With designs extending nationally and internationally, most of Keiji Asakura’s 38 years of experience in urban design, landscape architecture and planning has been transforming communities and urban spaces throughout Houston. His efforts have successfully spanned a highly diverse range of communities with a focus on historically disadvantaged Hispanic, Asian and African-American urban neighborhoods.
Raised in Tokyo, Japan, until the age of 15, Asakura moved to Los Angeles in 1969 — trading the world’s largest metropolis for America’s largest metropolis. As a newly arrived immigrant with limited English, Los Angeles was a land of abundance, open space, optimism and opportunity for him. In high school, Asakura worked after school at a local nursery and then received his bachelor’s degree in landscape architecture from California State University.
Year founded: 2004
Client mix: 40% municipal, 16% schools and universities, 16% commercial, 12% residential, 16% master plans
Service mix: 84% landscape irrigation, softscape and hardscape designs, design/build; 16% environmental and transportation planning, community redevelopment, economic development and affordable housing
Business motto: Community-inclusive solutions. Community-driven designs.
In 1982 at age 28, Asakura moved to Houston after being asked by his employer, the SWA Group, a multinational landscape architecture, planning and urban design firm, to move to its Houston branch. Then, two years later at the age of 30, he started his own landscaping firm, Asakura Robinson, noted for providing community-driven landscape design solutions and planning leadership.
Over the years living and working in Houston, Asakura has garnered an extensive collection of community service awards, including the 2011 American Society of Landscape Architects’ Distinguished Member Award, the 2009 President Obama’s Call for Service Award and the City of Houston Mayor White’s 2005 Proud Partner Award for Distinguished Service.
As an active board member of Keep Houston Beautiful for 16 years, Asakura has dedicated thousands of volunteer hours to beautifying Houston neighborhoods. In the capacity of an urban planner, Asakura was appointed in 2010 by Houston Mayor Annise Parker to be a member of Houston’s Planning Commission. His accomplishments have been more than hands-on, working with the Public Works Department to develop the Adopt-a-Ditch program and later updating the Adopt-an-Esplanade program, both programs focusing on improved water quality in Houston.
Asakura reaches out to underserved neighborhoods through program development with organizations such as LISC’s Go-Neighborhood program; Houston Endowment’s NEA Placemaking grant; Texas A&M’s Coastal Citizen Planner Program; USGBC Galveston’s Hurricane Ike Recovery Initiative; Better Block Houston; Collaborative for Children’s Nature Play Initiative; and Neighborhood Centers Inc.
Proudest moment in the landscape business: Being selected as a fellow of the American Society of Landscape Architects – Texas Chapter. Fellowship is the highest honor one can achieve in the landscape architecture industry. I was pleased to be recognized by my peers, colleagues and community.
Biggest business challenge: Executing our brand throughout our work. It is important that we not only recognize our core values but implement them in every project we do.
Best sources of landscape design/build inspiration: We draw inspiration from the communities that will influence and experience our designs.
Favorite plant or plant combination: Native plants for their sustainable factors and ecological benefits. I’m also drawn to edible plants because they are a tangible, healthy and affordable resource for many communities.
Monday morning motivation: My Monday mornings are motivated by my peers — they’re an engaged and energetic group of people who take pride in their work.
Business worry that keeps you up at night: Like many business leaders, I spend time considering the future of the company. I want to ensure that we progress and participate in meaningful projects in the many years to come.
Landscape design/install mentor or idol: My idols are influential landscape designers from around the world who have contributed immensely to the landscape architecture industry, including Sir Geoffrey Jellicoe, Lawrence Halprin, Roberto Burle Marx and Mirei Shigemori.
Favorite business or landscape design book: “The Death and Life of Great American Cities” by Jane Jacobs. This book has a community-driven outlook to preserving cities and neighborhoods — an approach I take in my design process. Another favorite book is “The Silent Spring” by Rachel Carson, an initiator of the environmental movement. I also enjoy any books by J.B. Jackson, who speaks on the cultural connotations of domesticated landscapes.
Landscape design/install project you’ve worked on that makes you smile every time you drive past it: I take pride in seeing Mandell Park, a project that’s a product of placemaking. The park is a direct result of the surrounding neighborhood’s efforts to transform an abandoned lot into a community space. The park’s design incorporates native plants and a community garden, which are maintained by the people of the community.
In five years, where do you see your business going: I see us as a more integrated firm, combining our landscape and planning expertise to deliver more insight and take part in more meaningful and impactful projects across the nation. We will be in a position where we are valued for our commitment to research-oriented and community-driven approaches and designs.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in August 2016 and has been updated.