Meet The Civitots: Heath Mizer
Continuing our “Meet the Civitots” series of posts, we’re pleased to introduce you to Heath Mizer who has been creating award winning spaces and places with Civitas for 10 years. Detail oriented and thoughtful, he applies a critical and rigorous design process throughout each project’s lifespan – which is often long in the landscape design industry. Parks throughout the U.S. and Canada, and the people who use them, have benefitted from his patience and talent. So have we.
WHO OR WHAT BROUGHT YOU TO CIVITAS? WHY DID YOU CHOOSE TO WORK HERE?
I’ve often felt like this design profession is made for me, having grown up on a ranch in the Colorado prairie, where I learned the values of hard work and discipline. I enjoy the academic side of the industry, and studied landscape architecture at Colorado State as well as Harvard’s Graduate School of Design, and later taught for several years as a faculty member at U.C.-Denver’s College of Architecture and Planning. While I was teaching, Michelle Delk – then a principal at Civitas – was a guest lecturer in my class. She introduced me to Civitas, where I initially took on contract work to assist with the firm’s work in Stapleton before joining full-time. I continued teaching part-time for six more years, but really cherish the opportunity to design spaces that are built. It becomes addictive to see your work built, used and loved.
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR PERSONAL APPROACH TO DESIGN?
I often use the term “spatial ergonomics” – creating spaces that are beautiful yet that fit your body right, never sacrificing human comfort for the sake of pattern or form. I don’t want spaces to feel overwhelming big and open, nor too small and tight, and I aim for comfortable distances between amenities and furnishings. Scale is everything. I deliberately design places without visual barriers, and am motivated to make everything equally, directly accessible – not separating experiences for different users. I want everyone to feel a welcoming sense of belonging in the public realm that ultimately belongs to them.
WHAT INSPIRES THIS APPROACH?
While I was a student at Colorado State, I studied abroad in Europe, and went back later as an instructor in 2008, 2009 and in 2017 with department head, Brad Goetz. Being able to visit world class, historic places and measure and scrutinize and sketch them has given me a better understanding and appreciation of design strategies. There’s nothing like seeing the forced perspective of Versailles, the brilliant, terraced design at Villa Lante, or the rise-to-run ratio of Rome’s Spanish Steps. My time at Harvard GSD was also a pivotal moment in my career, where I was exposed to so many different design strategies, theory and history.
More significantly, my wife’s brother John Morris is a quadriplegic, and he’s an inspiration in all of my work. Unfortunately, it’s almost impossible to appreciate the value of accessibility in the public realm until you experience it personally, so this motivates me to create better experiences for all.
WHAT KIND OF PROJECTS DO YOU ENJOY WORKING ON MOST OFTEN?
I love being involved in every step of each project I work on, collaborating as part of a team rather than handing things off to others, or working in silos. I want to leverage my abilities to visualize the big picture and understand the small details, and often serve as lead designer or project director. I also love teaching and mentoring younger staff, helping them recognize that design gets better when you have the opportunity to take a project all the way through the implementation process, seeing the details start to finish.
WHAT PROJECTS ARE YOU MOST PROUD OF?
It’s hard to top our work in Stapleton, where we designed dozens of parks at once, adding up to over 400 acres. This effort required a lot of coordination and collaboration, so it was a very intense but fun and fulfilling studio environment. More recently I’ve been leading the design of Block 23 in Calgary’s University District, a 3-acre central park where the buildings merge with the landscape. We’re collaborating with local Calgary-based architect, Gibbs Gage Architects, integrating the landscape with retail and other commercial spaces to create a four-season, outdoor destination that’s currently under construction.
In downtown Columbia, South Carolina, we’re also working on the renovation of Finlay Park, which dates back to the 1800s. We did a master plan for the park several years ago, and recently received approval to move it forward, collaborating with Stantec. There are several topography issues and safety concerns, so it’s an exciting opportunity to improve accessibility to the park’s amenities and address the community concerns.
Closer to home, it’s exciting to be the lead designer on the renovation of Larimer Square, which Civitas designed decades ago. It’s such a prominent part of life in Denver, and was dubbed by Curbed Magazine as one of America’s 11 most beautiful streets, so I’m honored by the opportunity to play a role in its continued evolution.
WHAT ACCOMPLISHMENTS DO YOU ASPIRE TO REACH IN THE FUTURE?
I want to continue designing destination parks, shaping communities and improving daily lives. I thrive on designing under constraints, such as those we’re facing in historic Finlay Park.
HOW WOULD YOUR COWORKERS AND CLIENTS DESCRIBE YOU?
I hope they consider me fun and talented at work, and a good dad when I’m outside of the office. I’m often told that I have the best leftovers for lunch, and that I give good design critique.
I believe that critique is so important yet undervalued in our industry. We have to be able to remove ourselves and our egos from our designs. This makes our work better. I thrive on having design reviews, whether they’re formal pinups or spontaneous desk conversations. To me, more heads in the room make better designs.
WHAT DO YOU ENJOY DOING OUTSIDE OF WORK?
My wife and I have three kids, so we love family activities including our daughters’ swim meets and son’s baseball games, as well as trips to the Zoo, City Park picnics, or Rockies games. We also love to cook and experiment with new recipes – thus those “best leftovers” for lunch in the office. A family-favorite dinner is perfectly grilled steak with garlic mashed potatoes and roasted vegetables.
WHAT ARE YOU READING OR LISTENING TO THESE DAYS?
I recently re-read Animal Farm and 1984 as a way to reflect on current contexts, and that led me to The Gulag Archipelago, based on first-hand accounts of Stalin’s disturbing prisons and labor camps in early 20th century Russia.
DESCRIBE ONE NOTABLE OR INTERESTING ITEM THAT’S CURRENTLY ON YOUR DESK.
I’m a lifelong baseball fan, so my family and I went to Scottsdale, Arizona, for Rockies Spring Training a few years ago. It was scorching hot, so we kept moving, trying to capture the shade of a light pole near the Rockies bullpen. One of the players noticed and threw a few baseballs to our kids – 7 total. And one of those balls still sits on my desk today.
WHAT’S THE ONE THING YOU NEVER LEAVE HOME WITHOUT?
For better or worse, this knot in my shoulder follows me everywhere – likely built up from a combination of stress and hard work. But I also still enjoy taking a sketchbook with me as much as possible.
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Civitas is always looking for talented individuals to join our creative team. If you (or someone you know) is seeking a meaningful career in landscape architecture and urban planning, feel free send your resume to firstname.lastname@example.org. We hope to hear from you!