Michael Vergason Landscape Architects, Ltd. is a studio-based practice committed to timeless design and masterful execution. Established in the Washington, D.C. area in 1987 and incorporated in 2004, the firm employs 12 landscape architects and 1 administrative staff. MVLA cultivates a purposefully small corps with a diverse range of backgrounds, including specialisations in fine art, architecture, and arboriculture.
The firm’s range of project types and scales illustrates that critical thinking and innovation are ingrained in their methodology. Their portfolio includes educational and corporate campuses, museums, memorials, UNESCO World Heritage Sites, parks, gardens, and private residences. These undertakings span from several hundred-acre planning studies to detailed designs of private seclusions. Geographically diverse, culturally sensitive, and ecologically conscious, the projects are spread throughout the Mid-Atlantic region and across the United States to international sites of distinction.
Every project is considered with an eye toward proven best practices of landscape stewardship. MVLA believes that successful designed landscapes are not possible without rigorous attention to their sustained performance. The final output, be it an expansive master plan or the realisation of an intimate garden design, is forward-looking and flexible in its details, yet firm in its vision to guide built projects and their maintenance in the future.
Knowing that collaboration is the key to successful design, the team enjoys sharing diagramming, sketching, and visioning exercises with stakeholders throughout the design process to stimulate lively conversation about shared objectives. This dialogue is then polished into clear goals that support a conceptual framework.
MVLA is founded on the belief that landscape architecture is a poetic response to the human need for connection to our world. The firm approaches each project with a creative and rigorous study of the site that exercises respect for its history, culture, and ecology. Using this research, the landscape architects identify ways to marry human use and visitation with the land’s temporal qualities and systems. This process establishes a powerful vision to forge places that rekindle unity with nature.
This family farm straddles a ridge-lined peninsula on the southern coast of Rhode Island. Bound by water and set within the Sakonnet landscape patternings of coastal field, forest, pond, and meadow, this property embodies a modest agrarian character while preserving critical habitat for endangered shorebirds, seaside plants, and wildlife.
MVLA’s work began with a Master Plan that preserves existing site walls and a road as a framework to organise a series of building compounds into the matrix of windswept coastal fields. This approach uncovers and reveals the site’s intimacy without imposing unnecessary design moves between individuals and their setting. Over several years of incremental projects at Goosewing Farm, MVLA has artfully integrated restrained architectural and landscape interventions with existing terrain, creating a lucid structure that illuminates the peninsula’s striking elegance.
The David M. Rubenstein Visitor Center and Smith Education Center prepares guests for a memorable experience at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello. Its 42,000 square foot LEED Gold complex graces a lushly planted central courtyard with views to the native Piedmont woodland beyond. The project’s careful topographic intention is in keeping with the historic character of the place and offers sophisticated design solutions to complex issues. For instance, a greensward manages the site’s stormwater and ties a previously under-recognised African American Burial Ground into the main circulatory system, featuring it sensitively and intimately in the visitor experience. Nearby, a series of terraces allows for reduced architectural footprints. MVLA’s discerning approach to historic landscapes savours restraint and creates numerous moments for thoughtful reflection. The firm’s work at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello provides space for introduction and gathering so that guests can find distance from their 21st century routines before ascending the historic hilltop.
An under-used site is transformed into a new campus gateway that allows the University of Pennsylvania to give back to its city with an elevated public green. MVLA’s distinctive approach to this project explores the interface of communal and private landscapes and employs the firm’s considerable experience with academic design to expand the definition of a traditional campus quad. The result is both destination and thoroughfare, a parklike setting in which to play, study, and sunbathe along the well-travelled passage to the heart of campus. Nestled below this lawn are dining and communal areas that share access to a lushly planted residential courtyard, artfully balancing public and semi-private spaces. The project is rooted in its urban setting, providing numerous moments of fluidity between interior and exterior experiences, as well as opportunities to interface between University life and the city.
Community interaction with water can feel surprisingly limited in the District of Columbia, despite its historic setting along the confluence of two rivers. The opportunity to reunite locals with this resource has been realised by the Southwest Waterfront’s 7th Street Park and Recreation Pier, which draws visitors over and into the Washington Channel. In an intensive, collaborative effort, MVLA developed a playful atmosphere that accommodates a wide range of programming opportunities. The firm’s deftness in defining the interface between city and water speaks to its familiarity with reconnecting people to nature, and the resulting design invites everyone to take part in an accessible experience that follows the rhythmic rise and fall of a rolling current. 7th Street Park and Recreation Pier’s popularity in all weather and seasons is a living demonstration of the dialogues between people, land, and water.
Texans are famous for a charismatic hospitality that blends traditional values with a genuine good time. Fort Worth’s Sundance Square Plaza is a prism for this practice at a large scale, a place where everyone can feel at home. The former parking lots on Main Street welcome thousands of visitors weekly to a dynamic tableau nestled within the rich architectural detailing of the city. Equally welcoming on a peaceful morning or a lively evening, the Plaza’s water and light form the backdrop for public life.
MVLA revels in inclusive, culturally sensitive design, and this project welcomes everyone to enjoy the spirit of its community. Interactive fountains and giant, operable umbrellas provide opportunities to play and relax unlike any other in the surrounding area and complement a diverse community program that revels in everything from daily exercise to festive annual celebrations. Forming one of the safest, cleanest, and most walkable areas in the city, this spirited social hub is known as the Heart of Fort Worth.
Published on December 11, 2019