Cathy Garrett is an award-winning landscape architect with over 30 years of experience in design and management and has successfully led key projects at PGAdesign. Her broad-based experience includes educational facilities, high-density housing, urban/civic spaces and historic preservation projects. As the firm’s Design Director, Cathy works closely with other PGA staff to promote new ideas, approaches, and design alternatives that provide clients with a deeper understanding and value of landscape design and its process.
Cathy’s invaluable skill at maintaining a project’s original vision and integrity in the face of evolving project constraints often provides clients with unexpected, unique, and rewarding options. Whether a project of historic significance, contemporary site design, or a combination of both, Cathy finds inspiration in developing innovative, environmentally responsible landscape design solutions.
What do you do at PGAdesign?
I balance working on projects—new design and cultural landscape work—with helping shape the direction PGAdesign is heading. I encourage and foster innovative design conversations with my co-workers on a project-by-project basis, to bring out the best in staff so we’re stimulated by our work and great concepts are developed into designs.
What do you like about the firm?
I love working with smart people who care about how we live in urban places and how that takes physical form. We get to channel this directly into our designs. It’s a continual thrill to see ideas take physical shape. It also means we get to work on a diversity of projects where innovative contemporary design is as comfortable as rehabilitation of historic properties.
I love that even as we’ve been practicing and, often invisibly, integrating sustainability into projects for decades, clients increasingly want to be explicit about it by wearing it on their sleeve!
I also like that we are a large enough group of people to be able to marshal forces for large projects yet nimble enough to form smaller teams on medium and smaller projects. It gives us an opportunity to completely invest ourselves in our projects, having ongoing and thoroughly enjoyable personal relationships with our teams and clients.
Where did you go to school?
I received my Bachelor of Landscape Architecture from the University of New South Wales in Australia and Master of Landscape Architecture from Cornell University
Anything in particular you remember about your early days in landscape architecture?
Coming from Australia, I was part of the second wave of landscape architects as the field emerged. The old guard, a surprising few, forged the frontier and we took it into wide practice, being inventive and giving it refinement, even humor. Now having practiced in the US for decades, I’m glad to have had that background.
Why did you decide to go into landscape architecture?
I loved the idea of integrating art into places we all inhabit. To do that you need a certain amount of science so it was the balance of art and science that initially lured me. I’d always had an interest in the stories we tell by the way we live our lives. You can see evidence of it in landscapes everywhere and throughout time right up to the present day. This perspective on history seems to weave naturally into the notion of the art-and-science balance of landscape architecture. All that is exhilarating to me.
What do you enjoy doing outside the office?
Looking for mushrooms, hiking, body-surfing, meals with family, travel.
What’s your favorite hiking trail?
Boot Jack trail up Mt. Tam.
What was your favorite book you’ve read lately?
Claudio Magris Danube and Graeme Simsion’s The Rosie Project
What was your favorite recent vacation?
To Istanbul. The layers that greet the senses are as extraordinary and enthralling as the layers of history.