Inaugural open house looks at landscape architecture pioneer

Tom Berger
Tom Berger, landscape architect and WSU alumnus, shaped his industry with an ecologically sensitive approach. “A good design lives on and has its own life,” he said.

At schools and universities, flagship stores, offices and parks across the Pacific Northwest, landscape architect Tom Berger pioneered ways to blend the natural and urban worlds.

The Washington State University alumnus, who passed away last year, is the focus of “Building Legacies, Designing the Future,” a gallery opening hosted by the WSU School of Design and Construction at 5 p.m. Friday, Oct. 16, at Carpenter Hall.

“Tom led the way for ecologically responsive landscape design,” said Kelly Rench of Berger Partnership, the landscape architecture and urban design firm that Berger founded in Seattle in 1971. “He addressed global warming, water conservation and air quality, while adding open, green space. As our cities become more dense and populous, that space becomes more important.”

Born in 1945, Berger worked at his family’s nursery as a teenager. That experience, and his education at WSU, gave him a lifelong love of the Northwest environment and its native and adaptive plant species. He believed a good design lives on and has its own life—if it has a strong character, it will make its own statement.

The LEED Gold-certified IslandWood education center
Focusing on ecological sensitivity, landscape architect and WSU alumnus Tom Berger designed the LEED Gold-certified IslandWood education center on Bainbridge Island. Berger’s works are the focus of the first “Building Legacies” gallery show and reception at WSU.

Bringing the outside in

Berger shaped the industry with an artistic and innovative approach to design. His notable projects included an outdoor learning center on Bainbridge Island called IslandWood, which received the first LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) Gold certification in Washington. He designed the landscape for the iconic REI flagship store in Seattle, where an emergent forest complete with a biking trail and waterfall forms a dense woodland in the middle of the city.

One of the exhibits at “Building Legacies” looks at Berger’s Viewland Hoffman Receiving Station in Seattle, where he landscaped an industrial substation to make it feel like a public park.

“Tom’s approach looked to architectural elements that could be incorporated into the landscape,” Rench said. “He brought the inside out and the outside in, so that the two worked in harmony.”

Mentoring the next generation

At his firm, Berger encouraged young people to join the industry, supporting scholarships and internships for WSU students. He often welcomed students to visit his office and learn about his firm’s projects, and enjoyed mentoring young professionals, Rench said.

Washington Department of Ecology building entrance.
Designed by Tom Berger (1945-2014), the award-winning entrance to the Washington Department of Ecology offices in Lacey, Wash., mingle natural and urban environments.

Berger’s projects remain important touchstones for WSU students, said Jolie Kaytes, associate professor and head of WSU’s landscape architecture program.

“They learn about Tom’s innovative tactics, which are now expected in the industry,” she said. “Then, they go to places like IslandWood, and see how everything is interrelated. Whether it’s a civic space that’s also green infrastructure or a restored or preserved landscape that responds to the urban fabric, students experience the importance of connecting multiple layers of the landscape.”

Industry reception

“Building Legacies” also looks ahead to the future of the industry. The event includes a reception at the Brelsford WSU Visitor Center where architecture, landscape architecture, interior design and construction management professionals can meet and chat with students. It’s an informal way to share ideas, says Kaytes.

Future gallery events will focus on other disciplines in the School of Design and Construction.

• The School of Design and Construction’s “Building Legacies, Designing the Future” is Friday, Oct. 16. A gallery opening is 5 to 6 p.m. at Carpenter Hall, on the WSU Pullman campus. The event is open to the public. A reception follows at the WSU Visitor Center.


Jolie Kaytes, Landscape Architecture Program Head, School of Design and Construction, (509) 335-7331,

Kelly Rench, Director of Marketing, Berger Partnership, (206) 325-6877 ext. 231,