Blog post

Landscape Architect Douglas Hoerr on Designing Environments & Experiences



Growing up on a farm in Milford, Indiana, gave Douglas Hoerr the best education in the natural world. Beekeeping also earned him points for bravery (if not patience). Following a decade-long immersion in the professional side of landscape design, Hoerr left for England, where he deepened his craft and learned from revered gardeners like John Brookes and Beth Chatto. He eventually settled in Chicago and established landscape architecture practice, Hoerr Schaudt, with business partner Peter Schaudt (1959-2015).

© Hoerr Schaudt | Scott Shigley Photography

© Hoerr Schaudt | Scott Shigley Photography

The acclaimed studio is known for public and private projects such as Daley Plaza and Soldier Field in Chicago; the Buckhead shopping district in Atlanta; the Shanghai Natural History Museum in China, as well as a host of residences across the country. Forty-five private, public and cultural projects have been collected in Hoerr Schaudt’s first book, Movement and Meaning: The Landscapes of Hoerr Schaudt, which is being released by The Monacelli Press next month.

As we await spring’s arrival, it feels like the perfect time to seek inspiration from a landscaping expert. Here, PAGODA RED speaks to Hoerr about the debut of Hoerr Schaudt’s first volume, and why we’re all looking forward to outdoor living.


Photo: © Hoerr Schaudt | Scott Shigley Photography

PR: Tell us all about your new book. What can we expect from this tome?

DH: There’s been a book in both Peter and me for ages. It was past due, really. When we were approached by Monacelli we decided to move forward. It was lucky we did because sadly Peter Schaudt passed a couple weeks after he was recorded by the writer, Doug Brenner. They discussed and recorded in detail all of the projects he wanted in the book. I know Peter would be proud of this book. On a personal level, I’m pleased with the book because I feel it shows our diverse range of projects and our ability to handle differences of scale, geography, programming needs, and our horticulture expertise.


Photo: © Hoerr Schaudt | Scott Shigley Photography

PR: Why was this the right moment for Hoerr Schaudt to create and launch a book?

DH: We have matured as a firm and have some the best talent in the industry. This book will hopefully give HSLA more visibility, clarify our range of talents, and create even more opportunity for my team.


Michigan Avenue, Chicago Photo: Charlie Simokaitis

PR: Your studio works on such a variety of projects from residential to commercial to civic spaces. Can you share some of your most memorable projects in each category and why. (And we aren’t asking you to play favorites!) We’d love a sense of which projects resonated most with you and why?

DH: I always love the most recent project we just completed. I don’t have favorites because we are fortunate to have great clients who bring us complex and interesting sites, unique programming needs, and fun challenges. We love every scale of project and solving the puzzle in a manner that benefits the clients, the architecture, and the site.

Douglas Hoerr Landscape Architecture, Ball Horticultural Trial Gardens

Ball Horticultural Trial Gardens Photo: Linda Oyama Bryan

PR: Landscape architecture is blend of art and technical prowess. How do you describe what you do as a landscape architect?

DH: We are advocates of the landscape. Just as an architect or interior designer has a unique skill set and is applying them to best serve the clients, we ensure that the landscape is an integral and equally important piece of the equation. So yes—our craft is a blend of art, engineering, and a deep understanding of forces of nature and time.


Photo: © Hoerr Schaudt | Scott Shigley Photography

PR: What is your philosophy for designing outdoor spaces?

DH: We create seamlessly functional spaces that extend outwardly from the built architectural spaces and unite them to the property and with the greater landscape. In our residential designs, we start first by analyzing the needs and manner in which the house functions as a machine for living. We create rooms outdoors that relate in materials, style and scale to the home. As Thomas Church wrote: Gardens are for people. We create gardens that blend function with beauty and delight users.


Photo: Jack Coyier

PR: What are some of recurring questions or requests your residential clients have when engaging you for a project?

DH: Explaining that we are not contractors or nurserymen. We don’t own a fleet of trucks or have trailers of shovels and equipment. Almost always, we need to clarify that we are architects of the land, just as an architect is to the buildings. We need to explain that we make our living by creativity, design, and overseeing the construction process and contractors so that the design is implemented as we all envision. We are our clients’ representatives and look out for them as we would ourselves to maximize the value of their investment and ensure that they are delivered a product of the highest quality.

900 North Michigan, Rooftop Terrace, 7/26/07

900 North Michigan, Rooftop Terrace Photo: © Hoerr Schaudt | Scott Shigley Photography

PR: Gone are the days of the tidy lawn, manicured garden and matching patio set. Homeowners want to live with outdoor spaces that feel personal, visually interesting and unique. How do you create outdoor living areas that express their owners?

DH: Interesting question. It starts by listening and asking questions. We do design ‘with’ our clients—not ‘at’ them. We try to get into their minds and find out what they want for their family and lifestyle, and how they want the landscape to look and feel. We always try to connect them to the cycles of nature and create refuge that create spaces and places for utility, function, and beauty.


Photo: © Hoerr Schaudt | Scott Shigley Photography

PR: One of the themes of PAGODA RED this spring is living in balance with nature. In some cases, outdoor areas can become very decorated and tend to impose creature comforts on the environment. How do you like to create harmony between the natural world and the desire for decoration?

DH: When designed properly, a garden or landscape has a pattern of forms, shapes, and positive and negative spaces that result in a cohesive design, pleasing to view from inside and out, and pleasing to live in as well. We feel that our gardens and landscapes age well and have a timeless quality. The strength of this design approach is not dependent upon decorating to age well. Certainly we decorate our garden just as people decorate their interiors. But relying on decoration only is not enduring. Styles change, evolve, and need to be refreshed. Just as a well-designed home has interior bones that can be decorated with newest fashions, so can a well-designed landscape.


Photo: Henry Joy

PR: Tell us how you like to incorporate art, objects and antiques in your landscape designs?

DH: We try and put ourselves into our clients’ shoes by learning what they like, how they live, and where the primary use areas are. We ask ourselves: once we know the client’s desires, how would we design the property if we lived there? We place objects, sculpture, art, and furniture in ways that can be enjoyed from inside or out. It doesn’t seem right to place a beautiful and loved object in a place that is rarely seen or appreciated.

And having said that, that’s why lighting is so important—it allows us to extend the view, and it functions as outdoor artwork. These are concepts that delight our clients. Sometimes these concepts impact the architecture itself, for example with larger window sizes, sill heights, and enhanced garage facades.


Photo: Henry Joy

PR: For those among us who are not green thumbs, what plants and greenery would you recommend?

DH: All plants are good but not all plants have a place or are hardy or appropriate for your garden. Pick the right plant for the microclimate of your site. Every property has many microclimates such as shade, sun, wet, or dry. Choose plants that like these spots and they will thrive—fighting the site will never be successful in the long run.

Go to your local botanic garden or arboretum and see what grows well where and in harmony with other plants. Study interesting plant combinations in magazines and books. Choose plants first for form, texture, hardiness, and ultimately size. Too often, plants are chosen first for their bloom colors, and that’s where I see much frustration for novice gardeners.


Photo: © Hoerr Schaudt | Scott Shigley Photography

PR: Do you notice trends in landscape architecture and design? If so, what are some of the directions you’ve observed? And if not, what do you believe are the essentials for classical outdoor living space?

DH: Trends are a growing respect for regionalism and the beauty of our natural native landscapes. There is an increased awareness to respect and preserve our planet, allowing good solid design or plans to be dressed up differently based on what plant materials you use. We are seeing a growing attention to non-static plants. There is a greater focus on water conservation and heat islands as well. Sustenance gardens are gaining popularity—people want to grow their own vegetables and seem to enjoy getting their hands dirty.


Photo: Hoerr Schaudt

PR: Where do you find your best design inspiration?

DH: Travel, travel, travel. I am always studying the natural, unique landscapes and horticulture around me no matter where I am, from a countryside to a city center. We design for all conditions and are constantly energized by travel.

For more inspiring words and images, pick up a copy of Movement and Meaning: The Landscapes of Hoerr Schaudt (Monacelli Press, 2017). 

Are you an architect or designer with a story to tell?

Join Our Trade Program

Register with us to receive exclusive discounts and benefits, plus free shipping on your first order. Trade professionals are also eligible for collaborative features on our blog and social media channels. Please note that trade registration with PAGODA RED is only open to interior design and architecture professionals.

Previous Post

Next Post