Gullivar Shepard, AB ‘93, had a rock ’n’ roll upbringing — literally. “My dad and uncles were in a band, and my mom was the manager,” he said. Shepard traveled with them, finding ways to entertain himself. “Making things is how I found my happy space,” he said.
When he began his college studies, he went back and forth between art and architecture. “I started to realize the value of ideas,” he said. “It was so powerful to have an intelligent, understandable conversation about ideas and making things.” He eventually settled on architecture because he enjoyed the coursework so much. “WashU gave me a fearlessness about pursuing an idea all the way through to making it — it also gave me the fearlessness to transition into landscape architecture.”
Shepard remembers the teachers and community as both inspiration and friends. “There’s such passion in the school,” he said. “We’d go out to different parts of St. Louis and ask, ‘how do you make this feel positive and public and animated?’ It was about the ‘how.’ It helped me realize that I wanted a job where I’m always learning. That nourishes me and makes the work better.”
Shepard has been with his firm, Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, Inc., since 1999. The specific niche they’ve created and the many different hats he gets to wear are a big part of his excitement for his field. “I’m the biggest advocate for great architecture,” he said. “And I’m simultaneously engaged in urban planning, urban design, landscape architecture, ecology, hydrology … I’m constantly learning about how we make cities, how we impact landscapes, how we are changing things.”
One of his most significant projects has been St. Louis’ Gateway Arch Park, the revitalization of the iconic riverfront. “It meant a lot to me to be able to come back to St. Louis,” said Shepard. “I got to work on activating empty public space, making change that isn’t just filling in the box. It’s a very deep and important project for me.” While the Gateway Arch Park was in construction, he was the project lead for the Waterloo Greenway in Austin, Texas. “Before designing anything in St. Louis, I was really involved in 18 months of transportation planning and project funding — and in Austin, it was creek ecology, urban redevelopment, civil engineering,” he said.
For Shepard, landscape architecture is “intrinsically about continuity,” noting the importance of fluidity, moving between scales, and the ability to step outside the limits of the site you’re given. “Each project has these wonderful layers, and when you’re connecting those layers, you’re changing the culture of a place.”
Gateway Arch Park
Before Photo – MVVA
After Photo – Scott Shigley
Brooklyn Bridge Park, 2008 to 2022
Photos – Alex MacLean
Gullivar Shepard is a Partner of Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, Inc. Landscape Architects (MVVA). Originally trained as an architect and a cultural anthropologist, he has been a landscape architect for more than 20 years and has long been a guiding force at MVVA by steering many of the firm’s urban-scale projects. Shepard has held key leadership roles on large and complex projects where coordination between the natural, infrastructural, and urban context is of primary importance, including Waterloo Greenway in Austin, CityArchRiver in St. Louis, Brooklyn Bridge Park, and the Port Lands Flood Protection and Enabling Infrastructure Project.
Shepard is recognized for his skill in navigating programmatic requirements, regulatory and jurisdictional hurdles, and problematic site conditions in order to create rich public spaces. His interdisciplinary perspective aims to bridge the technical systems-thinking and the cultural considerations of public space within the design process. His projects and research are a laboratory for innovative building methods, site design, communication tools, engagement and project management.
Since joining MVVA in 1999, Shepard has applied his integrated design approach to challenges such as ecological restoration, flood control, transportation planning, utility planning, and choreographing connections to parks and waterfronts. With a background in architecture, his expertise ranges from the fine details of building landscapes to tackling unconventional design challenges through engaging with allied disciplines, such as civil engineering and hydrology, to expand MVVA’s practice. He earned a bachelor of arts in architecture from Washington University and a master of architecture from Harvard University, where he was awarded the Araldo A. Cossutta Annual Prize for Design Excellence.