June 17, 2020
Class of 2020: Graduate aims to teach and tell stories with landscape design
When you come to a fork in the road where can veer your life in a new direction, the journey is rarely clear — until you make a fateful move.
Karly Do, who graduates this year with a Master of Landscape Architecture from the University of Calgary, was on an overseas trek when an “aha” moment enabled her to pivot toward landscape architecture.
“I realized there is storytelling in landscape design,” says Do, who was born and raised in Calgary as the eldest daughter of Vietnamese refugees.
- Photo above: Karly Do’s love for yoga and teaching led her to a yoga instructor course in Ireland. Photo by Sydney Fream Studio
Turning point on an Irish landscape
Hiking on the west coast of Ireland after graduating from UCalgary in 2016 with a Bachelor of Science in Zoology, minoring in French literature, she had just finished a yoga instructor course there and was taking a week to explore the island.
She’d been shrouded in mists and rain, almost disappearing into the hilly landscape. On this morning, though, the sky parted and the valley turned to shimmering green, she says.
I was between two mountains, when I turned around to look back. It just came to me. There must be some kind of job in Alberta where I could build hiking trails like this or make places that tell stories — so that people can enter them and interact and live their own stories.
Before her trip, unsure what to do for her career, she had even considered becoming a dentist. After a week of shadowing a dentist in his office, though, she realized it was the wrong route for her.
The path she took instead, winding through Ireland and leading to UCalgary's School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape, has encompassed her passions for storytelling, urban design, culture, history and conservation.
Professional Master’s Degree Program a perfect fit
When Do became an Master of Landscape Architecture (MLA) candidate in the Landscape Architecture program, she aimed to create spaces where people could live vibrant lives. She then turned her focus to teaching others what she was learning.
She chose to do Landscape Architecture as a Professional Master’s Degree Program so that she could gain practical experience in the field while still looking to teach. Do had taught piano and yoga, so the program was a great fit.
Do is also doing a Master of Environmental Design (MEDes), a 16-month post-professional research program that allows her to focus on urban design in landscape architecture. In this Mitacs Accelerate program, she is paired with an industry partner to work an internship.
“I want to focus on low-cost implementation of design, basically high-quality design on a budget,” she says. “It’s important for me to have practical experience in the workplace along with academic experience because I assume that I’ll be teaching students who have a multitude of interests.”
Dr. Beverly Sandalack, PhD, professor and co-director of the Urban Lab, says Do is well suited to the MEDes program following her successful completion of the MLA.
“She is a critical thinker who always addressed projects with curiosity and rigour, and she applied her research to the design problems we were considering,” says Sandalack. “She is thorough and highly professional.”
COVID-19 raises teaching and learning challenges
The coronavirus has not only disrupted Do’s duo roles as a research assistant and a graduate teaching assistant, it has also affected her various projects, prompting her to move to online formats such as Zoom.
The Chinatown Mobility Plan Project, which considers peoples’ travel behaviours in Chinatown in order to produce policy recommendations for the City of Calgary, now requires her to work remotely.
“A crucial component of this project is a series of surveys we intended to conduct in person in Chinatown, but we’ve had to transition to an online format, which is unfortunate but necessary,” she says.
Kris Fox, assistant professor in the Landscape Architecture and Planning programs, says Do has a tremendous appreciation for the breadth of culture across Alberta.
Her innate curiosity translates incredibly well to a discipline like landscape architecture where we are designing for people and places. She will affect positive change.
As the winner within the past few years of six scholarships — including first place for the Alberta Association of Landscape Architects UCalgary scholarship, and various awards such as the PARK(ing) Day Design Award and the Vietnamese Memorial Award at the Tet Festival in Calgary — Do has had her fair share of successes.
Although the pandemic has created some challenges, she foresees it also yielding potential opportunities. She’s looking to the future.
“This could all be an opportunity for us to invest in high-quality local landscape architecture projects,” she says. “They could be unique and contribute to a sense of place, and really help shape Calgary’s future identity.”
- Read more: Check out many more profiles of the outstanding members of Class of 2020. And follow the graduate positivity on social media by following #ucalgarygrad