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8 Degrees of Connection [Land8x8 Video]

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What brought you to your profession of landscape architecture? Who encouraged you along your career path? Who has helped you succeed and attain your professional goals? These are among the questions landscape architect Shaney Clemmons, Founder and Principal of Shademaker Studio, considered as she prepared for her presentation at the Land8x8 Lightning Talks in Austin, TX. When asked to present on the topic of “Next Practices in Landscape Architecture”, Clemmons reflected on those people who played a key role in her professional life and used her presentation as an opportunity to share her belief that fostering, appreciating, and maintaining these connections are key to the future of the profession.

Coupling two sociology theories together, six degrees of separation (the theory that any person can be connected to any other person through a chain of acquaintances that has no more than five intermediaries) and the ripple effect (a spreading and usually unintentional effect or influence), Clemmons crafted her own theory: 8 Degrees of Connection. This notion is based on her belief that at least 8 people have played a key role in each of our career paths and brought us to where we are today. During her presentation, Clemmons shared her 8 influencers, how their actions inadvertently affected her career decisions, and how practicing 8 degrees of connection can strengthen the community of landscape architecture.

“It is my belief that the next practices of landscape architecture are rooted in connection, and the simple action that you take tonight can have a ripple effect on our tomorrow.”

What brought you to your profession of landscape architecture? For Clemmons, it was Gene Gibson – extension agent for 4-H at University of Idaho – who introduced her to the term “landscape architect”. Many of my peers came across the profession in college, either by accident or through the advice of faculty advisor. I first learned of the career from a friend whose father owns a residential design-build firm. Whatever brought you to the profession, this introduction to the field is your first influencer. From there, she traced her time at University of Idaho – a campus designed by the Olmsted Brothers – where she learned about Frederick Law Olmsted and her passion for the profession was solidified.

Who encouraged you along your career path? Following graduation, Clemmons entered into her first job at a design firm – an opportunity she received through a connection with a fellow UIdaho alumnae. This connection opened the door to 17 years of practicing landscape architecture in Seattle. Through the ups and downs of her career, the community of landscape architecture was a driving force that kept her moving forward. She found additional encouragement from online resources, such as the Build Blog (or hey, Land8!), where the design community gathers to share information and elevate the profession. This belief that transparency makes everyone stronger led Clemmons to strive for transparency as she developed her own practice 2 years ago.

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Who has helped you succeed and attain your professional goals? As a sole practitioner, much of Clemmons’ work involves collaborating – with architects, builders, clients, and even other landscape architects. Clemmons attributes these relationships to her success. Clemmons’ exercise reinforces the value of cultivating new relationships and appreciating existing ones. Whether through repeat clients or forming new partnerships, connectivity proved to be critical in Clemmons’ professional success.

This theory Clemmons created, 8 Degrees of Connection, highlights the power each of us has and reminds us that even the smallest action that may seem inconsequential to you can have a huge impact on somebody else.So, as we look to the future of landscape architecture, reflect on those who have influenced you, and consider how your actions can influence others. These connections will hopefully lead to a larger, more connected, and more influential community of landscape architects.


This video was filmed on June 25, 2019 in Austin, TX as part of the Land8x8 Lighting Talks sponsored by Anova Furnishings.

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Published in Blog, Cover Story, Featured
Stephanie Marino is a landscape architect practicing at LandDesign in Washington, DC.

1 Comment

  1. A very interesting article! I had some very early influences in my life that led me to my career in Landscape Architecture. My Dad, was a very gifted professional Advertising Artist & Graphic Designer…..Dad was a big influence on my wanting to be a professional designer, when I grew up. I took my 1st Architectural Drafting Course in the 7th Grade (and made an “A”), I really enjoyed the course. Took Drafting again in the 9th, 10th and 12th grades…and took 3 Art courses in Jr. & Sr. High School. So, my teachers even as early as Jr. & Sr. High had a lot of influence on my future design career.

    After 3 semesters studying @ The University of North Texas in Denton, Texas (just North of Dallas)…most of the courses I took were Architectural Design, Graphic Design, Interior Design…along with some basic required courses. Didn’t feel like I was on the correct career path, so, I dropped out & enlisted in the U.S. Navy for 4 yrs…that was in March 1970. I was assigned to be a Yeoman YN2 (the Administrative Assistant to The Air Wing’s Commanding Officer)…working for mostly Naval Fighter Pilots. I was on an Aircraft Carrier….and went to the Mediterranean Sea for (3) 6 month cruises. I had the opportunity on all 3 cruises to have a lot of liberty in Southern European Countries…like Spain, France, Monaco, Italy & Greece. What I SAW and experienced while on liberty were major influences on my eventually deciding to study to be a Landscape Architect.

    Seeing Plazas, Water Features, a wide variety of Plant Materials, various paving materials, Monuments, Italian Villas, iconic structures like the Acropolis and visiting the Vatican, steps/drainage/retaining walls…..and just so many other “design elements” that I know I was exposed to just sort of soaked….without my fully realizing it. After being Honorably Discharged from the U.S. Navy in March 1974…..I think I came to realize that the very foundation of Landscape Architecture was, at least, in part in Europe.

    So, in the Summer of 1974 while looking thru the Texas A&M University Course Catalog…..I came across the “Landscape Architecture” Undergraduate Degree Program. After read the list of the various courses in the design curriculum….I realized, THAT was what I wanted to study….that I wanted to become a professional “Landscape Architect”. My LA Professors @ Texas A&M were definitely a huge influence…..supportive and encouraging me along the way & I have to give a lot credit as well to my ex-wife while @ A&M (she is a very talented Graphic Designer)

    I graduated with a B.S.L.A. degree in Landscape Architecture in May 1977, Worked for (1) year out of college @ Lane L. Marshall’s Office in Sarasota, Florida (Lane was the President of ASLA at that time). In the Fall of 1978, I returned to the Dallas area to design for “Enviro Design” in Dallas (1978 thru Feb. 1991). When I began designing with that firm, their were only (6) of us who were LAs….within the next 8 years, the firm grew to (40) LAs…I was sitting in the #3 spot below the (2) Partners of the firm. I learned so much from the Sr. LAs, the (2) Partners and even from many of the young LAs who joined our firm…..I just became a “sponge” up until early 1991 when I left to establish my own (1) person LA Firm…..which I’ve been doing every since working out of my Home Design Studio.

    I also learned so much working along side Architects, Civil Engineers, Mechanical Engineers, Landscape & Irrigation Contractors…..as well as Pool Contractors. Approx. 600 projects designed later…..I just know I learned much from every project & from all of the various designers also involved with those projects. Somehow, I also managed to squeeze in (4) years worth of “over-time”…so, sometimes it does take “burning the candle on both ends” to meet those deadlines.

    I’m STILL designing, even @ my age, nearly 70 yrs. old…..actually, really never thought I’d be designing anything at this age, but, I just feel I have a continuing creative urge that I need to fulfill. Still having fun! *smile* It’s been a long and amazing journey with no regrets in choosing “Landscape Architecture”.

    J. Robert (Bob) Wainner

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