and older eastcoast LA programs but felt my education was really well-grounded. The best part though was from the beginning, our Class of ‘83 was truly collaborative and fun. We all supported each other through the entire program. Our professors were varied in their teaching approach but all inspired us to learn. Professors Nakano, Furtado, Buchanan and the Chair of the Department – Sally Schauman were excellent in pushing our knowledge ahead.


UWLA: Is there a mentor who really impacted you while you were at UW?

CW:  I really enjoyed David Streatfield’s Landscape History class which has inspired me throughout my career when working on historic projects. However, my mentor was Sally Schauman. As a student, she was intimidating to us  – she had a powerful presence and would call you out in class. I always felt like I had to be doubly-prepared. Getting ready to graduate, she called me into her office one day. As I was nervously standing there, she shoved a job notice to me and said, “Whipple, apply for this – you’ll be good.” I looked at it and the job was for an NPS position in the Professional Design Services Office in Washington, DC. I thought there would be little chance but I applied. A few weeks later I received a call that I had the job.  Post graduation I was working back east when Sally invited me to lunch while she was in the area. She wanted to check in on how I was doing. I was very nervous but during the lunch, she was very collegial so I asked her about it. Sally said that now that I was a professional colleague she considered me a peer. She would remain a mentor throughout my career and we kept in touch until her passing last year.

For more information about Sally Schauman click here.


UWLA: Did you have any mentors outside of UW? 

CW: As I was preparing to enter the LA program, I wanted to be sure that being a landscape architect was what I really wanted to do. I decided to take a “gap year” and deferred starting to the next year. I got a landscape trainee/intern job with a landscape architect working for the US Forest Service on the Oregon Dunes. It was an awesome opportunity to learn and work alongside him as he was starting an accessible viewing overlook project. He was tough and made me work very hard to learn every aspect of the design and construction process. This experience cemented my decision to get my landscape architecture degree at the UW. It also matured me as a serious student with actual background experience. Throughout my career, I’ve had great landscape architect mentors who were insightful, guiding and supportive. You know you’ve become older when you become a mentor to the younger professionals. A few years after I became an ASLA Fellow, I had mentored a younger highly talented NPS colleague. I submitted her nomination to ASLA and it was gratifying that she, too, was inducted as a Fellow.


UWLA: Did you have any summer internships while you were at UW?

CW: I had a couple of summer internships with the US Forest Service in Washington and Oregon working on various small recreational projects such as picnic sites, interpretive trails and overlooks. The most interesting assignment was to hike the entire trail around Mount Rainier and take photos at a determined distance from the trail. I would map and document as I went along during the 10-day backcountry hike.  The USFS at the time was developing a new computer visual simulation program to aid in decreasing visual impacts from timber harvesting. My photos were scanned into the program and Forest Landscape Architects could adjust boundaries, create tree buffers and minimize views of clearcuts from recreational trails.


UWLA: When you look back at your career, how do you think your time at UW prepared you? 

CW:  Aside from having the excellent faculty and studio experiences, our group projects and collaborative atmosphere gave me the confidence going into my professional career. It was also a learning opportunity to take constructive critiques from professors and colleagues, to improve my thought and design process. On another level, it was fun to submit our individual and group projects for the Washington State ASLA student awards. I learned how valuable having a professional society would help with lifelong learning, professional networking and provide me with an opportunity to advocate for public sector landscape architects.


UWLA: Is there anything you would recommend students and emerging professionals can do to stay involved? 

CW: Depending on what your interest or focus is in landscape architecture, look for opportunities with allied groups or professions. Being involved with volunteer activities can be a great learning and networking opportunity as well. I’ve advocated for students and young professionals to join ASLA – I’ve had  great experiences over the years as a design jury member for various organizations and awards programs. I had just graduated from the UW when I was asked to judge the National Stone Association design awards. Later, the Girl Scouts of America invited me to be on the jury for their national design awards program. Stay involved with the UW program too, whether to be a guest speaker to share your experiences or project work or mentor students. Whatever you do, be an advocate for the profession of landscape architecture!


UWLA: Was there any extra training you did for your career? Or was it mostly the experience that was most helpful for you? 

CW: For me, I was an outdoors kid, and my dad shared his knowledge on how to use tools, how things were built because he was an engineer. For me, construction methods and practices were the most interesting. Kenichi’s studios  were really great as he would take us on field trips to various nurseries and landscape materials manufacturing places. One of the more interesting was to a local foundry to see how they made site furniture, tree grates, benches, and how the whole casting process worked. We had hands-on experience learning about how courtyards are constructed i.e. how to prepare the sub-base, the concrete and what materials work well. The best thing is to have a really open mind for details.

My senior year of spring quarter internship was with Bill Talley who had a practice over on Greenlake and he was serving on the Seattle Design Commission. He was on the Seattle Design Commission at the time and it was really interesting to sit in on these meetings to learn what projects are being developed and the input from the public.

In later years, as my job responsibilities evolved into more Project Management, I took the PMP exam to be certified in that field along with having an LA professional registration and LEED training.


UWLA: It sounds like you’ve had so many accolades and accomplishments that should be celebrated. Are there any that we missed earlier?

CW: I was raised to be humble so I don’t usually talk about awards and such. To me, it’s gratifying to see people enjoy the public places that I’ve had a hand in designing. I’m old enough now that some of my early NPS projects are now the ones being renovated!

As I became involved with ASLA as a volunteer at the chapter level, I found that the private sector had been driving the organization quite a bit. So I really wanted the public sector to be recognized for the valuable contributions we were making to the profession. Even though there were public landscape architects in the past, they were very pivotal.  I led a push for public sector landscape architecture representation at the ASLA Annual Meetings and created educational sessions for public sector LAs at the Federal, local and campus level.

“As landscape architect for the White House, I authored the 1989 White House Gardens and Grounds book for presentation at the end of President Reagan’s term.”


UWLA: Do you have any hopes for the landscape architecture profession? 

CW: I’m very optimistic for the future of our profession. I know that LAs are creative, collaborative and have skill at bringing people together to effect solutions and change. It’s a very dynamic profession and I’m especially encouraged by the growth into the profession.


UWLA: Now that you’re retired, how do you stay involved with the landscape architecture profession and the field of landscape architecture? 

CW: I’ve stayed involved in a variety of ways, by serving on local Park Advisory Commissions, giving presentations to civic groups and by supporting various non-profit Foundations engaged in landscape preservation.


UWLA: What’s next for you? What are you looking forward to?

CW: While it’s a time to reflect, I find myself busier than ever on a wide range of projects. Having worked with the NPS for so many years, I have a great appreciation for archival preservation. I’m working with the Seattle Library Foundation Seattle Collection on transferring a good part of my family’s documents, photos and artifacts dating back to the late 1800s. I’m also restoring an old wooden boat of my dad’s dating back to the 1930s. Most of all, I dedicate a good amount of time to running and cycling as a member of Team USA. I’ve been competing in the sport of Duathlon (run-bike-run) at the World Championships for over 20 years. This past year, I competed in the new sport of Cross Duathlon and won the National and World Championship in my age group.

“For nearly 25 years, I’ve been selected to compete for Team USA at the World Duathlon Championships. I’ve raced in 20 different countries. In 2022, I became the World Champion in Cross Duathlon.”


UWLA: Do you have any last parting words of wisdom for anyone that will be reading this?

CW: Landscape Architecture is one of the most exciting professions to work in! There are endless possibilities to have a positive influence and impact on the world around us. Be confident in what you do. It’s a different place in the profession than when I came through the UW program. You have technology and AI in your design toolbox but don’t let it run your creativity. There’s nothing comparable to a sketch pad to let your ideas and visions play out. Taking a writing class is helpful as it will be essential to be able to clearly narrate and sell your project to those who might not otherwise understand a drawing plan. Critique your work but not to the point where it paralyzes you. Most importantly, have a 5-year plan. Sally Schauman stressed the importance of having a life roadmap as you go through the stages of your career. Where and what do you want to be doing in 5 years? – aspire, focus and grow!