Landscape architect Walter Hood talks about his studio’s culture—and what it means for his diverse architectural and installation projects
Walter Hood, 53, has maintained his West Oakland, Calif., studio for 15 years. “It has these double-wide red doors,” he says. “I was renting in the area for a while, and I used to go by when it was a neon-sign manufacturer, and I was drawn by the doors.” Hod lives in a space above the studio, with no real physical barrier separating home and office. But as early as this summer, Hood’s moving out. The designer is rehabbing a new residence for himself about three miles away from his studio—within biking distance of the University of California at Berkeley, where he is a professor. At the same time, he is expanding his studio. “We’ve always been five people—and that’s five too many,” Hood says. “I’m really intrigued about what happens this summer when I get three times the space.”
Among Hood’s best-known projects is his work for San Francisco’s De Young Museum, where the landscape outside continues into the building, and Oakland’s Splash Pad Park, a former traffic island under I-580. A number of his current projects are planned for the Bay area, including two BART stations (one in West Oakland), the Powell Street Promendade, and a public-art piece in Hunter’s Point. Yet Hood Design’s corner of West Oakland has changed little in 20 years. Gentrification hasn’t yet come to the area, which is largely characterized by single-family dwellings. Its neighbors are “still the drug dealers, the prostitutes, the artists,” he says.
“I notice now with a lot of the newer generation—or maybe I should say with the rise of technology—we’re becoming less present in the work,” Hood says. “The idiosyncracy of the work has almost disappeared because we don’t commit ourselves in the same way.” In part, the lived-in quality of his studio directly reflects the nature of his approach to landscape design. “Maybe I’m just old-school, but I still believe in being present,” he says. “Being able to pick up the phone and call a client instead of email.”
Hood says that one of his ongoing goals is to build what he describes as a “cultural practice”—with a flexibility to respond to the wide variety of projects he takes on. With temporary installations and museum commissions as well as landscape architecture and traditional garden projects in the works, this notion is a moving target. “I think Diller [Scofidio + Renfro] would be one of mychampions who are able to work that magic,” Hood says. “There’s not a lot of landscape firms that can.”