Sasaki is delighted to congratulate Tao Zhang, PLA, LEED AP ND on his promotion to principal. Trained as an ecologist and landscape architect, Tao is active in the arena of ecological design, striving to bridge the gap between practice and science. As well as being mindful and invested in creative expression, he seeks inspiration from science and always roots his design in deep understanding of the project’s socio-ecological system. He believes in designed spaces that are holistic in both aesthetics and functionality. Tao is an integral part of Sasaki's strong international presence and has led and contributed to a number of award winning projects.
Below, Tao shares some thoughts about his practice and philosophy.
Q: Why do you do what you do?
A: I came a long way to finally doing what I do. I enjoy what I do and believe that it makes a meaningful impact on our environment and the society. Landscape architecture is both applied and conceptual. It expresses ideals, and yet must maintain relevance to the general public’s needs. Its outcome shall be socially desirable, yet is obligated to advocate for environmental integrity. It is both an expression of high design and down-to-earth fundamentals (the earth is our media, after all) at the same time.
Q: What are you most excited about in regards to your new role as a principal at Sasaki?
A: I’m thrilled to be able to work with more people internally and externally. My new role inevitably involves more responsibilities as well as opportunities to collaborate with more colleagues and engage with potential and existing clients. I thrive when I learn from people I’m surrounded with. Sasaki is loaded with talented people, many of which I haven’t had a chance to work with yet. I’m also excited about getting to know different aspects of the business that supports our practice.
Q: Who or what has had the greatest influence on your approach to design/planning? In what ways?
A: Again, I thrive most when I learn from my colleagues, clients, or competitors. Over the years, my understanding of design, applied ecology, and social responsibility has evolved tremendously at Sasaki. I attribute this to the people I’ve worked with and projects I have worked on. They range from my mentors to mentees, the projects I’m most proud of and the ones I struggled with. On a theoretical level, my ecological training has the most fundamental influence on my design/planning approach. It’s the bedrock of my practice, and my teammates have become the top soil that enriches my practice.
Tao participates in a Sasaki Urban Studio charrette with designers from various disciplines
Q: Hideo Sasaki once said, "Contribution is the only value." What do you contribute?
A: I contribute free food and bad jokes… just kidding! I contribute both conceptually and in hands-on production, as an organic part of the collective whole. I think Sasaki is different from many of our competitors in that it is more horizontal and democratic. We wouldn’t lose our identity by losing one leader, nor transform overnight by bringing on a new leader, unlike some of the dominant figure-driven firms. We all contribute, and that’s what makes Sasaki’s legacy continue.
Tao and Sasakians celebrate at the Boston Society of Landscape Architects Awards Gala
Q: In retrospect, what advice would you give yourself ten years ago?
A: A novice designer back then, I would have asked myself to read more and be more observant of other emerging designers’ work. It’s common for junior designers to overly focus on their technical capabilities. Those skills are necessity, but it’s not everything you need to succeed.
Q: Where is your favorite place in the world?
A: I’m not a big fan or “your favorite…” questions, as my answers change with different times or circumstances. With that being said, I would say that Patagonia and Yosemite are among the most memorable places I’ve visited. And I would always like to think that my next destination will be my favorite. Normally, natural landscapes awe me the most.
A photo Tao took on a trip to Yosemite
Q: Whom do you admire?
A: I admire qualities more than specific people. Everyone has something that I don’t have, and understanding those differences enables me to learn from them. 2016 was a big revelation of how divided the world can be. As disturbing and frustrating it is for me to accept it, I think we need to learn to live with people who have sometimes radically different opinions than you. So rather than admiring a person, I admire what they bring to the society. A bad person can have shining qualities and a successful person can have some dark thoughts. I think people at Sasaki are awesome, and have many qualities that I admire.
Q: What is something people would be
surprised to know about you?
A: Among many activities that didn’t contribute directly to my career path today, I used to be a music host/DJ at a major radio station in Shanghai, have done music for a theater group in the 90s, and contributed to the column for art and music in a Chinese fashion magazine. People who know me might be surprised that I’m an introvert and need downtime by myself to be rejuvenated. Also, I’m pretty sure I’m the most tattooed principal at Sasaki.
Q: Any fun facts about your frequent international trips? How do you deal with time and geographic difference?
A: Because of the time difference, you can have the day you like twice. For example, I left on New Year’s Eve in Shanghai and landed on New Year’s Eve in Boston. In that same logic, I can prolong my age one day by flying westward to beat my birthday. Jet lags are always tough, but counterintuitively a demanding work schedule is the most helpful way to adjust to the new time zone. The more relaxed I am, the more difficult it is for me to overcome jet lags. I often genuinely suggest colleagues to work hard as a remedy for jet lags. It’s not hard to guess what kind of reactions I would get.
Q: How do you see our practice in China evolving in
A: I see the next decade as a pivotal period for development in China to transition from quantity to quality focused, as the land resource is nearly depleted and the environmental challenges are surmounting. I see a shift of policy to focus on pollution mitigation and environmental health driven by increasing public demand. China just passed the new law in December 2016 to levy environmental tax on pollution, and recently announced an ambitious plan of 360 billion US dollars investment in renewable energy by 2020. These are all good signs for ecological focus and design qualities, areas in which I believe Sasaki excels.