With drought, sea level rise, and other challenges, green infrastructure “is going to become more evident in streetscape designs around the city. A large part of it is educating the public about the design intent,” notes Robin Welter, a California licensed landscape architect for San Francisco Public Works. “It’s not just a pretty basin full of flowers. There’s a technical function to these basins. That’s what’s really interesting.” As one of 20 staff landscape architects and designers, Welter designs landscape improvements for urban public spaces, parkways, recreational areas, and city parks with a green infrastructure focus. She says she seeks to alleviate stormwater runoff, “getting it to follow a more natural process to mitigate or minimize the erosion around the city, especially around the coast. We’re finding more beaches are starting to erode away at a much faster rate due to erosion and climate change. As sea levels rise, it’s going to become more of a critical component in every design.” Welter has worked in both the private and public sectors, noting that project sizes and budgets are different. “In the private sector, you tend to get closer to your clients than you do with the public, but you’re also striving for the same design goals,” she says. “In private, you can flex your design skills a little bit more because it isn’t as regulated as it can be in the public sector, but then that’s the fun part of the public sector: the challenge to accomplish that within budget and per code.”
What She Does Day to Day
Welter focuses on different green infrastructure projects in various stages of construction throughout San Francisco. She supervises field contractors to ensure correct installation and does design work in the office. Her design skills include site development, grading and drainage design, landscape design, site planning, and planting design. Project management skills include proposal writing, cost estimation, construction administration, and presentations to design review and planning boards.
What Led Her to This Line of Work
The architecture field appealed to Welter in high school, where she took hand drafting classes. The Montana native says she preferred developing outdoor spaces for people’s enjoyment rather than indoor spaces. She earned a B.S. degree in landscape architecture from Iowa State University. Welter served a design and gardening internship at the Smithsonian Institution, helping to create and maintain public gardens, including butterfly and rose gardens. She then joined a private firm doing architectural rendering and CAD work for a few years when she couldn’t find landscape architecture work. For 16 subsequent years, Welter worked for another company as a project manager, specializing in high-end residential, small boutique, cemetery, and campus projects throughout the San Francisco Bay area. She also served as an appointed landscape architect member of Richmond, CA’s design review board. “It’s interesting being on the other side,” she notes of her board position. “Usually you’re defending your project. On the board, I had an understanding of what the designers needed in order to accomplish their projects and within their budgets. We were dealing with a lot of underserved and historically underrepresented neighborhood groups that want to strengthen their neighborhood and community. However, in many cases, they may not have the extensive budgets that developers in the city typically have. This experience showed itself to be an interesting balance between feasibility and design. It gives you a wider understanding of people, cultures, communities, and their varying needs.”
What She Likes Best About Her Work
Welter says she derives satisfaction when construction of her designs start to come to life and she sees how the public interacts with and enjoys her designs.
Her Greatest Challenge
Fitting green infrastructure into small spaces and being creative about it is her biggest challenge, says Welter. “With the droughts happening more frequently in California, we need to conserve as much water as possible,” she says. “Space is limited, so you have to be more creative to come up with unique design ideas that still function appropriately.”