Expert’s Corner: Julie Brinkerhoff-Jacobs, President of Lifescapes International

For almost 30 years, Lifescapes International has been an architectural landscaping force on the Las Vegas 41-000 Julie Brinkerhoff-Jacobsstrip, creating iconic designs for more than a dozen properties including The Bellagio and The Venetian. The multi-generational firm continues to evolve as it expands its projects internationally, while collaborating closely with clients in order to translate their visions into a sensory experience. Here, Julie Brinkerhoff-Jacobs talks about the past, present and future of the company.

Can you talk a little bit about how you built this relationship with the Las Vegas strip?

Our relationship with the Las Vegas strip started almost 30 years ago when we began work on the Mirage for developer Steve Wynn. At the time, Steve had already met with two other landscape architectural firms when Lifescapes International was referred to him by a mutual colleague.

The lake at the Bellagio

The lake at the Bellagio

My father, Don Brinkerhoff, insisted that he go over to Las Vegas, roll up their sleeves together and develop the scheme, side by side, with Steve. Steve had been envisioning his project for quite some time. Based on that process, we came up with an integrated design direction for the property, and presented it to Steve in a scale model. Steve loved it. The rest is history.

After The Mirage opened and proved to be a big success, our reputation for creating beautiful resort gardens that attracted and retained many customers on site for an extended period of time, continued to grow. Casino developers started reaching out to us from up and down the Strip. We eventually created the garden environments for 11 additional properties on the Las Vegas Strip—including the Las Vegas Blvd. center median now known as the Scenic Highway—and are currently working on our 13th project today.

You mention creating an overall sensory entertainment experience. How do you initially approach a project to reach this goal?

From the very beginning of a project, we work closely with the entire team, including the developers, architects, hotel operations, general contractors and interior designers, to fully understand and address the overall vision of the client and how the design and development team will accomplish this together.

For example, when we initially began work on the Wynn Las Vegas project, there was a large shopping center across from the hotel site that interrupted what Wynn wanted to feature at his property. He felt that it would detract from his guest experience.

As a result, Lifescapes International came up with the idea of building a 100-foot-high mountain—that includes the height of the majestic pines featured today! This mountain provided an opportunity for a full onsite experience within the property. The guest experience would be fully embraced by the geometry of the mountain and the water’s edge on the interior side of the mountain. Design is an evolutionary experience. With the mountain, came the lake, which led to the Lake of Dreams Show and other specially sequestered restaurants with private and semi private lake frontages too. As designers, we all need to take advantage of the design “road” ahead.

The main goal when creating an entertainment and sensory experience is to capitalize on all five senses, engage a talented and experienced team of top designers and an operator with an unwavering commitment to delivering on the promise, the promise of an amazing and memorable guest experience.

Water is a hot topic these days with the drought. What are some of the latest technologies Lifescapes implements to save and recycle water use?

Drip irrigation systems are a must not only when dealing with drought sensitive issues, but it is simply the proper way to irrigate gardens at all times. Recycled water has always been used in water features, potable water on golf courses and lawns. We also have been using artificial grass in many projects now when water is an issue.

The fountain at the Americana at Brand

The fountain at the Americana at Brand

Can you talk a little bit more about how you approach landscaping on large-scale projects in order to maximize beauty and minimize resources used?

One way to do this is through a technique we call zoning. For example, Zone 1 would feature plant materials requiring the least amount of water. These could be areas that may be secondary to the overall guest experience and not as impactful visually. These areas could have a combination of drought tolerant and some plant materials that may require a bit more water as it leads to Zone 3.

The Americana at Brand

The Americana at Brand

Zone 3, or the most lushly landscaped areas, could be referred to as an “oasis” area or the pool area or view gardens adjacent to restaurants, for example, where guests might be eating and viewing special specimen trees and flowers.

By creating a zoned system, we are able to utilize the best and most lush materials in the areas where they will be most impactful, and then we are able to reduce overall water resources efficiently.

You recently were selected to design the landscape for Paradise City in South Korea. Can you talk a little bit about the scope of this project?

For Paradise City, we were selected to design a large Las Vegas-style main entry, the exterior perimeter of the resort, a resort-style pool, poolside bars, wedding gardens, private villas, and gardens that flow throughout the entire project.

The owners for Paradise City reached out to us to design this project based on our tremendous depth of experience working with integrated entertainment and gaming resorts, including 12 of the most notable destination resorts on the Las Vegas Strip.

You’re family has been leading the charge in landscape design for decades. Can you tell us about being a part of this legacy and how it affects you as a designer?

The legacy of Lifescapes International may have started as a family legacy, but it’s much more than that today. We have an extended group of “professional brothers and sisters” who have been with the firm for many many years.

The executive senior leadership team has been together nearly 30 plus years and our senior principals have been here 18 to 20 years. I may share the last name Brinkerhoff with my Dad, but the Lifescapes team has delivered consistency in leadership and design for many decades—that is our legacy.

Your father packed up your family and travelled the world for three years. Do you have any memories of the experience?

Traveling throughout the world and living abroad for several years has significantly impacted our lives, as well as our design awareness. We all learn from what we see.

As a child, my father would take all of us kids to project sites and explain to us what was going to be there, what it is going to look like, and why the design was so significant at that moment in time and into the project’s lifetime.

In addition, throughout our entire stay abroad, my mother and father were continuously studying gardens—what made them special, unique, what could they learn from them, what design “truisms” existed and could work back home. In those days, traveling the world for inspiration was quite unique and provided Lifescapes International with a very unusual point of reference for our work both in the United States and in other countries where we have worked.

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