Photo of Interview with Emily Russell

Recently, Kitsap Culture sat down with Emily Russell, of Emily Russell Landscape Architecture, in her Bremerton office at 245 4th Street, Suite 501. The office overlooks 4th Street in downtown Bremerton, the area slated to become Quincy Square in honor of jazz pianist great, Quincy Jones, who lived part of his young life in Bremerton. Emily’s vision is to problem-solve, improve quality of life, and give back to the community. Her portfolio includes such projects as Rockwell Park in Port Orchard, WA, Marvin Williams Center in Bremerton, WA, and Bay Vista in Bremerton, WA.  Connect with Emily Russell Landscape Architecture at http://russelldesignsource.com/  or on Instagram and Facebook.

Kitsap Culture: You are working on a project that you'll eventually see from your office.  As a Landscape Architect, what are your design methods and aesthetic, and how do they apply to the Quincy Square project?

Emily Russell: In general, I think it’s important to focus on a style that fits well within and enhances a particular site, and its surroundings, while fulfilling the client’s vision and the needs of the site’s users.  I believe the style should morph to accommodate all of these conditions rather than imposing one particular style on any site. The Quincy Square project, in particular, is near and dear to my heart.  

Kitsap Culture: For Quincy Square, specifically, what was your favorite part of that as far as your role is concerned?

Emily Russell: There is history to this project that started with street trees growing along 4th Street. Those trees sparked my volunteer involvement in this project that goes back over four years.  At one time, some local property owners felt the street trees caused the block to feel dark and uninviting, especially at night, and the city considered cutting them down.  Steve Rice, of Rice Fergus Miller (RFM) Architecture, started the conversation about a more holistic solution to urban blight. I love the way the community came together and rallied around this idea of thinking bigger than an ill-conceived quick fix. This is proof that when we have collective passion and a common goal, anything is possible.

Kitsap Culture: Were you involved from that point?

Emily Russell: Yes. About 4 years ago a design charrette was held at RFM that included local government officials, urban planners, architects, local developers, business owners, and other community stakeholders. In smaller groups, we came up with fun, inspired solutions to bring life back to the block. In the perfect central downtown location, what could happen there? Could Bremerton provide housing, bring in businesses, get developers interested? The group brain-stormed a lot of exciting, seemingly pie-in-the-sky ideas that could help shape the pedestrian-oriented space in a unique way.

Kitsap Culture: When the project is completed, what will I see that is Emily's input?

Emily Russell: The keyboard concept that I brought to the design team was sparked by seeing a Stephen Colbert interview with Quincy Jones. Mr. Jones discovered his love of music as a youth in Bremerton. I share the feeling there is a sense of creativity inspired by this city, itself. We have a sort of a grass roots community, very bottom up rather than top down. Bremerton is a place where people have some room to create whatever they want.

Kitsap Culture: When you said "pie-in-the-sky" was there any hesitancy about approaching Quincy Jones because he's such a star?

Emily Russell: I know! It’s an honor and a really big deal that we’ve come this far and that Mr. Jones has shown his support and appreciation for this project. It was important that this public space be about a person significant to Bremerton’s history who hadn’t been honored here before. Someone who had spent time here, felt impacted by this community somehow, and who had something to do with music or the performing arts. The timing worked out that the Colbert interview with Quincy Jones was aired. He told a great story about his time in Bremerton that made a huge impression on me and everything clicked. The keyboard concept began in a simple way, with the idea of an actual piano as public art. The community would have full access to it, the idea being that any kid walking by might stop to play, realize their passion for music in that moment, and potentially become the next Quincy Jones. That notion of opportunity and music legacy has since evolved into an even larger musical opportunity-oriented space. I’ve seen firsthand that possibility is infinite and that is extremely exciting. 

Kitsap Culture: How did you come to have your own business?

Emily Russell: After completing the University of Washington Landscape Architecture Program, I opted to stay in Kitsap and started a landscape architecture department for another local company. In 2009, I had the opportunity to start my own firm while continuing to receive referrals from them.  This may sound strange, but it was exciting to start a business during an economic recession. I learned immediately how to run a company efficiently during a lean time, to provide excellent design and service to the community I love, and we’ve enjoyed staying busy ever since. 

Kitsap Culture: Were you raised in Kitsap?  Are you from Bremerton?

Emily Russell: Yes, I've lived in Bremerton since I was three and love it here.

Kitsap Culture: What trends do you see here in Bremerton and Kitsap regarding Landscape Architecture?

Emily Russell: Going back to the Quincy Square project as an example of the ‘third place’ principle, there is a real need for people to feel a connection to nature, our neighborhoods, and community.  A gathering place that fills the gap between home and work. Whether we fill that void in a quiet backyard garden or in a larger more public plaza setting, this helps us to feel connected and rooted to our environment and community. The ‘third place’ concept is a simple, yet crucial urban planning element in revitalizing our neighborhood cores, parks, and downtowns.

Kitsap Culture: Do you see a design shift here in Bremerton as the community takes more ecological information into consideration of their designs?

Emily Russell: Absolutely. As the public becomes better educated about wild life habitat, climate change, storm water quality, native drought tolerant planting, and subsistence gardening, it helps to inform design aesthetics. As a culture, we are shifting away from the traditional concept of a garden including a large expanse of fertilized lawn and clipped hedges (though they have their place), and thinking differently about conserving water, growing our own food and reducing maintenance.

Kitsap Culture: How long do projects take from first speaking with clients to completion?

Emily Russell: The timeline varies from project to project depending on type and scale. Phases of design on each project are staggered to keep the process moving, and we coordinate with design teams on projects that require permits and public process to consistently meet deadlines. Realistically, a smaller project could be completed in a matter of weeks. Most wrap up within a couple months, versus larger public projects that rely on obtaining state or federal grants that can take a year or more.

Kitsap Culture: What services does your firm provide?

Emily Russell: We offer everything from consulting on site to help solve immediate landscape design and construction issues, to full scale landscape planning for residential, commercial, multi-family residential, parks and campuses, to urban planning and restoration projects from schematic design through construction administration.  Each project comes with its own unique requirements. The process is very flexible, and is fine-tuned based on the needs of each site, its owner, and users.  We enjoy a wide array of project types to keep things interesting and the creative juices flowing!

Kitsap Culture: Do you ever teach or give trainings or workshops? 

Emily Russell: We are always evolving as a firm, and public outreach is a big priority for us and something that we are exploring. If there is a specific need for training or workshops we’d love to hear from folks in our community!  

Photo of Kitsap Culture

About the Author

Kitsap Culture’s focus is to share with you anything of cultural relevance within our beautiful little nook of the Northwest! 

Read more posts from Kitsap