Professionals attend the ASLA Conference on Landscape Architecture for all sorts of reasons. But Christie Passler and Tara Klein, the co-founders of the Houston-based firm 4&1, arrived at this year’s annual meeting and expo in San Diego with a specific purpose in mind: to survey the expo floor for intriguing new products they could introduce to clients in projects they have on the boards. “We don’t want to put things in front of clients if it’s not the right fit for them,” Passler says. “Being prepared with the right type of information is more important than having a fancy brochure or pamphlet.”
For the licensed landscape architects, graduates of Louisiana State University and Texas A&M who established the two-person firm “in a living room in 2014 because the garage is just too hot in Houston in September,” theory is only as important as its application in practice. By understanding the costs and features of what’s trending on the market—from prefabricated self-cleaning washrooms to outdoor musical playground equipment—they can help their clients make informed decisions.
Inspired by travels to Sydney, Australia, and other international locales, the firm is quickly making a name for themselves in the Houston area. They have more than 20 active projects, including community parks, planned neighborhoods, and private ranches.
One of their recently realized efforts, a master plan for Pine Cove Park developed for Northwest Harris County Municipal Utility District #19, is a vivid expression of their interest in the new and novel. Designed in partnership with local architect Natalye Appel, the project is ahead of the curve when it comes to recreational park design. A drone flyover of a 3D mock-up used as a promotional tool to gain community support for the park, shows an expansive site layout featuring a pavilion, playground, ping pong tables, cornhole, foosball, bocce courts, a basketball court, and chess boards. “This is a big thing around here. A lot of older kids don’t want to play on playground equipment. Park users want to see games like bocce; they help bridge the generational gap.”
This summer in north Houston construction will start on the studio’s first inclusive park project. Though specific details are yet to be publicly disclosed, Passler says the project is a big win for the young firm. In fact, their ulterior motive in coming to the ASLA conference was to take a closer look at pieces from Goric’s inclusive line, including the Crazy Maze, an enclosed ball labyrinth awarded at this year’s expo. “We’ve used Goric’s inclusive pieces, like the Sound Column, in the past,” Passler says. “When I saw they were giving away the Crazy Maze, I tore out the advertisement in Landscape Architecture Magazine. I said, ‘we have to win that.’”
And Passler did win, clocking in the competition’s top time of 37 seconds. Planning to incorporate the wheelchair-accessible labyrinth in an upcoming project, she says the piece’s emphasis on hand-eye coordination and mental concentration sets it apart from other playground structures. “There is a huge void when it comes to sensory items. We want all of our parks to be inclusive, with equipment that challenges kids in ways beyond the physical.”
It was a treat to meet Pasler and Klein at the conference, and we can’t wait for the unveiling of their inclusive park. We’ll be back with details soon. Until then, we applaud 4&1 for their efforts to open the possibilities of playgrounds to more users.