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Adventures in Landscape Architecture: Bring your Antacid

By Samantha Smith

Todd McCurdy's team purposely created a Jurassic Park-like entrance to capture the awe and wonder of the jungle.

Are you up for Vietnamese weasel stew? How about sliced Chinese pig ears? How about durian fruit? Todd McCurdy is. He's a Principal and Director of Landscape Architecture and Planning for Morris Architects in Orlando, Fla., and he believes that sampling the local cuisine is an important ingredient in his award-winning work. "One of our favorite sayings is 'Go to the site. Eat the food.'

If you don't go there, you can't really understand the surroundings and how your design ideas will relate to the things around it as well as the local culture," McCurdy explains. He takes the responsibility very seriously. No matter how foreign the delicacy is, he savors it.

McCurdy of Morris Architects used Vectorworks Landmark's GIS mapping capabilities to get his head (and his feet) around the 19,000 acre Parque Amazonia Masterplan.
Photo courtesy of Morris Architects

McCurdy cites Morris' immersion in local culture as a significant differentiator.

"We get a large number of big urban design projects because we're willing to go to other places to get work, and we spend a lot of time studying and understanding the area."

The approach is paying off. Morris Architects' attention to all things local attracts global clients. The firm has secured nearly fifty large international projects in the last ten years. They have created plans for Brazil, Central America and the Caribbean, Russia, Greece, China, Vietnam and several countries in the Middle East. Many are mixed-use urban developments, 5-star hotels, resort areas, eco-tourism venues, and entertainment destinations.

The JaiDing New Town Masterplan features the Chinese character for man.

Mapping the Amazon

Their unique mindset landed McCurdy's team in Brazil a few years ago. The challenge? To create an eco-tourism master plan for 19,000 acres of Amazonian rain forest. The project, called Parque Amazonia, is near Belem, in the state of Para, Amazonia, Brazil. Tasked with getting their heads around such a large swath of land, the team turned to VectorWorks Landmark and its GIS tools.

"Parque Amazonia has been a challenging and inspiring project to work on, and VectorWorks Landmark was instrumental in the success of the project," notes McCurdy. He used its GPS reference functionality to download waypoint and track data from a handheld GPS receiver and overlaid them on a digital model with the Vectorworks Digital Terrain Modeler (DTM). "That was priceless information," says McCurdy.

As the team traversed the land several times by foot, boat, helicopter and airplane, they used information from the DTM to verify where on the vast site they actually were. The shape of one of the rivers had changed a bit since the last survey, so Landmark's ability to integrate GPS data kept them on the map.

Including 1.2 billion acres, the Amazon Rainforest is one of the largest and most species-rich tropical rainforests in the world; it is also one of the most endangered. So when the government of Para's development partner recommended a theme park with condominiums and a golf course for the banks of the Guama River, McCurdy and his team decided to ask some questions.

They talked to the people who live there, as well as the government officials, and found they were not comfortable with the developer's direction. So the team switched gears and created an eco-park that would be built on the pillars of ecotourism, sustainability, conservation, and education.

Thirty-two percent of the 19,000-acre site is a former Pirelli rubber plantation from the 1800s, which is where the park would be built. The remainder, 68 percent of the site, is virgin rainforest that has been now protected by a new state law because of the masterplan. McCurdy is very proud of their work.

"We get to save that part forever," he gushes. The plan outlines improvements that create a very limited footprint on the former plantation site while mandating reforestation for additional areas. "We found ways to take advantage of the forest without taking advantage of it," says McCurdy.

As a testament to their great work, he and his team were rewarded with the ASLA 2006 Analysis and Planning Award of Honor.

McCurdy used Vectorworks Landmark's world-class 3D modeling capabilities to make the town of JaiDing come to life.
Photos courtesy of Morris Architects

Gaining Global Ground

McCurdy also led award-winning masterplanning efforts for a 940-acre mixed-use new town near Shanghai; it's called JaiDing New Town. With just one other associate and one and a half week's time, he created a city masterplan, which includes a greenbelt that follows the shape of the Chinese symbol for "man," and is created in natural elements. The interplay has strong symbolic implications for a culture that relies heavily on symbolism.

"Landmark was crucial here; it helped inspire a new way of looking at the land because it helped me to really visualize and understand it; I had a better product in the end," McCurdy said.

McCurdy and his team's planning work has been a critical part of Morris Architects' development success throughout the world. They most recently created a masterplan for the downtown revitalization of the 2026 Niteroi Centro masterplan in Brazil. He also spearheaded the redevelopment of Beihai Silver Beach Resort, a 26-kilometer long beach area along the South China Sea. In the U.S., McCurdy and his team created award-winning landscape architecture design for Universal Studios in Florida. They also designed the Masterplan for Hard Rock Park, the newly opened 135-acre rock n' roll theme park in Myrtle Beach, S.C., that's the first of its kind.

As part of the immersion process, McCurdy savors the local cuisine in Hanoi.
Photo courtesy of Morris Architects

More about Morris Architects

Founded in 1938, Morris Architects employs over 200 architects, landscape architects and designers in Houston, Orlando, Los Angeles, and Rio de Janeiro. They are spread among seven studios, each dedicated to a designated area of focus: civic, corporate, education, entertainment, healthcare, hospitality, and public assembly. Careful development of appropriate aesthetics is a Morris Architects hallmark. Each project design is tailored to its specific site context, with careful integration of regional influence. Morris Architects' innovative approach to design has earned it worldwide recognition and a global following. During the past five years, over $4 billion worth of projects have been completed worldwide.

McCurdy joined the firm in 1997 as their first landscape architect. With 25 years of experience, he has demonstrated considerable expertise in place making, the tourism market, and the field of sustainable design. He helps governments and developers plan, develop, and redevelop new destinations and major urban centers. His team manages all realms of landscape architecture and works on the bulk of Morris' international projects. With such a broad global focus, Todd McCurdy is a landscape architect who isn't afraid to move the design world forward every day. And, he's certainly not afraid to try Thai jellyfish.

(First in a series of two; look in an upcoming issue of LASN to find out how Todd McCurdy made the Gibson Guitar a larger-than-life player in Hard Rock Park.)

Samantha Smith is a freelance writer covering several different industries, including the architectural field.

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November 13, 2019, 7:50 pm PDT

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