Thomas & Thomas, Planning, Urban Design & Landscape Architecture has been fostering community-building from its Colorado Springs headquarters for more than three decades.
The small firm was founded in 1984 by Parry Thomas and his wife, Leslie. Some of its earliest clients included the U.S. Air Force Academy and Peterson Air Force Base, where the company conducted facility-wide landscape water conservation studies that resulted in the xeriscape design standards still in use today. The firm also was commissioned to create the existing bicycle and pedestrian master plan at Peterson AFB.
When the couple retired last year, Jim Houk — with the firm since 1997 — became president. He recently wrapped up his first year in the role. He said he strives to continue to create strong partnerships like those maintained since the 1980s.
“The goal is to come into every situation humbly, ask lots of questions, listen and then be committed to a solution that pushes our clients’ ideas or dreams over the finish line each time — big or small, whatever that may be,” he said.
‘Healthy and happy’
According to Houk, the firm’s decades-old business model is not likely to change with him at the wheel.
“One reason we’ve been successful is our diversity,” he said. “We don’t do subdivisions every day. We don’t just do parks. We have a broad mix of [projects]. From oddball branding to our military work, water conservation studies and trail plans — the mix has been important in keeping us healthy and happy.”
Thomas & Thomas’ current clients include Fountain-Fort Carson School District 8, Colorado Springs District 11 and Cheyenne Mountain District 12, several communities’ trail systems, plus new projects at the Air Force Academy, to include a recommendation study for the area around Falcon Stadium.
“We’re part of a team with Merrick Engineering and Sink Combs,” Houk said. “We’re looking at everything from the façade out — the visitor experience, the landscape, site drainage.”
Another Thomas & Thomas project at the Academy is the restoration of the Air Gardens, an architectural piece that includes fountains buried around the cadet terrazzo, with plants and walking paths throughout.
“Merrick is handling the mechanical and structural side, but we’re doing the landscape architecture piece to bring those fountains back,” he said. “We need to unbury them, and that will be big. That project has National Parks recognition and some historic value. It will be fun to bring back to life.”
Other tasks include the launching of a downtown plan for the city of Alamosa and preliminary master planning with South Nevada redevelopment partners in Colorado Springs.
About 90 percent of the firm’s clients come from within the state, while about half those are in Southern Colorado. Houk said there’s also a pretty even split between private and public clientele.
As California goes …
Sometimes the breadth of capabilities provided by firms like his get lost in the “landscape,” Houk said.
“That term takes people in a single direction,” he said. “But in practice, [landscape] is everything from rural wetland studies and restoration to urban design. It’s pretty broad. Everybody asks if we can help them with their yard. Sure, but that’s a fraction of what we can do.”
For instance, the community-planning aspect means focusing more on people and how they’re connected, and less on trees and bushes, Houk said, adding most of his firm’s community planning has involved small populations.
“We’ve really focused on that market,” he said. “I think that’s where we best serve our clients. We never wanted to be the biggest firm in town and I think it’s good to get outside our neighborhoods, to get away from our biases. We live [in Colorado Springs], so we have opinions about how things should be done and maybe that’s not the best when you’re working here too.”
Houk said planning means conserving the history and culture of neighborhoods while connecting them to the surrounding, natural landscape. He pointed to developments in Cherry Creek and Cañon City as examples.
“Cultural resources are important,” he said. “In the ’60s and ’70s, we were putting new façades over great old brick buildings. Today, we’re going back and peeling those façades and preserving the brick and stone.”
Planning methods popular a half-century ago continue to affect communities, he said.
“Today, when we talk about vision or strategy, or zoning codes and traffic decisions, those are based on a suburban model,” Houk said.
“Fifty or 60 years ago, whatever California was doing was copied across the West. At the time, [those practices] were a tool to help planning departments implement what we have today, but they were maybe not the best model for Colorado Springs.”
Houk said the influence is obvious.
“Every community seems to look outward and forget what’s behind them,” he said. “As we push to the outside, the core gets stale. Colorado Springs, in some ways, is lucky our downtown never got really big. We can still get our arms around it, and it’s manageable.”
Thomas & Thomas, Planning, Urban Design & Landscape Architecture
Location: 702 N. Tejon St.
Contact: 719-578-8777; ttplan.net