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Profile: Joseph Lalli, FASLA, President and Managing Principal of EDSA

Interview by Leslie McGuire, managing editor




Winner of hundreds of awards for dozens of projects, Joseph Lalli, FASLA, joined EDSA in 1968. Over the years, many projects under his leadership have been recognized by the ASLA National and Florida Chapter, ULI, ARDA and the American Association of Nurserymen including this one--Las Casitas in Fajardo, Puerto Rico (ASLA/Florida Chapter 1997 and ARDA awards, l998). And on top of it all, he is a delightful and accomplished painter.
Images courtesy of EDSA

Teak Warehouse Borgert



No matter where he goes--and he goes to a lot of places--Joe Lalli feels at home. He is the consummate world traveler, and wherever he sets foot, he always brings with him a gift. And it's always the same gift--beauty, artistry and a style which he then turns into a comfortable, exquisite environment that stays behind, even after Lalli has moved on.

"I didn't know much about landscape architecture or architecture, but when I was growing up, I liked to build things--model planes, log cabins, erector sets, anything. I liked putting things together, watching houses and how they went together when they were being built in the neighborhood," says Joseph Lalli. "That was how I was, pretty much throughout my whole life. Both of my parents were immigrants from Italy, and they were interested in plants. My father emphasized going to school because he didn't have much money. He worked hard taking care of 40 acres of gladiolas."






Lalli just returned from China where the firm has several projects being built. "We've been doing a lot of residential design, plus resorts, hotels and some mixed use projects that include office, retail and entertainment." EDSA also created the sustainable development master plan for over 90 percent of the Cross Waters EcoLodge in the Nankung Mountain Reserve in a bamboo forest in South China (ASLA award, 2006). The master plan includes hotels, ecolodge, a wellness spa, visitor/interpretive center, trails and cabins, entry gates, park administrative offices, visitor/interpretive center, local crafts markets and tourism information offices. "The idea," explains Lalli, "was to use a lot of bamboo which is sustainable, plus a lot of recycled materials - brick, recycled roof tiles taken off old buildings, etc."


Received as a Fellow in the American Society of Landscape Architects in 1999, Lalli holds a Master of Landscape Architecture from the University of Michigan and a Bachelor of Science in Landscape Architecture from Cornell University. "I was living at home, ended up at Cornell and that's where I learned and heard more about landscape architecture. I ended up getting a BS degree with emphasis in landscape architecture, but I had taken an awful lot of plant related courses." From those Lalli got even more interested and needed to know more. "I applied to several grad schools, liked the University of Michigan and studied there for three years. "The Landscape Architecture school was in the School of Architecture and Urban Planning, and that's when I started to realize I didn't know much at all," says Lalli. "However, I ended up with outstanding students and faculty which was very lucky."

Even while he was at the University of Michigan, he worked in the summers in an architecture firm in upstate New York, a 50-person firm specializing in educational facilities. "They would send work for us during the year. I learned quite a bit from the people there who were my mentors."






The first work in China began around the year 2000. "There were a lot of questions from the Board, how can we do this? Where will the money come from? I didn't know the answers. So I went to find out. We got a project and then there was another competition, so we decided to try to win that competition as well." For the Four Seasons Garden, Fengpu Industrial Zone, Shanghai, China, EDSA prepared the conceptual master plan and provided full service detailed site planning and design.


After he graduated, the firm wanted him to come back, but Lalli decided that was not a good idea. They were an architecture firm, but he wanted to learn more about landscape architecture. "I was interested in EDSA. I didn't know much about Ed Stone, Jr., but I knew a lot about his father, Edward Durell Stone. I knew it would be a good spot, even though I actually stayed for only a short time. I also wanted to teach for lots of reasons." Lalli had had seven years of school, but he thought if he took a teaching position at West Virginia University he would learn everything even better. "John Miller was one of my students, and he later went on to start the Orlando EDSA office."



"What I have learned is that if you really try you can do anything you want."--Joseph Lalli, FASLA



However, after a short stint teaching, Lalli came back to Florida and started working again with EDSA. He was sent on several different assignments. First, it was to North Carolina working in the field on a job for a few months. Soon he was traveling back and forth to New York, working with Edward Durell Stone in the New York office. "I traveled a lot back and forth every week to New York, and I was still pretty green."

Lalli was then asked to go to Greenville South Carolina and open a new office. "I built that one to up 27 people in a very short amount of time," says Lalli. "Then from there, I was asked to go to Yugoslavia (now Croatia). The project was in Dubrovnik. The contract documents were done in Zagreb with the Yugoslav partner. I basically stayed there for two and a half years, all during the design and construction of a large hotel.






The 112-acre Pepsico corporate campus in Purchase, New York blends the natural beauty of the site with the major building complex. It also features a lake, pools, fountains, and The Donald M. Kendall sculpture garden. "Actually," says Lalli, "even to this day I relate a lot of the principles I learned at Pepsico to other projects as well." Lalli explains further, "One of the principles was about creating good environments and the impact they have on people. The Chairman of the Board would say, 'Ever since we moved from the city to Purchase, New York, we have less absenteeism and way less turnover. People take shorter lunch hours and they are so much more productive.' I attribute that to the environment we had created."







When Lalli came back to Florida, the United States going through a recession. "I would teach at Michigan State when things got slow and then, when things improved, I would come back," says Lalli.

In mid 1980s, Lalli started doing a lot of work in Puerto Rico with the El San Juan Hotel, plus El Conquistador and revitalized both those old hotels. "I was influenced a lot by going to France, and got very interested in the "village style." We also did another project in Puerto Rico called "Las Casitas," a pedestrian village-style project which turned out to be very successful for the owners and for us as well."

After he'd finished the next stint of teaching, Lalli got involved in a project with the world headquarters for Pepsico. That was one of the early projects that had a tremendous influence on what he did. "Actually," says Lalli, "even to this day I relate a lot of the principles I learned at Pepsico to other projects as well. One of the principles was about creating good environments and the impact they have on people."






"I've been interested in art and have collected art for many years, and the design, color, texture, shape, proportion and everything we do has all those elements," explains Lalli, when speaking of his designs. The design for Sandy Lane, on Barbados in the British West Indies, features an exquisite juxtaposition of curves, arcs and circles, in much the same way as Lalli's paintings. (Joseph Lalli, the Artist at the bottom).


He continues, "I started thinking why can't we do that in other places? Live? Play? Work? Create a great environment. I also believe that about our Fort Lauderdale office. The clients just like to come to the building. They feel comfortable."

I always tell that to university administrators," says Lalli. "Running a University is like running a business--they're all in competition for good students. Kids and parents narrow it down to three schools and then the parents drive to the schools to 'take a look.' The parents pick the one that 'feels' right.' They need to see that it's safe and friendly and has a good atmosphere. That is what influences people.

"At Nova South Eastern University, we've helped them shape the environment for the students and the faculty--I also think it's the same way when you go into somebody's house. If you're comfortable, you'll stay - if not, you want to get out of there."






In mid-1980s, Lalli started doing a lot of work in Puerto Rico with the El San Juan Hotel, plus El Conquistador (above) and revitalized both those old hotels. "I was influenced a lot by going to France, and got very interested in the "village style." We also did another project in Puerto Rico called "Las Casitas," a pedestrian village-style project which turned out to be very successful for the owners and for us as well."


Making Yet Another Leap

Another major milestone was about 15 years ago. Lalli was asked to be Managing Principal and the President of EDSA. "Actually, I was kind of scared at the time. The firm wasn't having a good period, business was down and I'd never done that kind of management before. I really questioned whether I would be able do it--but I also had a lot of support. Basically, when I took over, there were 50 people. Today, we have 230 staff in the United States and 120 people in China."

Lalli just got back from Beijing last week. The firm has several projects being built and a great deal of urban work. "We've been doing a lot of residential, resorts, hotels and some mixed use projects that include office, retail and entertainment."

As for why Lalli thinks firms in other countries come to United States firms for development, "There are certain clients who prefer to have the projects done in the United States. They use us because they know the firm name. That way, they get both Asian influence as well as a Western feel and look."






The Las Casitas project (above), winner of ASLA/ Florida Chapter award, 1997) is another example of a strong village style applied to a resort venue--influenced by all Lalli's travels. "Recently I went from Florida to Dubai, then to Abu Dhabi, then back to Dubai, Beijing, Shanghai and Tokyo, and then, finally, back home. Once I start moving," says Lalli, "the travel is good. And, of course, when I get there, I start looking forward to coming back home." That's a lot of travel, but he continues, "The best part is that I've learned so much from so many different people."


Again, EDSA tries to make a place feel comfortable. But that, it appears, requires a lot of travel.

"Once I start moving," says Lalli, "The travel is good. And when I get there, I look forward to coming back home. Recently I went from Florida to Dubai, then to Abu Dhabi, then back to Dubai, Beijing, Shanghai and Tokyo, and then, finally, back home."

He continues, "When I went to Croatia, that was the first time I'd ever left the country--I didn't even have a passport. Ever since, I've been traveling. It's my feeling that if you don't start traveling when you're young, it's too difficult to start when you're older. But, the best part is that I've learned so much from so many different people."






The Four Seasons Garden in China is a 40.5-hectare themed garden integrated with luxury housing and retail. The garden will feature exhibits on related scientific research and education, and is divided into three themed areas highlighting each season. Lalli notes, "We have been affected by the economy, just like everyone else, but because of our diversity we've done well. In addition to China, we're also doing a lot of work in the Middle East. We have actually worked in 64 different countries in the last year."


The Basic Requirement is Art

"I draw, and I paint, and I've always liked to draw, although I was never very successful," Lalli claims. About 15 years ago, his wife gave him, as a Christmas gift, a watercolor workshop course in Maine where they have a summer house. The instructor, Frank Webb, taught him a great deal. So he went back the next year, and then the next year as well. This year will be the 15th or 16th year.

Unfortunately, the woman who organized the workshop was no longer able to continue it. "But we had become close friends with Frank and his wife. Now they come to our house for five days and I invite six or seven people from EDSA to come up and paint for a week. I also have seven or eight other friends from over the years, and they come too."

Lalli and his wife hold the watercolor workshop every summer now. He says, "I learned so much from this, so why not get some other people involved?" This year will be the fourth year for his Studio Workshop. "People get to know each other better, they paint, cook, kayak. I just try to combine all things enjoyable."

"Every summer Jeanne and I go to Italy and we bring our painting stuff and stay at a place for a couple weeks, paint, make some side trips, cook up good food, drink some good wine and have a good time."






"When I assumed responsibility for the South of France project, Pont Royale, it was a milestone project. Eventually we opened an office there as well, but I was traveling back and forth. It was like going on vacation. I couldn't believe I was getting paid for this," says Lalli. Pont Royale is a planned resort community on 447 acres in Aix-en-Provence, (ARDA award winner, 1991). It includes an 18-hole Seve Ballesteros golf course, 11 tennis courts, a health club, lagoon swimming pool, and a village square with shops, boutiques, and restaurants.


And it Still Keeps Getting Better

"There 's a project we're working on in Al Ain. Sometimes you think you've worked on your best project, but this one may be the best yet. We're putting together a wild life park, which consists of three big safaris with mostly desert animals," explains Lalli. "Located in North Africa up through the Middle East and up through Khazakstan, it's a park with safaris, encampments, a hotel, residential shopping and entertainment, plus a large zoo and a huge research center--all in the interest of protecting endangered species."

Says Lalli, "This is a very interesting project and group of people. It's located in a very rugged mountain range that serves as the border between the UAE and Oman. But the project is one that is also very aware and conscious of green design and sustainability. There are lions, giraffes, zebras, elephants and Arabian Oryx. In the zoo, there are other types of animals, too.

"There's a tremendous amount of earthwork involved. We started a year and a half ago, and this phase will open in the first part in 2010. More years are required for the remainder of the phases, which will ultimately cover 2,500 acres. We have a big team working on it in United States, too. They are part of a very large team. Greg Sutton is the project manager and Ed Stone is very much involved and still a big influence."

A Little Luck and a Lot of Talent

Although, clearly there is more to Lalli's talent as a landscape architect, he sees himself as just lucky. "I went to some good schools, met some good people, had encouraging parents, got good help at the office and my assistant Teresa has been a big influence as well," says Lalli. "I've also had good partners. Dave Armbruster, Ed Stone and of course, a lot of support over the years. What I have learned is that if you really try, you can do anything you want."

Able to integrate into other cultures and inspire trust, Joe has become a leader in international design. Artistic pursuits in painting allow him to communicate passion, ideas and concepts in a remarkably visual way. "I've been interested in art and have collected art for many years. The design, color, texture, shape, proportion and everything we do naturally has all those elements." Lalli also, when trying to express ideas to clients, does a lot of watercolors to get the ideas across to people. They do CAD art, but on the other hand, one of the trademarks of EDSA is the wonderful original drawings done by hand. "We certainly have a lot of those," he says with a smile in his voice.

And When All is Said and Done...

Whether sketched on canvas or drawn on paper, Joe Lalli consistently converts magnificent works of art into reality.






Joe Lalli, the Artist

Not only is Joe Lalli a comfortable world traveler, he is also a painter. Oddly enough, before the development and general use of the camera, itinerate painters traveled from town to town, never stopping anywhere for very long, as they plied their trade. Sound familiar?

Images courtesy of Joseph Lalli, FASLA o To see more paintings by Joseph Lalli, go to www.landscapeonline.com/Art-Gallery/book2-Lalli/book1.html






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June 17, 2019, 8:40 am PDT

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