Photo of Martha Keen and Hans Hesselein from Apiary Studio standing behind a podium giving a lecture at NDAL's 2024 Annual Design Symposium. Label on podium reads

Each year the New Directions in the American Landscape’s (NDAL) winter symposium comes at a time when, creatively speaking, I am running on empty. I am sure most can relate – even if working outside of the design profession.

There comes a point when the well is dry, and my focus has narrowed to that which is directly in front of me. And it is easy to exist in this space, running on autopilot. But, if any of you reading this are the slightest bit like me (and it’s safe to assume you are because we are all much more alike than we care to admit!) I need something more to help me refocus on why I do what I do—not just because it informs the end result for our clients or brings me a paycheck. I chose my profession because it informs the threads of my life. I need to constantly weave my life together with the why and for whom of it all because it builds meaning.

And this is why, each January, the Symposium presented by NDAL is a highlight on my calendar. For two days I experience the purpose and talent of speakers from across America and the world. I listen and take notes, flipping pages to write down a thought as speakers respond to something said by another that now informs their presentation. The event is a living, collaborative process in real time.

Photo of a page from the author's notebook with handwritten notes from the NDAL's 2024 annual symposium

While all this year’s speakers shared viewpoints and topics of value, I found the presentation by Hans Hesselein and Martha Keen of Apiary Studio to be particularly interesting. Their work responds to design challenges in a sensitive and innovative way, but also seeks to engage design conversations within a larger framework of sustainability. Their presentation on ‘Recycled Landscapes’ was informative and generous in its content, and many attendees I spoke to were inspired by their presentation to push the limits of the materials we specify, and to reimagine as valuable the remnants of a changing landscape.

The curious mind solves problems, and I almost always finish out the two-day NDAL conference with more questions to ponder and new inspirations to fill the warp and weft of life. And thus begins my year.

See you at the next conference in 2025!