Part 2 of 2: A Day with Haig Seferian

By Lucas on May 29, 2013

Last week, we shared Part 1 of an exciting two-part series with Landscape Architect and frequent HGTV host Haig Seferian and his right-hand man, Brad Smith. We discussed how Seferian got into the business and the scope of work that Seferian Design offers. In Part 2, we discuss how technology has changed landscape architecture, some of the more ambitious projects that Seferian and his team have taken on, and much more.

NewInHomes (NIH): We have seen a big push in sustainability and technology in recent years. How has this affected your industry?

Haig Seferian (HS): Technology has changed leaps and bounds, technology has changed the world. Everyone has access to it – if you want to learn about design and construction, it’s now at your fingertips. It makes our job just a little bit easier because we get an educated client.

There is no choice anymore. Five years ago, when you heard the word ‘sustainability’ or heard it in the newspaper and heard about the ‘greening of society,’ there was an option then, not so much now. On the condo work that we do now, roof gardens are huge; they bring LEED points for the developer as well. Technology has allowed us to use things like solar panels and roof gardens more efficiently and cost effectively.

NIH: How has your design firm adapted to the quickly evolving technology?

HS: When I graduated, I had never worked on a computer. We were used to hand-sketching things. The new age of students are faster on the keyboard than I ever will be. We have a guy whose job is only 3D elevations. I first saw it when he was re-doing his kitchen, he was playing around with some new software, and it hit me, why can’t we do this in landscape. So many times one can look at a 2D drawing and have no idea what the final product will look like. As soon as you see things in 3D, you instantly get it, you remove any doubts. Also, when you get contractors bidding on the work, there are no shortcuts; this is what it looks like. 3D images have now led us to animation. We have a staff member named Jeff who has started doing walkthroughs – it looks lifelike, better than I ever could have imagined. We actually have the software designers (Google) calling Jeff when there are issues with the program, that’s how advanced he is.

NIH: What type of work does Seferian Design take on? Are you focused mostly on low-rise or high-rise clients?

HS: We cover a number of different areas. There’s residential, commercial, industrial, institutional, environmental. In terms of high-rise, restoration is a key part of what we do. A lot of the buildings that you see, the roof membranes and the parking membranes have a lifespan, anywhere from 30 to 40 years, after which it has to be redone, including the landscaping. We do a lot of that work. We work with developers on new construction, where we can have a bigger impact because they know what we need. We can do a huge roof garden or a large amenity area. We recently put a pool on the ninth floor of Strata in Burlington. We have worked a lot with Molinaro, and are in the middle of a huge one on Fairview Street near the GO Station – five towers and 1,000 units; each roof will have its own garden. Some of the spaces will be limited, so it’s our job to get in there and maximize the space. We are also working with the city to make sure that the courtyards and roofs are done right, to ensure that there is a strong balance between indoor and outdoor space.

haig seferian feature 2

NIH: What are some current trends in landscape design? What are people looking to do with their outside space these days?

HS: I’m not a big fan of trends; trends come and go. I’m a believer of true classical design. We were taught a process: there are fundamentals of design, and if you follow those, you will always get the exact correct solution for your project.

I have noticed a lifestyle change though – people aren’t traveling as much as they used to. We’re not going up north as much as we used to. We are getting a ton of work on bringing that feel to backyards. They don’t want to go north anymore; they want that cottage lifestyle at home. It can be high-end or low-end, but the idea is that we should be able to use our outdoor space 12 months of the year. With planting, every season should have something new going on. It’s easy to make a garden look good in August; anyone can do that. To make it look good every three to four months, that takes some skills.

NIH: Is there one project that you look back at and say, ‘Wow, I can’t believe we pulled this off!’

HS: Honestly, every project has a little bit of that in it. We did one in Burlington on the lake where we had to put in sheet slips and do pile-driving and sheet piling. The guy had two big boats that we had to account for and a 40-foot drop. That was a $2.5-million project. We have had areas where we had to get material up to a roof, but the building was so old, so we had to use a helicopter. For some pools, we have had to use a crane to lift them over homes. I have taken a boulder the size of your car and moved it over a home with a crane. Each project has its own challenges and subtleties.

NIH: Okay, last question: What are the basic principles of a great garden?

HS: Before you even get to design, there are basics – people skip over these things, but you can’t. The fundamentals of design, not landscape design, are made up of principles and elements: form, line, texture, space, composition. These principles are your tools, they allow you to design. The other piece you need is the story. You have to listen to the client. Find out what the space is for, what they want this space to be, what inspires them to create. The key then is to take that story, looking at the site that you’re dealing with, and making that transition, making it look like it belongs here. That’s the only way you can attack a project. It’s the only way. The spaces have to make sense for the clients and the property. You can’t just take that dream and drop it anywhere — it has to be the right space. Every project has to have a story, and you have to show that story the right way.

The team at the Toronto Star’s would like to thank Haig Seferian and Brad Smith of Seferian Design for taking the time to discuss the landscape design industry with us. We look forward to watching some of their future projects come to life.

Sign-up for our Newsletter