July 27, 2020

10 questions with Emeka Nnadi

10 Years at Nadi Design

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To celebrate Nadi Design’s 10-year anniversary, we’ve asked the current staff 10 questions that reflect on their time here and how they see the firm evolving over the next decade. Here are their thoughts (answers have been edited for clarity):

 

1) How has Nadi Design evolved since your days as a sole proprietor?

While in some ways I’m still a ‘sole proprietor’ (100% owner), the firm has grown from one-person to 13 people. It has also expanded geographically from its base in Winnipeg, now including offices in Calgary, Rochester-Hills and Chicago.

The evolution has seen us grow from a ‘general practice’ urban design and landscape architectural practice to one with very specific areas of expertise and target markets throughout Central Canada, the United States, and Mexico. This evolution has even impacted our name and brand: moving forward, we will be referred to as the Nadi Group. In many ways, the firm has truly evolved and ‘grown-up’. I am so very proud.

2) What is the most innovative and exciting Nadi Design project or development that you’ve worked on?

That’s a difficult question to answer. While EVERY project is significant to us, I would say these two projects stand out for me:

99 Red Balloons stands out as an example of Nadi’s ability to deliver out of the box, innovative thinking. It merged cutting-edge photovoltaic nanotechnologies, tried and tested methane harvesting infrastructure, and world-class large-scale land art design to develop an award-winning, futuristic solution for Staten Island’s Fresh Kills Park in New York State.

 

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Bridgwater Neighbourhoods stands out as an example of the firm’s ability to envision, design and manage multiple facets of a ‘complete community’ development over 15 years. Spanning over 1,200 acres, Bridgwater Neighbourhoods boasts innovations such as a carefully crafted mixed-use town centre; expansive naturalized and preserved forests and green spaces; unparalleled multi-purpose, non-vehicular community networks; nostalgic yet forward-focused architectural guidelines; and highly sophisticated fountains, park amenities and playgrounds. These neighbourhoods have raised the bar for sustainable suburban land development in Winnipeg.

 

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3) Nadi Design’s mission is to design for a better world. What is the most memorable and impactful way you have put that mission into practice?

It’s important to be humble here. Our mission IS to design for a better world. However, the word ‘better’ implies incremental, gradual improvement. So the manifestation of the mission occurs gradually, within every project, at the confluence of environmental, economic and social demands.

Just as the ‘impact’ of evolution is delicate, and often imperceptible, we are determined to quietly yet consistently grow and evolve. Our large-scale suburban master plans are fraught with incremental improvements beyond the typical baseline planning; our expertise in community design incorporating manufactured / factory-built homes helps provide affordable housing to millions of North Americans; and our detailed design and technical innovation have created numerous parks, playgrounds and open spaces that are sustainable, inclusive (universally accessible), and resilient. All this is what design for a better world means to us.

4) What makes Nadi Design stand out from its competitors?

Because of how focused and specialized we’ve become, it’s difficult for me to compare us with other firms. We are specifically ‘community’ designers, meaning we work to design areas where the majority of humanity lives, works or plays. We see ourselves as being designers for the ‘masses’. We don’t do what we do for the accolades or prizes. Instead, we do it for the satisfaction of knowing we are improving the quality of life of diverse communities across North America, bringing innovation to the conversation about resilience, affordability and sustainability, while helping our clients achieve a viable return on investment. Because of this, we’ve developed expertise in the design of architecturally ‘underserviced’ communities. This includes Manufactured Home Communities and Recreational Vehicle (RV) Parks, as well as typical suburban, urban and mixed-use communities. In every case, we thoroughly explore best-practices and opportunities to bring innovation to each project.

5) What do you hope to see Nadi Design achieve in the next 10 years?

Over the next decade, we will continue our focus on the design and development of more robust, more resilient and more sustainable communities in North America and globally. The Nadi Group will build on the legacies of our two companies (Nadi Design and Donald C. Westphal Associates) and position ourselves more clearly with one brand. I hope to repeatedly achieve our goal of designing successful community projects. I hope my kids take over and keep this a successful company.

6) What is the most rewarding part of being the chief innovation officer at Nadi Design?

There are two things by far: one, building collaboration and trust with our many clients have been hugely rewarding. Getting to know clients as people, not just ‘cheque books’, and being honest and forthright with clients over the ten-year journey. And two, seeing the team grow, mature, and dig deeper into creative problem solving and innovation. It has been a joy to watch what happens when you plant a ‘dream’, and add some ‘water, fertilizer, and passion’ -- starting a consulting practice, hiring the right team, and collaborating openly, and watching the results!

7) Our cultural landscape has shifted over the past ten years, and that in turn has transformed the landscape of urban planning and architecture. What principles or values have come to the forefront of landscape architecture, urban design or urban planning over the past decade?

Principle #1 - All people are people. The world has truly become a global village, and urban planning, design, and architecture must embrace all levels of inclusivity, dignity, and a more profound sense of ‘humanity’ in our work.

Principle #2 - We survive and thrive, symbiotically. We must take an active (Not Passive) role in the stewardship of our home planet. Our the quality (and survivability) of our environment is in our hands to manage, nurture and enhance.

8) What kind of design trends or new approaches to landscape architecture do you predict will become increasingly popular over the next ten years?

We really don’t look at ‘trends’ or gimmicky new styles in landscape architecture. However, I expect to see a lot of ‘biomimicry’ and an even more in-depth understanding of low impact, ecologically responsible yet high social value landscape architecture and community design. With increasing patterns of mixed-use and a de-centralization of the mega-downtown CBD’s, I imagine development will trend towards smaller-scale, mixed/flexible use space. COVID-19 will also have a lasting effect, with people looking to enhance the quality and resilience of local spaces.

9) Are there any kinds of creative, out-of-the-box projects you hope you’ll get the chance to work on in the coming years?

Over the next few years, we will remain true to our focus and commitment-- innovation in affordable, mixed-use and residential communities (including town centres and complete communities, manufactured housing communities and recreational-vehicle resorts); as well as the high-quality design of outdoor public/community spaces and recreational/ healthy living amenities.

10) What advice do you have for future landscape architects, urban designers or urban planners who are entering the field?

Remember that we are part of a much larger ecosystem. Find areas of focus within the profession that allows you to contribute meaningfully to the overall ecosystem. Enjoy the journey. It’s NOT about the ‘destination’. Remember that great design evolves. It doesn’t just happen overnight. And finally, be kind to others. The world needs humanity, as much now as it ever did.