A Walk in the Park
University of Alberta alumna Kira Hunt’s journey into landscape design
By Olivia DeBourcier
Growing up in Edmonton, I’ve often find myself taking for granted the richness and beauty of our parks and natural areas. I have to remind myself that Edmonton has one of the largest continuous park systems in Canada. Even beyond the river valley, we’re fortunate to have plenty of green space to walk our dogs, ride our bikes, and go for walks. And now during the COVID-19pandemic, it seems as though everyone in the city is out of doors and in the parks. But who is involved in designing these spaces that we use on a day-to-day basis?
Kira Hunt is a landscape technologist with the IBI Group, located here in Edmonton. In this role, Kira creates 2D and 3D design plans for Edmonton’s parks and green spaces. She picks the greenery that lines our trails, decides where to place hills and water features, and considers what kinds of heritage features or public art might be put in place. The job is variable and wide-ranging in its roles, which Hunt says keeps her interested and excited in the work.
“It’s kind of like playing SimCity,” she said. “Designing where the people are going to go and how the archway is going to look or how tall the hill is going to be. You’re shaping the city or shaping public spaces. And that’s what I get to do every day now, so that’s pretty cool.”
Hunt is a University of Alberta alumna, where she completed her BA in psychology and sociology. After spending some time working and finding that perhaps psychology wasn’t for her, she went travelling to Europe and was reminded of her interest in park spaces and natural areas.
“While I was travelling, I found myself in a lot of parks, gardens and outdoor spaces,” Hunt said. “So I thought maybe, you know, biology, botany, something along those lines. And then I came across the landscape design program at NAIT.”
“That’s one of the really neat things about landscape design一 how people evolve with the spaces that you’ve created.”
While studying at NAIT, Hunt helped design the layout for the Prairie Urban Farm, a Faculty of ALES affiliated community garden located on the U of A’s South Campus which aims to support sustainable urban agriculture by teaching volunteers farming skills and sharing fresh produce with volunteers and local organizations.
“I did an original design [for the farm] about eight years ago,” Hunt said. “And what’s been really neat is to see how they’ve sort of grown with it and changed over time and made it usable for their purposes. That’s one of the really neat things about landscape design一 how people evolve with the spaces that you’ve created.”
Alongside the Prairie Urban Farm, Hunt helped design the community of Griesbach’s Central Park and worked on the additions to the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry memorial for their 100-year anniversary. Currently, she and her team have been creating heritage design features in the future community of Blatchford, by designing, for instance, pieces inspired by the old runways of the Edmonton City Centre Airport.
When it comes to success as a landscape technologist, Hunt suggests that students interested in pursuing a career spend plenty of time outside, in parks, where they can get to know the city they live in.
Finding ways to network and learn outside the classroom is important too. “I found that attending presentations and going to lectures on related topics was really useful. I met a lot of people that way,” said Hunt.
Alongside her interest in green spaces and design, Hunt has a particular interest in how nature inspires design through biomimicry. In 2017, she completed a certificate on the topic at Arizona State University.
“I actually came across biomimicry when I was taking a U of A course,” Hunt said. “Biomimicry is very much a multidisciplinary discipline. And it can be applied to any practice, any role, any career path.”
If you’d like to hear more about Kira Hunt’s work and her expertise on biomimicry, she will deliver an online lecture on Nov. 18 at noon, hosted by the University of Alberta’s Sustainability Council.
The lecture will focus on the applications of biomimicry in a variety of fields and how it could offer a new perspective on sustainable development.