SPECIAL TO THE HERALD
NEW BRITAIN - Most firms celebrate an anniversary by renting a ballroom and hosting a bash for employees and clients.
However, TO Design LLC, is unlike most firms.
To mark its 30 years in business, TO (pronounced “too”), a full service, land planning, urban design and landscape architecture firm, has begun a “30 for 30” initiative. Its employees are performing 30 acts of kindness in the Greater New Britain community - for its clients, partners, and individuals who have helped them succeed over the years. At the week of April 21, the firm had completed 14 of 30 activities.
A celebration party to mark the milestone is planned for later in the year.
“We served community meals at a church in Hartford,” said Mary Dehais, landscape designer. “We’re creating a master plan for a learning garden for Holmes Elementary School here in New Britain. Next month, we’re going to build them a raised garden bed. Later, we’ll work with kindergartners, showing them how to plant vegetables and flowers. Three of our staffers participated in Read Across America Day (on March 2), reading to elementary school children at the New Britain Transitional Center.”
TO Design also conducted a food drive over Christmas and staffers recently donated blood.
What drives this altruistic effort?
Company principal Phil Barlow said the firm wants to include others in the celebration of its 30-year success.
“We understand that success doesn’t happen alone,” he explained. “It’s through our clients, through the community, through our vendors. ‘30 for 30’ is our way of showing gratitude.”
Estab-lished in 1987, TO Design takes what its principals call “a compre-hensive approach to the design of the land.” The firm boasts extensive experience with many project types, providing clients with what Barlow and firm principal Mark Fisher believe is “unparalleled value.”
Though a mid-sized firm, TO Design has the ability to respond to its clients’ evolving schedules, goals and challenges.
“For over 30 years, we have been collaborating with architects, municipal officials and other design professionals to produce outdoor spaces with lasting value,” Barlow said.
Fisher says the firm’s mission is “to bring outstanding design to all projects, regardless of size. We treat each project as a unique opportunity to improve our outdoor environment; we place a high value on natural features of the land.”
Key projects include Hartford’s Learning Corridor, New Britain’s Arch Walkway, the Eastern Connecticut State University Child Development Center and numerous projects at Walnut Hill Park.
Barlow said several of these projects are the result of renewed vitality and enthusiasm in the city.
TO Design worked with the Department of Public Works to develop an interpretive signage program for the downtown area, including text, mapping for the routes, and participation in public outreach efforts.
The city’s Historic Signage Walking Tour was an idea developed by the city’s Downtown Streetscape Working Group in response to a Preserve America Grant from the National Parks Service. The purpose is to celebrate the city’s rich history in a way that puts “feet on the street” around downtown New Britain and bring vibrancy downtown, helping to support central business district businesses.
“More restaurants and businesses in the downtown area have opened,” Barlow noted.
Mayor Erin Stewart recognizes the impact TO Design has had on the city.
“This is an innovative architectural planning firm we are proud to have in our community and to have collaborated with over the years on city projects that have transformed the fabric of our community,” she said. The mayor added that “from the historic walking tour, streetscape projects, renovations at New Britain Stadium, and many others, TO Design has shared our unique vision for preserving our historic past and developing our urban environment.”
Fisher agreed that there has been an increase in community-based design, and more “green” infrastructure. In fact, TO Design has participated in revitalization projects on Allen, Beaver, Broad and Glen streets.
Barlow calls the Arch Walkway “the most satisfying” of TO’s recent projects.
“The project involved so many people, so many different types of efforts,” he said. “It had such a buy-in from the city making it work. Also, working in Walnut Hill Park has been a pleasure.”
Quisenberry Arcari Architects, LLC of Farmington has partnered with TO Design for several years. Said Quisenberry Architect Kevin McFarland, “(TO) has never failed to come through in a pinch. From quick, yet high quality design sketches to fully detailed construction plans coordinating all aspects of landscape architecture and site design, they continue to impress.”
The firm’s principals credit TO’s design team that believes in the “magic of excellent design.” Barlow acknowledges that it’s no small feat to explain this belief.
“It’s easy to get good design and space people will enjoy,” he said. “But, to get a timeless space that people feel attached to takes extra effort, initiative and empathy for who your users will be and to understand what they’re going to appreciate and why. To us, that’s close to magic.”