FACILITYCalgary publisher Mark Kolke, in conversation with Gary Browning
April 16, 2013
From his Edmonton roots – educated at Nait, U of A, U of C – Landscape Architecture Diploma, B.Sc., Masters in Environmental Design . . . , in the old chicken-egg, analogy, it is difficult to decipher which came first, golf or design, love of landscape design generally (with much focus on the 18-module kind), pioneer and cowboy memorabilia, weekend cowboy or flying. We’ve met before – a few years back, when I wrote newsletters for his golf course design practice (he’s done quite a few local players might revere – Stewart Creek, new 9/Hawk at Priddis Grees, practice facility at The Glencoe, practice facility at Chateau Whistler, Copper Point – The Point and The Ridge, Speargrass, Blue Devil, and Serenity coming soon .. to name a few) that dominated his practice for many years. But golf, as an industry has struggled in recent years, Gary has returned to spend a lot of his focus on landscape architecture in Edmonton and Calgary where he and his crew of five collaborate virtually from several locations. Ups and downs have characterized his career like a well bunkered par 5, reachable with long shots and well executed short game, his sales office is just as often his truck’s tail-gate, his hospitality genuine and warm, the handshake genuine western warmth, no-nonsense frankness who doesn’t gird for a fight, but doesn’t shy away from one either. I love the passion designers bring to the table. I joined Gary Browning for a chat in his new digs – a combo of design studio and man-cave in a hangar at SpringbankAirport, where his days are spent at the vortex of three of his passions – flying, sports and landscape design. While his recent relocation/downsizing from his Inglewood design studio is easily explained as being closer to his 15 acres of farm/menagerie of dogs and horses near Balzac, it is clear the flying bug has caught him – or he caught it – again. As contemporaries we talked about our mid-handicap games, marriages, children and our eyes lit up when we started swapping grandchildren stories. Our connection continues as friends who don’t get together often enough, lovers of golf who can’t seem to play often enough to move the dial on our handicaps, middle-aged guys who set our bravado aside for a morning visit of discussing loves and hurts, joys and story-swapping . . .
I asked Gary his outlook on business in the next 90 days -
… our plate is full – both in Edmonton where we are working on lots of subdivision work, in Calgary with lots of golf course work continuing. I’m in Edmonton 2 days each week, but so much of our work is done virtually that we all work on everything wherever we are.
. . . and over the next 5 years?
… hard to predict, but the optimist in me says we’ll be comfortable. As the golf industry is in some decline – fewer new courses, the action will be in renovation work. In terms of subdivision work, more conventional planning and design, as long as the Alberta economy remains strong, business looks pretty good to me going forward.
What qualities or characteristics are most common in your preferred suppliers?
… they are genuine and sincere, first impressions matter a lot – I think it is an intuitive skill you acquire with experience. I like to work with people I like to be around. They are passionate about what they do – which takes care of quality control.
Why Browning, why do your clients choose you?
… they trust me, enjoy my company, we have long-term professional relationships that are, for the most part, not ego-driven.
… in part, it is traveling from A to B, but it is so relaxing/inspiring … an exhilarating experience. West of Calgary, flying in the mountains on a November morning when the air is cool, there is NOTHING like it!
What do you worry about, what keeps you up at night?
… about my kids (3 + 2 step-kids),a grandson - nothing conflicts when they are happy – life is really good right now.
Who or what influenced you most – that has made a difference in your life?
… Ted Anderson (PioneerLand) .. friend, mentor, and Bob Scott – a teacher at Nait many yeas ago who remains a good friend, mentor and colleague. He lives in Dubai now, and we collaborate often, emailing drawings back and forth . . .
You’ve had ups and downs – grew your Edmonton shop, right-sized your Calgary operation – how has that worked out?
… it is hard when people have to go – but I’m pleased that those who left found good situations in the industry or are enjoying retirement. Staff are my second family. I’ve always believed that if you look after them, they look after you – and the good ones do.
You don’t open up much on personal feelings … so, can you share some perspective on the world according to Gary?
… I care about others, about family. Like you, I’ve been divorced and that is hard – I carry some guilt about that. I try to give back. We help out with a fundraiser for Inn from the Cold.
In winding up, in front of the 60” big-screen in the man-cave, I asked Gary to rank his passions?
. . . Waging Heavy Peace by Neil Young, The Sociopath Next Door by Martha Stout
. . . Ford F150 pickup
Editor’s note: in golf I’ve always had three wishes – to play a round without losing a golf ball, to break 80 and to get a hole-in-one. I’ve only achieved one – the hole-in-one [Priddis Greens #1, on the 1st of July, 2008, with witnesses I am not related to. I was given a lovely framed photo of ‘my hole’ which I appreciate, but the drawing of the hole given me by its architect Gary Browning is treasured]
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