Henry Herman DHM Bozeman | Landscape Designer | Iowa State University grad

The art of listening is what has led Henry Herman around the world and back to land as a landscape designer in the DHM Bozeman office. Originally from Iowa, he used to spend summers on his grandparents' farm, where he learned to listen to the landscape, as well as those around him.

Living and working on the farm was a very hands on experience, a time in Henry's life that had a big impact on his interest in participatory design. Bringing this same passion elsewhere, he went on to join Iowa Nature Trees and Shrubs, as well as the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation, volunteering as a climbing arborist. The work was fulfilling, but Henry would often wish that they could contribute some sort of interpretive elements to the parks and trails they were working in - something to encourage people to stop, reflect and experience the environment. Tell the story of the land.

"It's not just about the view, it's about the utility of the land and how you interact with it," Henry says. Sharing his passion for experiential design, Henry teaches local kids in Bozeman about landscape architecture by doing willow weavings with them.

Henry left Iowa to travel for some time - biking across the U.S. and skipping across oceans to explore intercontinental landscapes. Inspired by his travels and discoveries to become a landscape architect, Henry was homeward bound. He began Iowa State University's landscape architecture program, and the academic resources available there gave him opportunities to learn more about experiential design - movement through landscapes - on multiple levels, both locally and abroad. For three years, he interned for his professor on the Iowa Living Roadways Program, providing planning and design assistance for transportation corridors to small Iowa communities, much of which included talking to community members about transportation barriers.

As a true citizen of the world, though, Henry ventured off with scholarship money from ISU and the Merkel Endowment to lead a research expedition in Humla, Nepal, studying pedestrian life and extreme transportation barriers among the Himalayas - the project for which the Landscape Architecture Foundation has dubbed him an Olmsted Scholar. On opposite sides of the world, rural Iowa is flat with widely paved roads and cars. Rural Nepal is mountainous with goats as travel companions. The one thing allowing Henry and his research partners to navigate the strikingly different environment was their ability to listen, with their eyes, ears, and a GPS.

The biggest takeaway, from writing the grant to learning to not take sanitized water for granted, was that landscapes and the built environment shape people's experiences in the world. They define culture and livelihood.

There are opportunities and constraints in every environment, depending on perspective. An elderly woman or child in Iowa not having enough time or feeling unsafe to cross the street to get to the post office before the light turns red, for instance, sounds much different than a native Humli expressing the need to walk over 30 miles a day over steep grades to retrieve basic resources. Different, but both valid.

When you can see the different ways people live, if you listen to them, you can empathize with them and start to experience the world through their eyes.

Whether he's doing research, teaching kids, or engaging in public outreach for a park project, Henry brings his passion for experiential design to the forefront of everything he does. Getting the opportunity now to facilitate the visioning for Coulson Park, a historic site in Big Sky country confronted with water contamination and transportation barriers, is right in line with what he's been working on all along. The underdeveloped riverfront park sits along the Yellowstone River in Billings, Montana, bisected by trails and blockaded by highways.

Studying ancient pedestrian networks in far northwest Nepal inspired Henry to move to Montana. Now working on a project located along the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail route, one might say that Coulson Park is a constellation project on his professional journey.

DHM is working collaboratively with the Billings Parks & Recreation Department, Big Sky Economic Development Authority, and other local organizations and businesses that have been included in a project steering committee.

Henry approaches his role engaging with the steering committee and other Billings community members exactly how he would approach any other type of experiential design - like a song. In music, silence is 'ok', creating pause for thought and the yearn for more. Listening to street performers during his worldly travels taught him the importance of this concept. A break or a pause in a presentation or conversation, similarly, can help people to actively listen, and ultimately develop empathy.

"As landscape architects, our job is to facilitate people to see the potential of what could become. I like DHM because one of the ways we moderate that is by using vernacular rooted in the landscapes and the people we're designing for."

Henry and the Coulson Park Master Plan design team are working towards developing awareness of the park, finding out how people currently perceive it, what recreational opportunities are lacking that the park could fulfill, what barriers are preventing people from going to the park, etc. The interactions with the City and its community members that Henry has experienced so far have been genuine. People of all ages are surfacing to attend the open houses, fill out the online survey, and other forms of participation, and valuing each individual's feedback has been rewarding.

According to Henry, the ability to truly listen, understand, and respect a place and its people isn't something you can teach. It takes a lot of observation, but translating active listening into design is much deeper than that. The raw ideas of empathetic and experiential design are at the core of the west, the western identity that DHM connects with: to cherish the environment, honor its cultural heritage, and know that both are fragile. To speak plainly. And to listen.

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