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12th Oct 2022

Our People: 5 minutes with Toby Kyle, Associate Director, Grant Associates

Toby Kyle, Associate Director at international landscape architecture practice Grant Associates, has a unique understanding of constructing in remote locations within different environmental, cultural and legal contexts. Engaging with different cultures has enhanced his ability to convey key concepts whilst having empathy with others' needs and viewpoints. This has also enabled him to work across design disciplines, integrating internal and external space to bring added value.

Toby shares his experiences of entering the landscape architecture industry, how his work/life patterns have shifted and evolved during the pandemic, and the trends that lie on the horizon for the profession.

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When and why did you first become interested in landscape architecture?

I was, originally, mainly interested in architecture, but my parents have always enjoyed gardening and being outdoors and this love for nature became instilled in me from a young age; we travelled a lot and enjoyed plenty of walks in the countryside together.

My first real interest in Landscape Architecture developed during my time studying architecture at Bath University. As students, we were always encouraged to think about context within our designs, but I remember one short studio where I considered a pavilion in the landscape, drawing inspiration from landforms and trees, and then another studio, where the building was almost completely hidden under ground.

I guess, from then on, I tended to think differently about buildings and saw them more as elements in the landscape, fully connected with their environmental context. Now, having spent 20 years working on Landscape and Masterplanning projects, I see how this has informed my wider approach.

Architecture has become more of a living entity and landscape has become much more complex and three-dimensional. Much of the understanding that I gained whilst learning to become an architect - including spatial, economic, social, cultural and engineering principles - remains hugely relevant to me as a landscape architect today.

What are you most passionate about?

Wellness is my number one passion; enhancing the wellness of the planet and humans is what drives me forward creatively. As landscape architects, we have both an opportunity and a duty to help address these issues. Many studies now clearly show the economic cost of neglecting wellness, and the COVID pandemic really brought this to mind, front and centre.

I’m deeply passionate about how we can design spaces that encourage and facilitate the wellness of users; spaces that can actively improve health and wellbeing whilst rejuvenating both people and planet.

What projects are you most proud to have worked on, during your time at Grant Associates?

I have been involved in quite a few projects since joining Grant Associates; it’s been such a rich and varied portfolio to work on. Right now, I would say our work on the Grand Hyatt Singapore is a highlight.

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Whilst still under construction, it is a project that I feel brings together my past experience in the hospitality sector with the exciting outlook and values of Grant Associates as a practice. It also strives to address wellness in a number of exciting and innovative ways.

What attracted you to join the team at Grant Associates?

That’s very easy to answer - the practice’s innovation and values. And now, since having come on-board to help lead the Singapore studio team, a real sense of belonging and purpose too.

What does a typical day look like for you?

Here in Singapore, we’ve been required to work from home for nearly two years now due to pandemic restrictions. This has led to us evolving our hybrid working strategy to really look at the purposeful use of the workspace to better encourage innovation and learning. I have a modest stand-up desk set-up at home and our IT team has been amazing at facilitating remote work.

I have the routine of exercise in the mornings, to get outside, get the blood flowing and the mind set for the day. This was especially critical for maintaining positive mental health during lockdown.

Remote working has pushed me to be almost entirely paperless now. I still sketch, but on a tablet, which provides the flexibility to workshop remotely or in person. No day is really the same, but I strive to encourage project teams into the office for round-table workshops. These usually set a key framework for the week, along with other virtual consultant workshops and some in-person presentations.

Travel has also returned and I have made a few trips, but have also used remote working to reduce the number of flights taken. This still enables us to make those personal connections so important for cross-cultural understanding, yet minimises the negative impact of air-travel.

Where do you turn to for creative inspiration?

There is no single place that I find the most creative; I think the key for me is making the time for creative thinking.

It is all too easy to get caught up in daily practical issues, to get busy and just fight fires, but creative thinking for me often happens outside the office, when I consciously take the time to experience the world and its wonders. These experiences allow me to see how people use spaces, how animals and plants inhabit different environments or simply better understand how water, wind, sun, sounds and other sensory things make me feel.

A morning sun-rise run is often great creative thinking time; studies show that exercise helps increase oxygen to the brain and improves brain function. My feeling is the more you experience, the more able you are to understand how to design experiences.

What trends do you see influencing the future of landscape architecture?

I have no doubt that food and water will continue to grow in significance; how we design the landscape to protect, preserve and produce for the future wellbeing of mankind is set to be an even bigger priority than it is today.

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There are many influencing factors on food and water production, and I’m particularly drawn towards urban farming and intentional landscapes.

What advice would you give to someone thinking about a career in landscape architecture?

Do it because you want to make a positive difference; intentional landscape architecture can be a really powerful force for positive change. And don’t give up your other interests in pursuit of this profession; we’re designing for life and to do that well, you need to live life fully.

Lively minds making a liveable world…

Our continued success at Grant Associates is due to the talent and commitment of our multi-skilled team.

The practice currently employs over 70 people, from over 17 countries, across our two design studios in Singapore and Bath. The majority are qualified landscape architects, working together with architects, 3D modellers, BIM and visualisation specialists, horticulturists, designers, IT and other technicians.

We are always interested to hear from talented and enthusiastic people who would like to join our dynamic teams in both offices. Take a look at our latest vacancies and get in touch.