Coen + Partners
Minneapolis and New York
When Shane Coen began Coen + Partners 17 years ago, “landscape architecture had a lost identity,” he said, and to become a landscape designer “was taking a back door to architecture.” From its start, the firm began to reconcile that lost identity with another: suburbia.
“No one has taken on suburbia with the integration of modern architecture. When we took it on, we tried to apply conservation principles. There were some new principles; among those, the most powerful one was that architecture matters, and it matters in a really large way.”
The firm’s inclusion in the traveling exhibition Worlds Away: New Suburban Landscapes demonstrates its commitment to shaping landscape architecture’s future. The show is a collaboration between architects, artists, landscape architects, and others who have done significant work in the suburban realm. Coen emphasized that his own interest is not in exposing suburban communities as inherently bad, but in focusing on their future. “What are we possibly going to do about this endless amount of suburbia we’ve built that’s not going to last? These are structures,” he added, “that aren’t possibly going to stand the test of time.”
The firm’s ideas on planning could be both remedy and revolution for urban and suburban communities. Like many of his contemporaries, Coen’s firm strives to work only on projects that engage them from the beginning in order to have an overall influence on the structure and how it relates to its environment. As lead site designer for the Minnesota cul-de-sac development Jackson Meadow, the firm dedicated 75 percent of the site to open space by positioning homes on only 40 acres. A loop road connects the development’s neighborhoods, and pedestrian corridors surround a central public green. The firm also provides custom site design for each new home in the community.
Through teamwork—the firm collaborated with Salmela Architect on Jackson Meadow, and with Salmela and Altus Architecture on the new Hudson River Valley community Depot Hill—they address “the trend of landscape architecture to overdesign,” said Coen. “Our goal is to create a single statement with the architecture. Everything in the landscape is talking to the architecture.”
As a landscape architect and citizen (not to mention father of two), Coen ultimately bases his firm’s success on its ability to educate others about conscientious residential development. He is disheartened by the lack of architectural education in our public schools, but encouraged by the trend of smaller cities hiring powerhouse architects to design public buildings. “I think we’re in an aesthetic revolution, finally,” he said. “It’s a big battle, but one that more and more people are taking on.”