The idea behind the Support by Design initiative is to remotely recruit Ukrainian architects who’ve lost their jobs or were forced to leave the country because of the war. Launched in spring by landscape designers SWA in Houston, the scheme is also intended to attract the involvement of other American firms. And to date, eight have joined the initiative. Some of the Ukrainian professionals involved have moved to the West or obtained refugee status in neighboring countries; others have remained in Ukraine, including Alexander Vaschenko of Kyiv landscape architectural company LDesign, who shared his experiences with us.
How did collaboration between LDesign and SWA begin?
"When the war broke out on February 24, we decided to look for work outside the country because everything closed down here in Ukraine. We heard about an initiative called “Hire Ukrainians”[similar to Support by Design], aimed at landscape and other architects. So, I immediately started contacting our colleagues in other countries, writing hundreds of emails a day. After several weeks, I started receiving responses, and the first came from SWA Group in Houston. We arranged a conference call, during which we met, and introduced our team and our portfolio to them. We then started working together".
Do you also work with other studios?
"In the United States, we work with OLIN in Philadelphia and OJB in Boston. Then, last summer we worked on a design competition with German studio Treibhaus Landschaftsarchitektur and won first prize. We’re always on the lookout for new opportunities to collaborate internationally. At the moment, we’re not allowed to leave the country, but one day we hope to visit the construction sites of the projects we’ve collaborated on".
How many people work for you? Are you all still in Kyiv?
"I still do my work at our office in Kyiv, as do most of us. Some of us have left the country, while others returned to their hometowns here in Ukraine. At the moment, we have 15 people in the company, but we intend to get more of our Ukrainian colleagues involved so as to support people who’ve lost their jobs because of the war".
Overall, is working with US firms a positive professional experience?
"This scheme is an important opportunity for us, and I hope it will continue in the future. At LDesign, we’re a team of professionals with considerable expertise and experience that we can make available to our partners abroad. In any case, the way we’re working now is the only way we have to continue working".
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So far, SWA has engaged over 50 Ukrainian designers, while simultaneously holding information sessions for studios that might be interested in the scheme and introducing a database of potential candidates. The Support by Design scheme is supported by the Landscape Architecture Foundation and the American Society of Landscape Architects. To date, the following studios have gotten involved: Olin, OJB, Suisman Urban Design, Ellenzweig Architects, Tanaka Design, Studio TRE, Rafi Segal A + U, and Partners For Architecture.
"Support by Design is an opportunity for the US landscape architecture community to help a few people in a very real and tangible way that will raise their spirits, give them something to focus on other than war, and see firsthand that they are not alone”, explains Kinder Baumgardner, managing principal of SWA Houston. “Their stories are heart wrenching, but they’re ready and willing to work with us and see it as part of the resistance to the invasion of their country".
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