Meet Sam Kirchner


sam kirchner

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

I had wanted to live in Colorado and/or Denver since I finished undergrad, but life had other plans, and upon graduation I ended up moving to New York for a job, followed by a period where I lived in Dallas. When I finished graduate school at Michigan, I felt like I had true agency in deciding where I wanted to work and live for the first time in my career. I did weigh other options, but ultimately Civitas offered me the ability to pursue work in urban design, which was the focus of my master’s degree, and continue working in landscape architecture. The reality is that there aren’t many firms out there that will allow someone to work in both of these disciplines, so I’m incredibly grateful that Civitas has given me that opportunity. I really value how open ended the management style is at Civitas and the high level of respect that everyone has for one another in the office. No one holds your hand, and it has really taught me how to excel in the industry and my capabilities.

How would you describe your personal approach to design?

Every project is different and may require a different approach, but my process is always both iterative and collaborative. My first attempt at a design seldom looks much like the final product, but consistent communication with clients and coworkers can help progress the design forward. The collaborative aspect of my approach is informed by a belief that everyone has different strengths and can contribute different parts and pieces to the design. I tend to believe that a good project is not one person’s brainchild – there is a lot of collaboration that goes into any project. It can also be incredibly valuable to ask questions around the office and get different opinions about any aspect of a project, from a preference between shade structures to experience with plant palettes in different parts of the country. The projects we work on are often incredibly complicated, so we shouldn’t limit ourselves by relying solely upon our own experiences and expertise.

sam kirchner

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

The experiences that have influenced me the most have been the various places I have lived since I left Iowa. After growing up in Des Moines and then going to school 45 minutes north of there, my worldview has changed dramatically after various stints living in Rome, New York, Dallas, and even Denver. While I now live in the suburbs out of necessity, living in the downtown environments of major metropolitan areas has given me an urban perspective. Living in these places also gave me a new perspective on different styles of buildings, socio-economic problems, and even opened my eyes to little things that make a large impact such as walkability. While living in these places, I’ve also worked with some incredibly talented designers, including Tom Balsley, as well as a host of fantastic people in Texas. These people have all shaped my process and work ethic.

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

This isn’t so much an accomplishment as much as a decision; when I was working in Dallas, I spent a considerable amount of time working on landscapes in master-planned communities designed primarily for the upper class. Eventually, I realized that I wasn’t fulfilled  working on those kinds of projects, and I started to wonder what I could do to work on more equitable and influential projects. It was this revelation that ultimately led me to pursue graduate school, and has given me a clearer perspective on my values in this industry.

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

Professionally, some short-term goals are to continue learning about the complicated ins-and-outs of urban design, as I still feel like I have a lot of knowledge to gain. I’m also generally trying to get better and more knowledgeable about the things that I do on a regular basis, such as construction administration and knowing how projects are built. Long-term, I would like to continue to grow into a leader, and continue to work on projects that make a positive impact.

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

I like projects that challenge me, and I enjoy thinking through complicated issues, whether they’re physical, social, or a combination of both. Urban design-scale projects tend to be the most challenging to me for a few reasons; for one, they often have a lot of social implications, but they’re also still very new to me, since I haven’t been working on those sorts of projects for nearly as long as I have landscape projects. On the landscape side of things, I love grading challenges – they’re like a puzzle to me. Working on these types of design challenges exercises the two different sides of my brain, where urban design projects can be rather abstract and creative, while grading issues have very concrete solutions. It’s very rewarding to be able to work on both types of projects and enhance my skills as a whole, rather than being pigeonholed into a specialist of one type of project.

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

In the last few years, it seems like all of my free time has gone towards traveling, for one reason or another. Post-covid, I started traveling partly to make up for what felt like lost time, but I also realized that we shouldn’t have to make excuses not to see friends and family with the time that we have.

If I’m not traveling, I like to take advantage of Colorado’s outdoor amenities. I’m not a big winter sports person, but in the summer and shoulder seasons, you can catch me fly fishing pretty frequently.

I have also made running one of my bigger priorities in the last few years, and I have made it a goal to run at least one longer race each year. One perk is that it’s a great way to see a city when I travel.

sam kirchner after a race

What are you reading or listening to these days?

If I’m working, I’m probably listening to music, and I’ve been on an indie country binge for the last month or so. It’s also football season, and I spend way more time than I care to admit listening to podcasts that cover the teams that I follow. I’m also about halfway through A Gentleman in Moscow.

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

Gumbo is one of my favorite things to cook once the weather starts to cool off. My dad is an incredible cook, and he’s been making my family gumbo since I can remember (although we are not aware of any Cajun ancestry). Since I left home, I’ve tried to keep that tradition alive everywhere I’ve lived. If I’m going out to eat, I’m a fan of just about every kind of seafood.

sam kirchner wedding

Describe one item that you never leave home without.

A water bottle. Stay hydrated!

Random thing on your desk

I have a bunch of Russian Sage sitting next to my computer from a site visit where I was ID’ing a bunch of plants. I’m not great with plants, so I trimmed a bit of it to take with me, so that I could hold it up next to images on Google and make sure I knew what I was talking about.