Landscape architect John Olson, 32, took advantage of the economic downturn and started his own business. The Nebraska native designed spaces in Colorado and Texas as Olson Planning & Urban Landscapes before merging his business with Denver-based national design firm EV Studio in January. He worked with the firm on several projects and developed a relationship with company’s principles.
What drew you to landscape architecture and what do you love about it?
I enrolled in the College of Architecture, Planning & Design at Kansas State University with intentions of becoming an architect. The first year of the program was an introduction to the encompassed disciplines of architecture, landscape architecture, and interior architecture. We gained a basic introduction of what each of the disciplines involved, as well as the rigorous life of design studio and the all-nighter. Prior to this, I would have made the incorrect assumption that landscape architecture is only about plants. In reality, landscape architecture is better defined as being about the experiences of both the built and the natural environments. I love the multitudes of scales involved and the ability to work across the rural-to-urban transect, or in the most rural of contexts- to the most urban.
Why did you decide to branch out on your own and form your own company?
I am asked this question at least once in any given month, usually accompanied by a look of “are you insane?” The culmination of several events was really serendipitous in the creation of Olson Planning & Urban Landscapes two years ago. The desire to be a business owner was one that I have had since my internship days in Kansas City in 2002. The actual timing was the surprising aspect to me, but it was honestly a result of the poor economy. The poor economy brought tough times for my family. This actually narrowed the odds of failure, making the pursuit of a larger goal more attainable. From my perspective, the worst-case scenario was continuing the existing employee trend hoping that the economy would improve. When it comes to personal finances, I would rather have more of the burden on myself.
What kind of work are you doing now and where?
I have been fortunate to have a contract with the regional leader in sustainability, Sustainable Fort Carson, which helped establish the business roots. I have a great deal of admiration for my past and current Fort Carson family. Aside from Sustainable Fort Carson, we are currently working on an 8-building apartment complex in Colorado Springs, a large residential neighborhood including two parks at Fort Carson, and a few other small projects in Colorado. We are also wrapping up CHOP Village with 22,000 square feet of retail, a large lecture hall and future residential components around a place of worship in central Texas.
How did you end up aligning with EV Studio?
I mentioned the serendipity in the creation of the company earlier. This relationship was certainly a part of it. One of the owners of EVstudio, Sean O’Hara, and I were co-founders of the organization CNU Colorado. Shortly after the establishment of the company, I was speaking to Sean about CNU matters. He happened to need landscape architecture services at that point for a project in Pueblo. EVstudio and I had a great amount of synergy in this project, so we formed an affiliate agreement between our companies. In the fall of 2011, the affiliate agreement evolved into EVstudio Planning, LLC, of which Olson Planning & Urban Landscapes, LLC is the Managing Member. EVstudio is a full service architectural/ engineering company that has managed to double in size in the past two years through creativity and innovation.
How do you hope your company will grow in the coming years?
I am a proponent of EVstudio Planning maintaining the responsive, boutique appeal. I have worked for both large and small companies and believe in customer service first and foremost. The boutique company served this best. EVstudio Planning is set up to support our clients as well as architecture and engineering companies with our landscape architecture and planning expertise, along with the other full palette of disciplines in EVstudio. We can assist other architects and engineers by providing those services that may be missing on a project with a single point of connection. The other component is in collaboration and knowing the strengths and weaknesses of the company. EVstudio Planning participates locally in the Collaborative Design Group, which won a National Planning Award from the AIBD in June for our Catalytic Downtown Castle Rock project. This collaboration, along with the collaboration of other local companies, is imperative to provide the best potential outcomes for our clients.
What unique challenges and advantages do you believe young professionals have in Colorado Springs?
Across the country, we are seeing the power and influence from young professionals and their ability to overcome obstacles that other generations may not be willing to attempt. Through hard-work, transparency, and learning from the past, the tenacity of young professionals are going to capitalize on the amazing natural environment that is at “bicycle’s reach” of Colorado Springs.