MP Studio


April 29, 2024 at 10:06pm

Cecilia Garcia-Hours, PLA is a licensed Professional Landscape Architect and Studio Leader at MP Studio in San Antonio. She has dual bachelor's degrees from Texas A&M University, one in Landscape Architecture and the other is a Bachelor of Arts in International Studies focused on Latin America. For her graduate degree, she received a Master’s in Urban Planning from the University of California, Los Angeles. Before her post-graduate studies, she participated in programs at the Instituto Tecnológico y de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey in Mexico and the Washington-Alexandria Architecture Center as an exchange student. These experiences fostered interdisciplinary collaboration and provided valuable insights into landscape architecture, architecture, urban design, and city life, shaping her approach to the field.

We sat down to talk with her about this approach to landscape architecture, the urban core, and her take on placemaking.

MP Studio
Cecilia Garcia-Hours, PLA, Principal and Studio Leader at MP Studio in San Antonio, Texas.

MISA:  How did you decide on Landscape Architecture as a profession?

CGH:  Landscape Architecture is more than just a career path to me—it feels like serendipity. From a young age, I've been drawn by multiple elements of visual design, and I’ve found profound joy in artistic expression. Whether it was dance and choreography, fashion design, or creative writing, I've always been inspired by the beauty of creativity. My reverence for the natural world began in the scrublands of Laredo, where I admired my parents’ love for gardening. From the purple blooms of Cenizos and the song of the Cenzontle, I began to explore my passion. Discovering Landscape Architecture during an introductory course felt like the perfect fit—an instant connection formed from that initial lecture. Pursuing a second degree in Landscape Architecture allowed me to translate my intuitive response to the world into tangible creations. It's a profession that empowers a designer to arrange textures and sculpt the earth, creating spaces that stir emotions and provoke thoughts—a fusion of my passions for artistry and nature. Through years of professional practice, I've learned that Landscape Architecture is about the balanced relationship between humanity and the land. It's more than shaping physical form; it's about nurturing connections and fostering relationships between people and places. 

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Rendering of the Young Women’s Leadership Academy Garden. Courtesy of MP Studio.

MiSA:  What are some common misconceptions about Landscape Architecture?

CGH:  Perceptions of Landscape Architecture often revolve around the idea of creating gardens or arranging plants, yet its scope is far broader. While plants are pivotal, they're just one facet of our work. Landscape Architecture delves into shaping natural systems, curating meaningful experiences, and fostering connections between people and nature. A common misconception is that Landscape Architecture solely prioritizes aesthetics, neglecting its potential to bridge various disciplines. It serves as a vehicle for tackling pressing issues like climate action, addressing urban heat island effects, managing stormwater in dense developments, safeguarding tree canopies, and preserving wildlife corridors. Moreover, Landscape Architecture is a staunch advocate for environmental justice, equitable access to green spaces, clean air, universally accessible design, and promoting inclusivity. We champion multi-modal transportation systems that foster healthier communities. Beyond aesthetics, Landscape Architecture acts as a catalyst for equity, accessibility, inclusivity, and preserving our natural and built environments.

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Cecilia and the team engage the Young Women’s Leadership Academy students in a design charette. Photo courtesy of MP Studio.

MiSA:  What is some advice that you would give your new design-grad self that you wish you would have received?

CGH: To my new design-grad self:
Remember, your presence at the design table holds significant weight—never doubt it. Design for the diverse tapestry of humanity, advocating for designs that honor sustainability and environmental stewardship. Let your creations be a testament to your commitment to preserving and enhancing the natural world for future generations. Remember, you're breaking barriers in an evolving field. Embrace challenges, knowing they lead to innovation. As you grow in leadership, you'll become a role model for younger women and designers of diverse ethnic backgrounds. Embrace experimentation and the nuances of each design challenge; failure is part of the journey toward innovation. Celebrate imperfection, recognizing that nature thrives in organic forms and dynamic patterns. Fearlessly explore new possibilities, discovering your true creative voice along the way.  Approach your work with passion, humility, and reverence for Landscape Architecture's transformative potential to enrich lives. You’re on the right track, so remember to enjoy it. 

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Rendering of trailhead concept. Courtesy of MP Studio.

MiSA: What are some priorities that you try to infuse into every project and what are some notable projects of which you are proud?

CGH: My top priorities in every project are sustainability, inclusivity, and celebrating the essence of each place. I'm committed to ensuring our designs are resilient, contribute to climate action, welcome everyone, and truly reflect the spirit of the community. From minimizing our environmental footprint to creating spaces where everyone feels like they belong, my goal is to create and implement designs that make a lasting positive impact.

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Infographic of street life typologies at the Alazan Courts Apartments. Courtesy of MP Studio.

I love sharing emerging trends in our field, particularly through my current work at MP Studio. One standout project involves our collaboration with the City to enhance its trail system, contributing to the expansion and refinement of the Howard W. Peak Greenway Trails System in San Antonio. These trails incorporate innovative features like rain gardens and permeable pavers, artfully integrating with trailheads and pocket parks. Our contributions span various trailheads across the city, including Rogers Ranch, El Dorado, Apache Creek Neighborhood Connection, and Greenline at Brooks. Notably, we are contributing to converging private developments around this looped-trail system. Some of our trail-oriented design projects include Del Bosque, Tampico Lofts, Artisan at Ruiz, and the Say Si campus.

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Rendering of the Young Women’s Leadership Academy Garden. Courtesy of MP Studio.

In the urban core, I'm prod of our engagement in transformative projects nearing completion, like the Maverick Plaza, Alazan-Apache Courts, Broadway Corridor streetscape, and the Floodgate along the San Antonio Riverwalk. Plus, we've got an exciting master plan in the works for an urban farm at YWLA.

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Visitors of the San Antonio Botanical Garden enjoying the interactive WaterSaver Community exhibit. Courtesy of MP Studio.

Our work at the San Antonio Botanical Garden includes the creation of the WaterSaver Community, educating homeowners on sustainable landscaping and gardening practices. This project, recognized with an Honor Award from the American Society of Landscape Architecture Texas Chapter, showcases regional materials and architectural vernacular to inspire sustainable living while honoring our local heritage.

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Patient respite areas for healthcare project. Courtesy of MP Studio.

Lastly, our healthcare projects aim to provide respite for patients and healthcare workers, including designs for public realm spaces within hospitals like the Women’s Tower in the Medical Center and University Health Campuses at Retama and Palo Alto. We integrate walking paths, public art, and shade structures to elevate the patient experience and foster healing environments.

MP Studio
Concept renderings of trail design in San Antonio. Courtesy of MP Studio.

MiSA:  When you are beginning a new design project, what are some processes or sources that you and your team use to propel your design forward?

CGH:  When we kick-off a new design project, it's like stepping into a treasure hunt for inspiration. We dive headfirst into the site's unique character, soaking up its vibes and peculiarities. Think of it as detective work, but our discovery process is way more fun. One of my favorite parts is the brainstorming sessions. Picture a room buzzing with ideas, fueled by coffee and creative energy. We're like a troupe of dancers, swaying in sync, picking up on each other's rhythm to craft the perfect performance for our design. But it's not just about what's in our heads—it's also about who will be using the space. We're like anthropologists, diving deep into the lives and stories of the people who'll call our design home. Their hopes, dreams, and quirks become the building blocks of our vision.

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Infographic of green infrastructure at the Alazan Courts Apartments. Courtesy of MP Studio.

Nature is another big player in our inspiration search. We're out there in the wild, soaking up the natural world's colors, textures, and rhythms. Whether it's the rugged beauty of the hill country or the delicate dance of sunlight on water, nature always has something to teach us. And we always remember our travels. We're like explorers, venturing into new landscapes and cultures, absorbing inspiration like parched deserts soaking up raindrops. Whether strolling through a bustling market in Barcelona or hiking through the Cerro Campanario, every adventure adds a new layer to our design palette.

La Villita San Antonio
Plan rendering of the Maverick Plaza at La Villita located in the heart of downtown San Antonio. Courtesy of MP Studio.

Of course, we also take cues from the masters of the past. Like art historians, we study the greats and put our own spin on their timeless wisdom. From the classical elegance of a Renaissance garden to the bold experimentation of modernist sculpture, every artistic movement has something to teach us.
When it comes to putting pen to paper (or mouse to screen), we're all about bringing our designs to life with color, texture, and style. It's like sculpting a masterpiece from blocks of raw stone, chiseling away with care until the form emerges fully, demonstrating patience and craftsmanship.

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Mural installation at the Artisan at Ruiz Apartments. Courtesy of MP Studio.

At the end of the day, our inspiration comes from a deep love for the world around us and a desire to make it even more beautiful. It's not just about creating spaces—it's about creating experiences, memories, and moments of pure happiness. And that keeps us coming back for more, project after project.

Cover Image: Plan rendering of the San Antonio Botanical Gardens. Courtesy of MP Studio.