A Blossoming Career

Kirk Keller continues to pursue dream as landscape architect

Emma Keller, reporter

Kirk Keller was 12 years old when he first became interested in landscape architecture.

“I was first inspired by a visit to the University of Virginia and Falling Water where architecture and landscape architecture were blurred,” Keller said when asked what inspired him to choose the career he has today. “I decided to learn landscape architecture to understand how to build shared environments.”

He took a class in high school that was taught by his father, “which inspired [him] to apply to architecture and landscape architecture schools. [He] applied to four and got into three.”

Watching his father engage in architecture when he was a child, Keller was able to “help [his] dad build projects that he designed.”

Keller later applied to Cornell University because it was the best architecture school in the country—and it was a state school. He was elated when he was accepted into Cornell, being just one of 14 people admitted to the program.

During his sophomore year at Cornell, he spent an entire summer as a teaching assistant. His junior year, he traveled abroad to Scotland. 

Following graduation, Keller’s first job was at a design company in Van Atta in Santa Barbara, California.

“After Van Atta, I moved down to Irvine and I worked for a company called BGB Design Group,” he said. “I was with them for ten years, and after ten years, I decided to go out on my own, started my own company, and then a few years later, I was asked to join Studio One Eleven, which is where I currently am.”

Keller’s venture into starting his own business began with the goal of learning what he couldn’t learn in an office setting: working with his hands. He designed and built his own projects, and he learned a lot about plants.

“It’s very helpful to understand the inner workings of things as you’re designing them,” said Keller, whose company was called The Garden Studio. “I didn’t have any employees but I had people work for me as independent contractors. It was a design, build, landscape firm. I did residential landscapes, anything from relandscaping to maintenance to water features and stonework and irrigation and landscape lighting.”

After shuttering his business down to work for Studio One Eleven, he’s gained experience and responsibility, starting with working on one project by himself to attaining more responsibility to managing projects to becoming a principal. His stormwater project was featured in Landscape Architecture Magazine.

“It’s for Rancho Los Cerritos,” Keller said. “It is a local, state, and national historic landmark in California. It was a grant that we had applied for to get them money to build a project like that because it’s a non-profit, [so] they don’t have a lot of money. It’s an innovative stormwater-capture system where currently we feel they capture about 40 percent of stormwater on-site and so we were designing an innovative system to capture 95 percent of the water. They capture it in a cistern and use it to irrigate the native gardens and the historic gardens.”

Studio One Eleven has been working on multiple expansion projets at the Long Beach Airport for ten years.

“I really like the Rancho Los Cerritos project,” he said. “I enjoy any parks projects and streetscape projects we work on. I think all of our projects have that ability to allow us to be really creative, including the housing projects. We do a lot of affordable housing projects.”

Keller’s future as a principal looks bright and he’ll be working on more types of business developments, keeping existing clients happy, going after new typologies, and gathering new clients. He’ll be delegating more as the studio gets more work, and the team will grow.

“We started with me, part-time, and then joined full-time in January of 2011, and then we slowly started getting employees,” Keller said. “Now we’re up to 12. So we’ll see what the future holds. The bigger projects we get, the more people we’ll need.”