When the city fathers wanted to transform Fort Lauderdale from the Spring Break capital affectionately known as “Fort Liquordale” to a more respectable place in the late 1980s, they sought the help of EDSA, a local landscape architecture firm.
To achieve that goal, EDSA helped change A1A from a cruising strip for cars to a beachside promenade akin to the one flanking Brazil’s famous Copacabana beach. The EDSA design called for separating the north and south lanes with a palm tree-lined median and replacing the diagonal beachfront parking with a brick-paved walkway bordered by an undulating wall that resembles the foamy white crest of a wave. The Wave Wall not only keeps beach sand from blowing onto the roadway, but also provides makeshift seating and serves as the city’s signature attraction for both tourists and locals.
“It is unique,” says Douglas C. Smith, president and principal of EDSA. Inspired by Brazilian landscape architect Roberto Burle Marx’s iconic Copacabana Beach mosaic with its meandering “S” curves, the walkway and wall in Fort Lauderdale embodies EDSA’s philosophy of “attempting to improve the way the world looks, one project at a time.” According to Smith, “the Wave Wall became a visual icon to create a brand of tourism.” A city website lists the beachfront renovation cost at $26 million, and according to the EDSA website, that investment paid off: “The revitalization effort generated over $1 billion in private sector investment within the first 10 years of completion.”
EDSA — named for its founder, the Yale- and Harvard-trained landscape architect Edward Durell Stone Jr., and his associates — has been designing sustainable projects worldwide from its headquarters in Fort Lauderdale since 1960. From Malta to Mexico, Africa, Asia and the Americas, the boutique firm has helped design and enhance projects in more than 100 countries, including urban design, hotels, resorts and residences.
Many of the firm’s design concepts are memorable, such as the iconic promenade and plazas at the John F. Kennedy Center for Performing Arts in Washington; the PepsiCo World Headquarters in Purchase, N.Y., with its greenswards and landscaped sculpture garden that included large works by renowned artists such as Alexander Calder, Henry Moore and David Smith; and the Atlantis Resort on Paradise Island in the Bahamas, which revolutionized the tourism industry with its themed resort that features what was once the largest outdoor aquarium in the world.
Today EDSA is one of the top five landscape architectural firms in the country in terms of revenues, according to Smith, who oversees 110 employees in the headquarters, located just blocks from the beach that his firm helped to redesign. With gross billings exceeding $23 million last year (compared to $22 million in 2011), EDSA is continuing to grow. Smith projects a 15 percent growth goal for 2013. In February the firm opened its sixth office in Shanghai. That’s in addition to its Fort Lauderdale headquarters and offices in Orlando, Baltimore, Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates, and Beijing (as a joint venture with a local Chinese company).
Smith wants to clear up a popular misperception that landscape architects are glorified gardeners. “We’re not just garden designers,” he says. “There’s a much larger role that we can play in the development and history for responsible land use, and really looking at things on a master plan level and scale. Landscape architects, because of the training we get, we have a unique ability to see a bigger picture and, because of that, lead whole consulting teams through the development process.”