LAF Perspectives: Khyati Saraf
June 28, 2023
Khyati Saraf is a Senior Associate at Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates.
What drew you to landscape architecture?
It began with my training as an architect in India where I was drawn to exploring the built environment through a lens that combined natural, social and cultural landscapes. It helped that in India, architecture is (or at least used to be) intrinsically a social discipline; concerned with social questions and lacking strict sub-disciplinary boundaries. This allowed me to drift towards exploring landscape and ecology as key drivers of design. I also had some fantastic teachers who encouraged my interests that eventually led me to study landscape architecture.
What is driving you professionally right now?
Many things, but omnipresent and in the longer term - Climate, climate, climate! With our unique approach to envisioning unrealized futures by critically grounding ourselves in the environment, I hope landscape architects (and allied disciplines) will be able to rewrite longstanding dogma on patterns of growth and development.
What challenge is landscape architecture allowing you to address right now?
I am currently working on several university projects of varying scales where we have adopted an explicitly landscape-based approach to the growth of these institutions. Universities operate with longer time horizons and our profession is unique in its ability to consider both institutional and environmental histories as integral parts of planning and future proofing. This process has been equally challenging and rewarding.
What challenge would you give emerging leaders?
I would encourage emerging leaders—teachers and practitioners—to expand the field’s pedagogical and practical scope by exploring questions that are not traditionally central to landscape but whose solutions absolutely require consideration of landscape in the broadest sense. For instance, how can landscape architects be part of the solution to rethink the organization of food production? Should we actively work with the shipping and logistics sectors to intervene in the global dredging crisis? How can we contribute to the social, cultural and aesthetic dimensions of the energy transition? These sorts of questions require thinking at many spatial scales and temporal registers and the landscape architect’s perspective can be critical especially in the context of the climate emergency.
Where do you think the profession needs to go from here?
I think the profession should assert itself in order to get a seat at the table. We need to expand our alliances and collaborations - should we be in dialogue with environmental lawyers? Economists? Politicians? High school students?
LAF's Perspectives interview series showcases landscape architects from diverse backgrounds discussing how they came to the profession and where they see it heading. Any opinions expressed in this interview belong solely to the author. Their inclusion in this article does not reflect endorsement by LAF.