David Heckman: Designing Places for People

David Heckman: Designing Places for People

David Heckman’s draw toward a career in Landscape Architecture was, fittingly, quite natural.

“I liked being outside. In high school, I was very much into music, but I knew that wasn’t my career path,” said Heckman, 29, of Spring Mount, who is departing Temple University with a degree in Landscape Architecture. “I discovered landscape architecture at Temple. I really enjoy the combination of scientific analysis with creativity and art.”

Heckman initially arrived at Temple fresh out of high school in 2007 seeking a degree in biology with a focus on horticulture. After taking a few years detour working for a landscaping company and a local Wawa, Heckman said he knew it was time to return to the classroom.

“I knew that in order to achieve my long term goals I needed go back to college to finish what I started,” he said. “One thing I’ve really enjoyed about Temple’s Landscape Architecture program is that there has been a great deal of variety in the studio projects, both suburban and urban, that I’ve been able to work on. You also work closely with the horticulture students and really get to know your plant material and what goes together, something you don’t find in most landscape architecture programs.”

Heckman has had the opportunity to take a deep dive into design with two Philadelphia Flower Show experiences under his belt. He was among the team of students to design and build Temple’s 2017 award-winning exhibit, Nieuwpolders: Regenerating the Dutch Custom of Land Recovery. He also volunteered his time to help put the finishing touches on the Department of Landscape Architecture and Horticulture’s 2018 exhibit, Within Reach: Unlocking the Legacy of Our Hidden River, which also garnered several awards.

“I was fortunate in that I had some background in design-build and using tools. For some of the students, this was all new to them so I took the opportunity to provide some mentorship. The Flower Show is an empowering, invigorating and at the same time exhausting experience,” he said. “It’s a lot of trial and error, keeping what works and moving on from what doesn’t. For Nieuwpolders, I built a windmill for a space where there is no wind — the Convention Center — and after many, many hours of trying to get it to rotate, it finally worked. Those are proud moments.”

During his time at Temple, Heckman said he and his fellow students have had the opportunity to work with a variety of real world “clients,” providing design concepts and plans that in any cases have become reality.

“At the Fox Chase Cancer Center, we designed two courtyards and a healing garden. More recently, we worked on envisioning plans for facilities for Leg Up Farm at the Ambler Campus,” he said. “I’m very proud of a lot of the work we’ve been able to produce. I think when it comes to design; the only way to do it wrong is to ignore the facts. Whether a path goes one way or another is an aesthetic choice but if you’re dealing with a location where the ground slopes a certain way and you choose to ignore that fact, that’s going to result in a bad design.”

Back home, Heckman is already putting what he has learned inside and outside the classroom to good use. He has been a member of the Spring Mount Parks and Recreation Board for nine months.

“It is my hometown and having the opportunity to help in some way was very important to me,” he said. “It’s still rural and we’d like it to stay rural, within reason.”

Like a lot of small towns, Heckman said, development has occurred randomly, which has fractured open space — a detriment to animal habitats and ecosystems — and provides little infrastructure for sidewalks or cyclists.

“We are working on developing a trail system in addition to creating a 25 to 50-year master plan for the entire park system,” he said. “We’re going to reach out to the community — data collection and statistical analysis — and determine what they would like to see in the parks. At the end of the day, it is all about what the community needs.”

Outside of the classroom and board meetings, Heckman is a member of the team at Land Stewards, an ecological design-build maintenance company, where he will be continuing his career following graduation.

“It is a great group of people and I’m learning a lot from them; there are a lot of opportunities for collaboration. I want to continue to explore ecological design in the public sector,” he said. “I want to build places that everyone can enjoy and get something out of. I’d much rather be working on a central square in Gettysburg than someone’s backyard!”