“I fell in love with landscape architecture; it was the perfect synthesis of everything I was interested in.”
– Chris Hite
Landscape architecture is a compelling blend of science and art. According to Chris Hite and her team at Dix.Hite + Partners, it is the creation of spaces that reflect the character, history and context of a given site, while enhancing human connectivity and experience. It is not only a connection people make to a place, but also to the people, wildlife and activities that are a part of it. Creating these unique, versatile and useable “places” is the company’s overriding goal.
From a shaded tree canopy on a busy boulevard to a green space in an urban center or a land use plan for a large development, the company creates landscapes that enhance people’s experiences and the pleasure they find while immersed in these organic, highly functional works of art.
Hite, the firm’s soft-spoken and thoughtful CEO, appears as comfortable with an artist’s brush as she is with a farmer’s spade or, for that matter, an accountant’s spreadsheet. The company’s charming studio, housed in two Florida vernacular-style buildings in the historic district of Longwood, is a perfect example of her team’s work. The firm’s craftsmanship can also be seen at Pasco County’s Starkey Ranch, recently awarded the Master Planned Community of the Year. Some of the region’s Sun Rail stations, the Welbourne Building in Winter Park, Artisan Park in Celebration and the community of Viera on the Space Coast are other examples in the firm’s portfolio.
Finding the Sweet Spot
“We work on a broad range of project types, from urban infill to master-planned communities, and we’re often asked to establish an overall vision for a project,” said Hite. “It always begins with the site and its purpose. For landscape architects, the soil, topography, open areas and vegetation are the palette and canvas for their endeavors. These elements form the spaces that shape the place, but we also factor in the social, environmental and economic factors that make a successful project. All are included in the overall project design, as well as the colors and architectural features and styles.”
According to Hite, in a perfect world, the architect, civil engineer and landscape architect are a synergistic team in developing the overall plan, as opposed to one discipline following the other.
Drawn to the field because of the combination of elements involved in landscape architecture, Hite originally thought of going into forestry. A career assessment in high school first pointed to the field as a way to blend her artistic talent with her interest in the environment. While studying forestry at Northern Arizona University, she was urged by her mother to look into the landscape architecture program at the University of Georgia. A visit to the UGA campus and time with some of the faculty set her career in motion.
“It always begins with the site and its purpose. For landscape architects, the soil, topography, open areas and vegetation are the palette and canvas for their endeavors.”
– Chris Hite
“I fell in love with landscape architecture; it was the perfect synthesis of everything I was interested in. The art, science and application all appealed to me,” she said. “There are such a variety of opportunities, from bicycle and pedestrian master planning to urban design and even sighting solar farms. It’s a broad profession.”
A Growth Environment
Hite met Jeff Dix at a large firm where they worked together for over seven years. Dix left and started his own company in 1994 and approached Hite about pooling their talents in a partnership about a year later. They, along with Gail O’Connor, partner and CFO, have grown the company to more than 30 employees, doing projects across the entire southeastern United States.
To Hite, the best landscape architects are well rounded and understand the business as well as the art/science involved in creating unique spaces. “We have to understand social science, the environment, economics, real estate development and design. We may also be working on 10 projects simultaneously, which gets us in front of a lot of people,” she explained.
“The best in our field are renaissance individuals. I love creating all the elements, but growing the firm means letting go and giving others opportunities, which I equally enjoy.”
According to Hite, the industry has changed quite a lot over her career. Landscape architects are very conscious of matching the plants they use to the environment in order to ensure a natural appearance and water efficiency. There is also a continual evolution in design style, currently towards a more modern style of clean lines and simple forms. They even utilize patterns in the pavement to draw pedestrians in a particular direction and what she calls, “tasteful and purposeful signage that is informative, but also attractive.”
One of the most important environments for Hite is the one in which she works with her partners and employees. “I enjoy watching our team members find fulfillment in growing their careers, which in turn grows the firm,” she said. “What gives me the most pleasure from a project standpoint is that, at the end of the day, everyone involved is happy, it looks great and those who live there enjoy it. This is my greatest reward.”
The firm’s craftsmanship at Pasco County’s Starkey Ranch was recently awarded the Master Planned Community of the Year