Martin Flores is the director of urban design and planning for San Diego’s Rick Engineering Co., a 60-year-old multidisciplinary planning, design and engineering firm that has grown to 430 employees and nine offices.
Flores oversees efforts in all five California offices. He and his staff manage large- and small-scale land-use planning and development; land entitlements; master planning; redevelopment; streetscapes; wayfinding and gateway signage; and river and urban park projects throughout California, Arizona, Colorado and Mexico. In addition, his team performs public outreach and supports participatory design endeavors, particularly with public realm improvements, civic buildings, community centers and parks.
Before joining Rick Engineering, Flores served for 15 years as the senior urban planner and landscape architect for the San Jose Redevelopment Agency. In that capacity, he designed and managed land development and public realm improvements and completed streetscape, lighting and signage design guidelines as well as neighborhood, river and urban park projects throughout San Jose.
A graduate of California Polytechnic State University at San Luis Obispo in landscape architecture, Flores has guest lectured at Stanford University, the University of California at Berkeley and San Jose State University. He is a board member of Lambda Alpha International. Other memberships include the Downtown San Diego Partnership, Urban Land Institute, American Planning Association and the American Society of Landscape Architects. He is the past chair of the Landscape Architecture Design Council at his alma mater and most recently served as a panelist at the 2015 LABash, an annual student-led landscape architecture conference hosted each year since 1970.
Proudest moments in business: My most satisfying moments are when I see a project I helped design or manage come to life. Most of my work is in the public realm. It begins with an idea that needs to be vetted through a political process, continues through funding and design processes and ends with construction. This may take many years and often includes the delicate negotiation of trade-offs and consideration of alternatives. This takes patience and persistence, but in the end, if and when it is built and people are enjoying or engaging in the space, that is my greatest joy.
I also started as a lecturer at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and was one of the original founders of the Landscape Architecture Design Council. This opportunity to mentor and teach students by “giving back” is rewarding. There is significant reward when students contact me years later about how I made an impact on their careers and lives. That is an unbelievably proud feeling.
Biggest business challenges: One is the creation of new public and private environments in older communities. Many times the existing infrastructure is aging or failing, requirements for stormwater control are challenging, and in some communities denser developments are misunderstood or opposed. Our public and private clients are looking at strategies to solve these issues. Sometimes these strategies are at odds with each other. My background in redevelopment and working for a multidisciplinary firm enables me to more easily solve the problems with creative, sustainable solutions.
Second, because of the economic upswing, our middle- to upper-management staff members are looking for more opportunities to advance their salaries and careers. We are being challenged to provide
adequate compensation and find qualified people to fill the void.
Landscape design/build inspiration: I love to travel and read the entire range of books and periodicals about building and design. My travel often takes me to cities where I love to walk and ride public transportation. I can see how spaces work, touch new and different materials and get a personal feeling of being in the spaces. I request and read the periodicals from our Geographic Information Systems, engineering, water resources, lighting, graphic design, planning and landscape architecture divisions. They all provide me with a much deeper understanding and appreciation of the synergy among the disciplines and the role each plays in a quality outcome.
Favorite plant or plant combination: I like all varieties of Japanese maples for their delicate trunks and branch and leaf structures. Their colors and form offer a textural foreground or background, providing a beautiful accent for nearly every occasion.
Monday morning motivation: I am motivated by the joy of my work, projects, co-workers and clients. They all work together. Sometimes one motivates me over the other. I have truly been very lucky to be surrounded by very talented people who care about how and what they do.
Business worry that keeps you up at night: I worry about maintaining a steady client base and taking care of the people who work with and for me and their families.
Landscape design mentor: Very early on, I just knew I would be in the design field. I was mesmerized when I saw photographs of the seminal work of Mexican architect Luis Barragán. I felt an instant connection as he transformed the International Style into a vibrant, sensuous Mexican aesthetic by adding vivid colors and textural contrasts and accentuating his buildings’ natural surroundings. He convinced me that the use of color, form and a simple and very limited palette of materials can be dynamic and everlasting.
I also have been really fortunate to collaborate with some very talented people and design firms over my career, including George Hargreaves, Tom Adiala, Cheryl Barton, Royston Hanamoto Alley & Abey and SWA. Their combined talents and approaches have really been my mentors.
Favorite business or landscape design book: I am an avid reader, constantly looking at any and all books about design. I designated one part of my office as a library, where I read about planning, landscape architecture, development, sports, fashion or graphics on my lunch hour. There are four or five stacks of reading materials that I keep just in case one of my projects requires research. Sometimes, when clients or staff members visit my office, they need to sit next to one of the stacks. This can be embarrassing, but then I realize it helps reinforce to my visitors how I appreciate that design is not fixed in time, but is evolving, obligating me to stay abreast of these trends.
Project that makes you smile every time you see it: That would be the streetscapes, river parks, urban corridors and multifamily housing units in downtown San Jose that I worked on for 15 years with the San Jose Redevelopment Agency. My daughters still live in San Jose, so I have many opportunities to see how my projects are holding up and, in some cases, aging. I know practically every tree, utility box and element of public realm infrastructure there. Whenever I walk in downtown San Jose, I get such a feeling of accomplishment.
Five-year business projection: The projection, if it tracks anything like the past 12 months, is that we are going to be very busy. There’s every sign that we will be starting projects that have been dormant for years. I see the public and private sectors becoming more active. Our offices in California, Arizona and Colorado are becoming very busy, which is a very good indicator of things to come. In the next five years, I look forward to the challenges of a new set of design issues, such as water management, aging infrastructure, environmental compliance and environmental stewardship. I also like challenges, and in the next five years, I want to push myself to teach, learn and advance the craft.
Connect with Martin Flores
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in September 2015.