Meet Rebecca Asser


rebecca asser

Who or what brought you to Civitas? Why did you choose to work here?

In my first semester of grad school at North Carolina State University, Civitas’ Scott Jordan came to visit our program, gave us a tour of NCMA, and spent a considerable amount of time with our studio getting to know our class. His visit made a great impression on me, especially when Scott spoke about Civitas’ company culture. He explained how collaborative the firm was, and that they valued diverse backgrounds in their employees, emphasizing that good ideas come from anywhere. This perspective was incredibly important to me because I was making a major career change as an early elementary school teacher, and I had wondered how that might fit into landscape architecture. I started following Civitas’ work and was impressed by the diversity of projects and the beautiful spaces they created. Coincidentally, my family had recently moved to Denver as well, influencing me even further as to where I might want to live. In my final semester at NC State, Mark Johnson gave a guest lecture and small group roundtable where he discussed the challenges and opportunities facing landscape architects, and most notably shared the work of the design competition at Lake Milada. Gene Bressler, NC State’s former department head, has a close relationship with both Scott and Mark, and happily put me in contact with the two of them. And voila, the rest is history!

How would you describe your personal approach to design?

My design approach is still evolving, and I would say the most important aspects in developing my own personal style are collaboration and deep listening. There is endless information to learn from stakeholders, community members, teammates, and whoever else may be involved in a project. This must all be considered in order to fully understand why people value the spaces we are working on. Through these in-depth conversations, we can assess the pros and cons of the current moment and then dissect how it can evolve to become a place that history acknowledges while making a better future for everyone involved. I joke that we are in the business of making a lot of first pancakes: you’re trying something new and sometimes you make mistakes and have to throw them out and start new, but the fun part about design is learning as you go. Putting that first idea out there makes the rest of them better.

rebecca asser in front of waterfall

What experiences (or people, or places) have had the most influence on you and/or your design approach?

I grew up moving around a lot which was both lucky and challenging as I was exposed to diverse ecosystems and people, from low-lying polders of the Netherlands, to the deserts of Arizona and California. While this might not have had a direct impact on my design approach, it subconsciously has influenced my curiosity on what makes a place unique and why people are drawn to it. I also used to work as an elementary school teacher, and that experience encouraged me to think about how can a space be fun for kids and parents, or how could it be turned into a learning opportunity?

Throughout my time at NC State, I was greatly influenced by the work of the Coastal Dynamics Design Lab. Their thoughtful approach to helping rural communities navigate disaster recovery influences how I might ask questions, or how I approach explaining complex ideas to clients/stakeholders. For two years, I worked with the Lumbee Tribal Council, which is the largest state-recognized tribe east of the Mississippi, where I assisted in creating a vision for Maxton/Hayes Pond in rural North Carolina. The project had a major impact on me as it was so important to the people, history, and ecology and it  will continue to influence how I approach design in the future.

What is your proudest accomplishment so far, either at work or in life in general?

My proudest accomplishment so far has been making a career change from working as an elementary school teacher and transitioning into becoming a landscape architect, which has been a lot of hard work and a major life change. In addition to that, I am also very proud of the recognition I received when I graduated from NC State. I was awarded a Red-Tailed Hawk feather by the Lumbee Tribal Council for the collaborative work on Maxton/Hayes Pond, received the LAF Olmsted Scholar award from the NC State faculty, and was part of the team that won the Student ASLA Award of Excellence in Community Service for our work at Princeville Elementary School. It was a very exciting and overwhelming spring that ended my graduate studies with an incredibly rewarding and positive experience. It helped to reassure me that I was making the right decision in altering my career path.

rebecca asser and parents at graduation

What accomplishments do you hope or aspire to reach in the future?

I would like to continue to grow as a designer and am currently studying for landscape architecture licensure. I want to continue building and honing my skills of how to interpret ecologies, places and people to create vibrant and meaningful places. I am striving to grow as a leader and move into more project management roles, and also making a conscious effort to always stay curious. As far as personal goals go, next summer I am starting sailing classes and I would like to become a certified sailor so that I can eventually rent boats and sail anywhere in the world.

What are your favorite types of design projects to work on, or design challenges to solve?

I am currently on my first planning project where I have found that I thoroughly enjoy conceptualized big picture thinking. On the project, I am challenged to work through complex frameworks and to consider how they might be communicated in a concise and effective way. As I am still relatively new in the field, I’m continuously getting exposed to many different types of projects, so I can’t yet specifically say which one is my favorite. I do find that I enjoy layered projects that aim to address social needs, ecology, and history. I’ve primarily been involved in landscape design projects where I have found that I enjoy trying to understand what makes places special, how design might translate the space’s inherent value, and how to add for the future. I also enjoy researching plants and thinking through how they add visual, cultural, and ecological value to spaces. One of my favorite parts of the creative process is thinking through how cultural and historic influences translate to physical spaces.

What do you do outside of work to have fun, or relax, or learn, or volunteer?

Outside of work, I enjoy spending time with friends and family, and hiking with my dog, a beagle-mix named Chicken. I also have a plot at a community garden that keeps me pretty busy in the spring and summertime, and I really love making recipes from the vegetables I grow. I also really enjoy attending concerts and reading – I am currently in two book clubs so that fills my time.

rebecca asser and her dog chicken

What are you reading or listening to these days?

Some of my favorite books of late are The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zelvin. Lately I’ve been listening to funk/soul/pop music, as well as indie/punk/rock. I listen to everything from Aretha Franklin and Sam Cooke, to The Pretenders and Arctic Monkeys.

What is your favorite food to eat, or recipe to cook?

I think I’m known around the office for my banana bread! I’m not a baker but have that recipe down.

I’ve been making lots of dips lately from the vegetables I grow in my community plot.

Describe one item that you never leave home without.


Random thing on your desk.

I drink a lot of tea, so I usually have a box of tea conveniently on my desk.