The Gibbs Spotlight: Matthew Crownover

GCA Communications intern Kali Curtis (K) spoke with Matthew Crownover (C), a Landscape Architecture alumnus here at Gibbs! We sat down with Crownover to learn about how the use of technology and design methods have changed since he graduated.  He received his Bachelor of Environmental Design (2013) and his Master of Landscape Architecture (2017) from the Gibbs College of Architecture. Today, he is a Landscape Designer at GFF. Read on for highlights or click the link below to access the full podcast.

K: Hello everyone, welcome to the Gibbs Spotlight. My name is Kali Curtis and I’m a web development and professional writing intern at the Gibbs College of Architecture. Today we are talking to Matthew Crownover. Matthew Crownover graduated in 2013 with his bachelor’s degree in environmental design, and he graduated in 2017 with his master’s degree in landscape architecture. Currently, he is a landscape designer at GFF. My first question for you today is how have design methods changed since you were a student at Gibbs college?

C: Yeah, well, I graduated about four years ago. So not a whole lot has changed so to say. However, the biggest thing is COVID. Right? That’s changed everything. And a lot of people last year got out, or were forced to get out, and experience the environment in different ways than they were.

So, we, by nature, have had more opportunity now through our more recent projects, and things like that, to really dive into ways in which we can fulfill some of those roles that buildings or places that people weren’t able to go to. In addition to coworking, it’s been very big in the field now working from home. So, we have been very much tasked to provide that more in our recent projects. And it’s something that, this is just the beginning of this experiment, and it’s very much gonna change the way we design going forward.

K: Thank you. How would you say that the use of technology has changed since you were a student? That might be pretty similar to the COVID situation.

C: Yes, certainly, certainly. So, it’s kind of a monster. Because the more technology adept we get, the more things come along. So not too long ago, things like Lumion and other sorts of rendering programs were the top-of-the-line sort of thing. But now you have literally cinematics coming in, you have drone flying, you have all these other things that, you know, these firms and other entities are putting together to show off their projects or to, I guess, market themselves.

And so, it’s becoming more and more tied to cinema, it’s more and more driven by more advanced programs, even though some of the main states are still there. Like it’s becoming a monster in a lot of ways. But it’s really cool. And it’s a unique opportunity to, you know, show things off in a different way, and really a very realistic way.

K: Okay, thanks. How have the changes in technology and design methods affected your own career?

C: Starting at Gibbs in my time at the College of Architecture, one of the things that has been beneficial was that they really gave us a broad palette of things we need to pick up. And so, as things do change, and we’re forced to adapt, such is the nature of technology, I can lean back upon that. And now in my career, I’m ready for that change in a different way. And so, because I had that foundation, because I was able to really develop that and be exposed to a lot of different things.

It really has helped me out now, because even though there are some things that are totally over my head, and I honestly don’t plan on getting into, at the same time, like there’s a lot of things where, you know, I can start picking up because I’ve had that exposure.

Matthew Crownover won the ‘Outstanding Student Project’ award in 2015 from the Oklahoma APA for his work developing a master plan for an orphanage campus in Zambia.

K: Thank you. What would you say is the most valuable thing you learned while you were at Gibbs college?

C: The most valuable thing I’ve learned probably is getting better at collaboration. And honestly, during my time there I took some knocks, and working with others is something that was very much emphasized there. And there’s a library of years there, people to really mimic from and through my time that communication was so important in the field. And building that collaboration ability in my time there really helped me out, especially starting off things as I have.

So, when I look back, like through the processes, through opportunities there, to really work with teams and work with different disciplines and just be around very good role models there. It’s really rubbed off on me and I at least tried to, you know, mimic and instill some of the things, some methods that they used in such situations.

K: Okay, thank you. What thoughts did you have about the field when joining, and then how did those thoughts differ from reality?

C: So, I knew the field was gonna be different. And in a way, we’re like, instead of working with people who are kind of like-minded in classes together and learning the same things, you know, now we put up amongst a lot of people with different interests and things like that. And so, again, communication has been big in that way. And I think that’s probably the biggest curve. Now getting into the field, especially immediately, because there’s a lot of people to build those relationships with.

I think that needs to be emphasized that once you’re on the field, you’re going to have to very much try to understand people and work with people. There’s a little bit of salesmanship going on, but in the same way, sustainability is a big part of what I’ve always wanted to do through school and was very much exposed to quite a bit of that at the College of Architecture. And so, you know, I try to express that to people who may not have that at the forefront of their priorities. It’s been important and being patient with people and building that good communication is so important.

K: Okay. So basically, what you’re saying is that when you joined the field, you learned that you’d have to collaborate with all kinds of different people, and they didn’t have that same background as you.

C: Yeah, yeah definitely. Again, while in school, a lot of people, you know, year-round, were kind of exposed to the same sort of things. And that’s great, but you know, here in the field it took me back. And a little bit about how vitally important it is and being in situations like that. And so, to be able to communicate appropriately, and its confidence and to be honest with people. And, you know, like, people are not always going to give you responses that you want. And so, if you happen to roll with the punches, so to say, I think that’s something that really caught me by surprise, initially, that just, you know, how varied people are within the field.

Matthew Crownover worked on a schematic design at GFF for a new municipal park center in Princeton, TX.

K: Thank you. Do you have an example of a past or current project that you would want to share?

C: Sure. So, I work in the Dallas-Fortworth (DFW) area. And as a lot of people know, DFW is very much growing so fast. And one of the cities that was a small little town not too long ago, is now preparing for a lot of growth. And so, Princeton is northeast of Dallas, and one of the projects they have us working on is a brand-new municipal park center. This park’s going to be their first really big gesture to the community, to open up to active recreation, and its nature and things that produce access to better health options. So, we put this together, and actually, this is currently being built in progress, working on that right now.

But rolling through this real fast, we started off by having a few meetings with the public and getting their ideas and talking with them personally and trying to pick up, like, what is the true identity of this place, which is vitally important. You’ve got surveys that we issued, both online and a physical version in which we were trying to gather data about what people really wanted to get out of the park and really hone in on what the community wants in the future. We put together a number of diagrams just trying to lean down on what is the right approach to this, to just start off the discussion about programming. Eventually, we came to one where it really kind of fit what we’re trying to do.

This is our first site plan for schematic design. Something that’s important about this land is that it was kind of this abandoned cow pasture, very hilly and kind of game home for like contaminants and things like that, just because it’s been neglected for so long. And so, dealing with that was very important for us. In addition, we had some wetlands to work with ARMY corps engineers, which was quite difficult, so, this is definitely a team project. It takes a lot to put this all together. So, I was lucky enough to be part of this one.

K: What would you say is your favorite part of working on that project?

C: I’ve always wanted to sink my teeth into something that you know really meshes sustainability into nature play. And that’s another thing that’s become very prevalent in our field, is that instead of having a structured play as far as like, jungle gyms and things like that, people are trying to get into more natural elements of play, more unstructured play, like having stumps and things where kids can create their own games and adding the educational element into it as well. Being able to be exposed to those sorts of things, especially early on, is something I’ve always wanted to be part of in some way. Like, it’s been really cool.

K: Great. Did you have any other thoughts that you would want to share today?

C: I think the other thing that I definitely learned from being in college there in our projects and things of that nature was the need for balance. Like I mentioned, there’s a lot out there to learn and the technology is growing every single day, it’s kind of daunting, but at the same time, like, being able to find that balance is important.

One of the biggest lessons I learned there is finding that balance and I think for any young designers who are out there, I think that’s incredibly important because you get burnt out if you don’t watch it. But there’s a whole lot of opportunity and definitely sink your teeth in while you’re there.

K: Thank you. So whenever you’re saying that you should find balance, are you meaning like a work-life balance?

C: Work-life balance, yeah, definitely. And, you know, definitely work hard while you’re there. And like I said, be exposed to as much as you can while you’re there. But at the same time, you know, part of being there is to not only, you know, find new ideas and be exposed to things, but also to learn how to manage what an active work situation would be for yourself. And so like, it’s easy to kind of get lost in track of things. And I know especially around the end of the semester, it’s always difficult, but at the same time, like being in school as long as I have, finding that balance is so important. Just take care of yourself, you know what I’m saying.

K: Thank you so much. I really appreciate you coming for the interview and everything.

C: Thank you so much. I look forward to seeing all the rest of the students.

K: Thanks again for listening to the Gibbs Spotlight. Tune in next time to hear more stories from the Gibbs College of Architecture.

Editor’s note: this interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.