Aspen has been on my summer travel to do list for the longest time. Fortunately I know a guy who knows who knows a guy that goes by the name of Nick Soho. A celebrated landscape architect in the Aspen scene and an avid surfer, Nick graciously allowed me to pick his brain about all things botanical and then some. Listening to his connection with this place truly inspired me and I can't wait to discover Aspen's natural beauty myself.
iPP: WHAT IS YOUR BACKGROUND AND WHAT LED YOU TO PURSUE LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE?
I was born in New York and moved to Florida when I was 13. We lived close to the beach near Daytona and I spent every chance I could in the water. My grandparents moved down and brought my Uncle's surfboard. It became an obsession. If I wasn't surfing I would cut lawns and do yard work for money to buy new surfboards.
I always thought I was going into architecture since I was a Freshman in High School.
I was in college for architecture at the University of Florida and needed to have an internship so I did in Aspen at my Uncle's firm. I did my normal drafting duties and watched all the designers at their desks. There was one worker who would design half the time and then be in the field the other half. To me that was much better than sitting in a cubicle all day. When I asked what he did that allowed him to be outdoors he replied Landscape Architect. Once I found out that it was design with just different elements, I realized I was changing majors. Having the opportunity to be outside was for me.
"Aspen is a special amalgam, you have the beautiful mountains, great people, and amazing outdoor lifestyle."
IPP: DId YOU HAVE A MENTOR?
I have been with Greg Mozian Associates for 27 years and have had a couple of great mentors.
My Uncle has had an Architecture Firm in Aspen for over 40 years- his name is Bill Poss. He is my first mentor. I had a chance to visit Aspen for the first time when I was 14 and stayed for a month with him. It was great, he lived right above the main stretch of the outdoor mall where all the action happens: restaurants, nightclubs, outdoor performers. Once I saw this I know I wanted to live here some day.
My last mentor is Landscape Architect Laurie Olin. He was awarded the National Medal of Arts by President Obama. I was interviewed by him to work on a large scale project with his company. I worked directly with him on the project and it was great. We talked about design and the environment and being authentic- it was like being with a favorite grandparent. There was no show with him, just total clarity and comprehension of all facets of design. We had a connection too, both starting in architecture. He is how design should be: void of ego and all about quality.
IPP: DESCRIBE COLORADO LANSCAPE IN THREE WORDS
Elevation, Aspect, Genius loci (spirit of the place)
IPP: WHAT ARE YOUR FAVORITE PROJECTS (PRIVATE RESIDENCES, GARDENS, COMMERCIAL, ETC) ?
I like private residences, but in Aspen some residences are 5,000 acres. It is the ability to design a place that has multiple spaces with all different scales that makes it dynamic and interesting.
IPP: WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE THING ABOUT YOUR JOB AND WORKING WITH NATURE?
NS: These are vacation homes for most clients. Working with them on a place where they come to be happy makes the atmosphere a little more casual. My favorite thing about working with nature is that it is always changing and you have to design for the now and for the future.
IPP: What are the biggest challenges in your line of work?
NS: The short growing/ construction season is the most challenging. The frost free growing season is 46 days!
New landscapes really take 3 years to look great. You can have a lot of plants, but new plants look new and there is too much homogeneity of scale. The plants really take on there own character when given time to mature.
36 HOURS in aspen WITH NICK...
DO: RIDE THE GONDOLA ON TOP OF ASPEN MOUNTAIN
IPP: WHAT ADVIcE WOULD YOU GIVE TO AN AMATEUR GARDENER STARTING ON THEIR FIRST GARDEN?
NK: Start simple with clean, bold lines. It will read better and you can always add more later.
I like bold gardens whether it's contrasts of strong colors, textures, and materials. These elements can be in all styles. I don't like gardens that look like the designers shot the plants out of a shotgun and the colors are washed out. It looks like a lot of plants with no direction.
"In nature there is structure and reason."
IPP: HOW DOES SURFING INFLUENCE YOUR WORK?
NK: If you look at surfing there is more than meets the eye. There is wind, water, bottom, contour, tide, and swell. We see someone paddle and stand up and glide down the face- it looks simple.
"Make the complex look simple. "
IPP: FAVORITE PLACE TO SURF...
NK: Namotu Island in Fiji - 2 of the top 10 waves in the world are there. Twenty -four people max on your own island, fresh fish, cold beer and you with razor sharp reefs, sea snakes, and reef sharks and your best friends.
"YOU MUST FLOW WITH NATURE - YOU CAN'T OVERPOWER IT."
iPP: what inspires you when working on a project?
NS: The more the client knows about landscaping the better a project will turn out. I can tell from the beginning that the project is going to be nice or have the potential to be special. I've worked with some clients on projects for over 10 years. Once they [the client] start talking about how much they like landscapes I get stoked.
IPP: WHAT IS YOUR SPIRIT PLANT AND WHY?
NK: Pineapple plant. Ananas comosus, strong plant, low maintenance, and is found around the world in warm climates.