My Kind of Town

Maelo Maldonado works for Chicago-based Hoerr Schaudt Landscape Architects, the recent merger of two nationally recognized design firms. He’s also involved in planning the upcoming ASLA annual meeting, which will visit his city in September. I asked him about both big events.

How long have you been with Doug Hoerr?

Oh, wow. Actually, this is my second tour of duty with him. I started working with him as a summer intern when I was getting my Masters and then left for about a year and a half and then came back. This time around, it’s been about five years that I’ve been back.

So you were there before the merger with Peter Lindsay Schaudt’s office?

Yes, I was.

What was that transition like: two of the top firms in the Chicago area coming together?

Yeah, it actually was pretty interesting. I remember one day Doug gathered all of the staff in the lunchroom here and then he announced that he had decided to partner with Peter. Then, looking back, I kind of remember seeing Peter in the office maybe a year before that and it had struck me as odd. But, you know, in a way, I was totally surprised. A lot of the staff was.

But going through it, we are so focused on the projects that we have that we haven’t stepped back and said “wow, here we are, these two powerhouses getting together,” which actually, if you look at it on paper, it’s pretty awesome. This is a combination of two completely different styles in the same office. It is pretty amazing. And the body of work from both of them is incredible. It’s definitely a great time to be here.

Are you excited about the National ASLA gathering coming to your city?

Yeah, definitely we are. I’m a member of Illinois ASLA’s organizing committee for the convention, and we’re trying hard to improve on the last time the convention was here in Chicago. I was a senior in college then, so I remember it vividly. It wasn’t a very good one. So we’re trying our best to change that memory.

And what kind of things are you trying to do to make it better?

Well, the venue, first of all. The venue that was used the last time — not the best one. [This year’s convention will be held at McCormick Place’s Lakeshore Center, right on the water.] Specifically, I’ve been working on the tours and hopefully that will be a big success. And I’m an overall cheerleader, getting people involved. That’s always the struggle: getting new blood involved.

What do you think are some of the benefits to landscape architects of getting involved in planning an event such as this? What do you tell people when you’re seeking out volunteers, that new blood, if you will?

Well, first of all, networking. You have to know the people that have been around a while to know where you want to go. You have to know what they’re doing so you know what you want to do. You can’t move forward with blinders on. You have to become part of the design society as a whole, and stay connected.

So what should landscape architects who come to town for the convention definitely not miss, design wise?

Oh. Millennium Park, for one. That is a true example of collaboration. It used pretty much every single trade you can imagine: planners, landscape architects, architects, artists. You name it. Also its use of new technology. It’s a must-see. And then of course, [Doug Hoerr’s] project the Michigan Avenue medians.

Also Garfield Park. And the Morton Arboretum Children’s Garden. That’s a good one as well. A lot of good technology and good planning went into that one. And Soldier Field is a must.

And how about outside the design profession?

You mean the tourist traps?

Maybe something out of the way, some of your favorites? How would they get to know the city?

Well, if you’ve never been in the city, the Sears Tower [now called the Willis Tower] is a must. Also head out to the Museum of Science and Industry. There’s always something going on there. It’s kind of on the outskirts of the city towards the south side. A few years back, they redid the grounds and sunk all the parking under ground. It is a good place to go. It doesn’t matter how old you are, you’re going to have fun there.

And the lakefront, you have to check that out. North beach is pretty cool. And also the Chicago Botanic Gardens. People that love nature and get inspired by different types of gardens will surely get a real kick out of that one.

Chicago has this big reputation now for being one of the greenest cities in the country. It’s doing a lot of things with green roofs and planted medians and permeable paving and all that. Why do you think Chicago has gone so green?

The Mayor. That’s easy.

Mayor Daley wants his legacy to be Chicago as a park. It’s even in our city motto, the City in the Park [Urbs in Horto]. And now people are looking to Chicago as an example, as a leader in the green movement. For instance, there are a lot of incentives being given to new construction and renovations to install green roofs on buildings. That alone has helped a lot. If you look at aerial pictures of the city a decade ago and you compare it now, it’s a very striking difference.

To learn more about design in Chicago, look for an upcoming city design profile in Landscape Architecture Magazine’s July issue.

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  1. Maelo, I expect a walrus exhibit up in Chi-town!

  2. Very cool Maelo! You rock! Always admired how involved you are and have been, definitely an inspiration!

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