What We Think

Certain experiences we’ve had working with communities have shaped how we think about our work, what is our role as a designer and advocate. What can we bring to a situation by virtue of coming from the outside, as we often do? What can we learn from a site? What can people there teach us?


It’s important to join communities we work with so we can gain their trust, get to learn their priorities, values, deep passions, and hot buttons. It’s the same with their sites. One of the great values of being new to the problem and the site is the fresh eyes that we can bring to what is really powerful, beautiful, and provocative. These features or qualities may be so familiar that they have been hiding in plain sight.


We hate importations. We’re always looking for those things that the city is already made of, that make cities unique, turning the familiar into the strange and beautiful experiences that resonate with native culture and create vivid memories that could never exist anywhere else.


Healthy design processes are shaped by deep engagement with the client and community, learning their stories and experiences, not just what they wrote on a note card. In the end, the project is about a communal vision that is forged by the values of the public it will serve. Our job then becomes translating that vision into a physical, material sensibility that resonates with people, that feels both familiar and new at the same time. It’s about the hard work of making things fit and cohere, making them practical, logical, affordable, and something you never forget!

Who We Are

Tom Leader

Principal / Founder

Tom Leader is founder and principal of TLS Landscape Architecture in Berkeley, CA. For nearly 35 years, Tom has grounded his practice in an authentic understanding and appreciation of culture, ecology, craftsmanship and design. Sincere in his exploration of the creative process, Tom has remained on the cutting edge of design innovation, his work widely recognized for excellence. Since founding TLS in 2001, Tom has sought to create “original, tangible experiences” of place in such award-winning projects as Railroad Park in Birmingham, Alabama, and RIVERFIRST in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and through his provocative site works and art installations. A former partner at Peter Walker + Partners, Tom received a BA in landscape architecture from UC Berkeley and MLA from Harvard University Graduate School of Design.


He received the Rome Prize in Landscape Architecture at the American Academy in Rome in 1998/99 and was a finalist for the Smithsonian National Design Award in 2011. The work of TLS has been featured in various museum exhibitions including “Shanghai Carpet”, in MoMA New York’s 2007 “Groundswell”, concerning international landscape design. Tom lectures widely and the work of TLS is published frequently. Tom serves the Bay Area community as a member of the Bay Conservation and Development Commission Design Review Board as well as the City of Richmond Design Review Board. A Richmond resident, Tom leads the firm’s pro bono planning work for the future of the 35 mile Richmond shoreline looking at the intersection of sea level rise and seismic stability planning. This year he was elected to the College of Fellows of the ASLA.

Erik Prince


Erik Prince, RLA joined TLS in 2011, and has led a range of projects that combine strategic planning and urban design with the construction of complex public spaces. Erik has over 14 years of experience in the field of Landscape Architecture. His design talent and leadership distinguish many of TLS’s projects with his expertise in waterfront landscapes, and a clear understanding of the fabrication and construction process. Recent work includes leading the Boulder Civic Area Master Plan, including the construction of the first phase of a 6-acre active park along Boulder Creek; The Yard proposal for the India Basin Waterfront Competition; and the Richmond Bayway, a long-term planning study for an altered shoreline along the City of Richmond. Additional TLS projects include Hunters Point Shipyard, St. Petersburg Pier, and Minneapolis Riverfirst.


Prior to joining TLS, he was an Associate at Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates (New York, NY) and Stoss (Boston, MA) working as designer and project manager on various award-winning projects including Brooklyn Bridge Park; the Lower Don Lands; Teardrop Park South; and The Plaza at Harvard University.  Erik is a Lecturer at UC Berkeley, with previous experience teaching planning and urban design studios at Northeastern University. He holds a BS in Landscape Architecture from Colorado State University. He graduated with Distinction from the Harvard Graduate School of Design with a Masters of Landscape Architecture, and awarded the Jacob Weidenmann Prize, the Department of Landscape Architecture’s highest award for design.

Yi-Shan Chen

Senior Associate

Yi-Shan designed and managed the construction of major landscape projects throughout the U.S. and overseas for—among others—HOK, SWA, and EDSA before joining TLS in 2013. Her project experience includes public streetscapes and plazas; civic and educational institutions; healthcare and recreational facilities; high-end resorts; and residential estates. She received her Bachelor’s degree in Botany from National Taiwan University and her Master in Landscape Architecture from Harvard.


Yi-Shan believes in a more sustainable future achieved through green urbanism, green infrastructure, and low-impact development design. She is especially well-versed in the challenges and technical strategies inherent in a sustainable design approach and is a strong advocate for the use of environmentally responsible design products and techniques. Yi-Shan has a multilingual and multicultural background. She enjoys playing Debussy’s L’œuvre Pour Piano and watching “Iron Chef” in her free time.

Wei Chen

Senior Associate

Asia Practice Director

Wei Chen has always found beauty in the intricacies of life. Originally trained as an engineer in China, he soon found himself enthralled by the transformative power of nature. His professional education followed this passion in a logical trajectory and before long Wei attained a degree in environmental design. His design work at TLS seamlessly merges an enthusiasm for landscapes with a wide array of technical skills in photography, animation, and graphic design. He earned an MLA degree from the University of Pennsylvania School of Design, and was awarded an ASLA Honor Award in 2012.

Kathryn Drinkhouse


Technical Director

For over 20 years, Kathryn has collaborated with creative and talented professionals, bringing projects to fruition. She enjoys the opportunities, team work, problem solving, and new challenges presented by each project. Moving projects from design through documentation and construction, she has helped build a variety of environments including large regional parks; public urban parks; downtown streetscapes; high-rise mixed-use developments; major league ball parks; institutional and educational campuses; and single-family residences. She loves getting projects built and watching ideas bloom, come to life, and evolve into new spaces for enjoyment. After graduating from the University of Florida, Kathryn has been able to do this with Sasaki Associates; Patricia O’Brien Landscape Architecture; Peter Walker and Partners; Martha Schwartz/Ken Smith/David Meyer Landscape Architects; and is now three years into her tenure with Tom Leader Studio.


Wenmo Zhang

Project Designer

A documentary about Anthony Gaudi sparked Wenmo’s lifelong fascination with landscape architecture. How could a man create such brilliant and engaging space? This is the core question that drives her work as a landscape architecture designer. After eight years of study and work, she finally became a member of Tom Leader Studio (TLS), bringing her one step closer to the dream of applying her creativity and enthusiasm to the field. Before attending graduate school in the U.S., Wenmo worked for two years in Beijing and gained valuable professional experience at Tsinghua Hong Zheng Landscape Studio and China Academy of Urban Planning and Design. She was involved in multiple projects scaling from sculpture to urban design and planning, which built a solid foundation for her study and work at TLS.


Wenmo received her BA in Landscape Architecture from Remin University of China, and Master of Landscape Architecture & Regional Planning degrees from the University of Pennsylvania. In addition to landscape architecture design, she is interested in arts, history, philosophy, and travel. Her footprints can be found around the world including Spain, France, Italy, Northern Europe, North America, the Caribbean, Latin America, Japan, and Southwest Asia.

Robert Cabral

Project Designer

Robert is a native Rhode Islander and Bay Area transplant. He received his BA from Tulane University, and received Master’s degrees in Landscape Architecture and Urban Planning from the University of Michigan, where he was awarded the ASLA Certificate of Honor for his graduate work. He is passionate about creating landscapes that are expressive of their culture and place, and has a soft spot for any design with a strong narrative.


At TLS Robert has contributed to a variety of domestic and international projects, including the US Consulate in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia; designs for the Schwab Residential Center courtyard and the Biomedical Innovation Center at Stanford University; and large scale plans in Wuhan, Suzhou, Kunming, and Shenzhen.


Prior to joining TLS, Robert worked on plans for New York City’s coastal infrastructure with the NYC Department of City Planning’s Waterfront Division, as well as CityWalk, a plan to connect Providence, Rhode Island’s neighborhoods from Roger Williams Park to India Point with L + A Landscape Architecture.

Mario Accordino

Project Designer

Mario started studying architecture at Northeastern University before transferring to the school’s newly formed Urban Landscape program in order to pursue issues of regional sustainability and ecological infrastructure. After passing through the offices of several landscape architecture firms in Boston, Mario received his BLA. His interests lie in the integration of natural and urban realms, specifically how operational industries can respond to their social, cultural and ecological contexts. Being born in Richmond, Virginia fostered his appreciation for mid-sized American cities and their architectural heritage, which led him to co-found the journalistic organization ArchitectureRichmond, one of his several part-time pursuits.

Hang Su

Project Designer

With a background in both architecture and landscape architecture, Hang Su has always been obsessed with designing for the challenges facing complex urban situations. After receiving his BA from China Academy of Art, a MLA from the University of Minnesota, studying in Netherlands and Turkey, and working with a variety of firms in China and the US, he has gained a wide range of project experiences of different scales. In particular, his projects have been focused on exploring how nature processes interact with the complexity of modern landscape while evoking people’s sensorial experiences, and have been awarded the MN Chapter ASLA Merit Award and Student Design Excellence during his Graduate School. Since joining the TLS team, he has continued to learn and shape the future of cities worldwide. His spatial and graphical abilities help bring the clarity and uniqueness to intricate project-based solutions. During his free time, Hang likes to travel by train, ski and hike.

Heather Dunbar

Project Designer

Heather is happy to be contributing to the work at TLS where there is a rigorous engagement and belief in the public realm. By virtue of her previous career as a designer for theater and film in New York City, Heather brings an interest and sensibility of texture, material and narrative to her work and how these tools can be engaged towards placemaking.


While Heather has contributed to various international and national projects at TLS, her primary focus has been a new HUD financed 8 acre public park in Birmingham, Alabama (which she is project managing) and a corporate site in Los Angeles.


Prior to joining TLS Heather worked at SWA (Sausalito), GLS (San Francisco)and Public Work (Toronto). She graduated from Harvard Graduate School of Design where her graduate work included studios with Rem Koolhaas and Konjian Yu. She is also a TLS intern alum.

Xin Zhong

Project Designer

Xin joined TLS as a project designer in 2016. Her design perspective is informed by her background in landscape architecture, fine art and environmental design. Xin’s design enthusiasm is for exploring unique solutions for the public realm that meld rational strategies and emotional understanding.


Prior to TLS, she has worked in Populous Group LLC in San Francisco and Vanke Co, ltd in Beijing with a wide range of projects throughout U.S, China and Mexico.  Her working experience covers master planning, mixed-use complex, civic parks and plazas, and residential estates, etc. She brings to each project a sense of contemporary culture, identity, sustainability and beauty.


Xin received a Bachelor of Arts from Tsinghua University in Beijing, China and a Master of Landscape Architecture from the University of Virginia. Additionally, her work has been exhibited during Milano design week in Italy.

Pablo Alfaro

Project Designer

Pablo’s life has been always shaped by landscape. He was born during one of the biggest floods in Santiago de Chile in 1982, grew up next to the Andes, surfed in the cold waters of the Humboldt current, and studied architecture surrounded by nature in a colonial “casa Patio.” There he did his thesis about fog collection as a sustainable landscape infrastructure to provide water in the Atacama Desert. After obtaining his architecture degree in 2008 he worked in several important landscape infrastructure and public architecture projects in Chile, most of them funded by the Chilean government. His search for arid landscapes of fog brought him to California where he earned an MLA degree from UC Berkeley.


Pablo doesn’t believe in a division between architecture and landscape, hence his work consistently creates linkages between the two disciplines. He’s been awarded the Stephen Lenci Award for Architecture and Landscape Architecture Research, the Randy Hester Award for Ecological Democracy 2015, the ASLA Certificate of Honor, and the ASLA Honor Award 2016 for his project FOGFEST, featured on the cover of LAM Magazine.

Emily Leader

Studio Coordinator

Emily has ventured over from the museum world to explore a new creative realm at TLS. She received her BA from Hampshire College, where she studied the intersection of art and religion. For her senior thesis project—titled “Words Made Flesh”—she designed and wrote a catalog for a hypothetical exhibition of depictions of Christ in 20th and 21st century art. Emily did an internship in Visual Arts and Community Engagement at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco, which solidified her interest in working in the creative world. She enjoys comics and early 1960s girl groups.

Tom McMillan

Consulting Principal

Since completing his undergraduate and graduate degrees in architecture at UC Berkeley in 1973, Tom has worked almost exclusively as an architect for Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) in San Francisco. Beginning there as a designer, he gradually shifted into work with a technical emphasis, eventually becoming a technical studio director. Tom honed his expertise in site development based on opportunities to work on several large projects with major site components requiring coordinating the architecture with civil engineers and landscape architects.


During his 35-year tenure at SOM, Tom led several award-winning projects. Tom recently left the firm to pursue other passions, which—in addition to cycling and fishing—include landscape architecture. In his role as a consulting principal, Tom brings his years of experience and technical skills as an architect to TLS’s projects, helping to ensure their workability, affordability, constructability, longevity, and delight.

Ivan Valin

Associate / Hong Kong Studio Director

Ivan is currently based in Hong Kong, where he is helping to establish a regional TLS office. Before moving overseas Ivan worked at the TLS Berkeley studio, where he was involved in numerous projects including Railroad Park East Gate and the San Bernardino Courthouse. In Hong Kong, he was a Senior Associate at AECOM, where he directed high-profile government and commercial projects in Hong Kong and China.


Ivan is currently an Assistant Professor of Landscape Architecture at the University of Hong Kong, where he teaches graduate design studios and leads seminars on construction technology and strategic landscape master planning. His design and research work explore issues of water and landscape ecology in tropical cities, as well as landscape planning practices in peri-urban areas. Ivan’s work has been exhibited internationally with the National Building Museum, the International Architecture Biennale in Rotterdam, and the Hong Kong and Shenzhen Biennale.


Ivan holds both a Master in Architecture degree and a Master in Landscape Architecture degree from the University of California at Berkeley, where he was the recipient of the G. Hoshi Prize and the J.K. Branner Traveling Fellowship.

Shengxian Jian

China Project Coordinator

Shengxian Jian has an international perspective, with a focus on local practice. The influence of modern landscape design informs his thinking about the space, form, and materials of landscape through the natural, cultural, and historic elements of the place. He manages projects from concept to construction, and builds relationships with architects, engineers, artists, and ecologists to drive the development of complex projects.


His recent work includes projects such as Shishan Park in Suzhou, China; Meijie Mountain Hotspring Resort in Liyang, China; and International Biomedicine Science and Innovation Center in Shanghai, China.


Shengxian Jian holds a PhD in Landscape Architecture from Tongji University, and was a Visiting Scholar in Landscape Architecture at the University of Pennsylvania.

Fan Wei

China Project Coordinator

Fan Wei has a deep interest in the role of landscape architecture in shaping and changing urban public life. He has always been interested in the interaction between design, phenomenon, and theoretic interpretation. He holds a PhD in Landscape Architecture from Tongji University.



MIPIM Asia Best Chinese Futura Project Gold Award, Wuhan Erqi

ASLA-MN Merit Award for Analysis and Planning, RiverFirst



SCUP Excellence in Landscape Architecture, Open Space and Planning and Design Award, Stanford Medical School



ULI Amanda Burden Urban Open Space Award, Railroad Park



ASLA Alabama Honor Award, Railroad Park

Cooper Hewitt Museum National Design Award, Finalist



ASLA Honor Award, Pool Pavilion Forest

ASLA Honor Award, Stabiae Archaeological Park

ASLA-NCC Merit Award, Parkmerced



Rebuilding the American City, David Gamble and Patty Heyda



“2 Concepts for Shaping Region’s Future Shoreline,” John King, San Francisco Chronicle

30:30 Landscape Architecture, Meaghan Kombol



Curating at the Edge: Artists Respond to the U.S./Mexico Border, Kate Bonansinga

“Everybody’s Territory,” Beth Dunlop, Landscape Architecture Magazine



“Birmingham Aims for Efficient Urban Renewal with $17.5M Rail Park,” Suzanne Labarre, Fast Company



Tom Leader Studio: Three Projects, Jason Kentner, Source Books in Landscape Architecture



Pool Pavilion Forest, cover story, Landscape Architecture Magazine



“Messing with Perfection,” ID Magazine



Next Generation Architecture, Joseph Rosa, Rizzoli

“Avant Gardens,” New York Times Arts section



Pool Pavilion Forest, Dialogue Magazine



“Railyard Remake in Santa Fe,” Competitions Magazine

“Sediment,” Landscape Journal, Vol. 21

“Fresh Ideas?” Landscape Architecture Magazine



“Revelatory Landsacpes,” SFMOMA exhibition catalog



Richmond Bayway, Meeting of the Minds, Richmond, CA

“Emerald Networks: Reviving the Legacy of City Parks,” Northeastern University, Boston, MA



“Crafting Architecture: Concept, Sketch, Model,” Museum of Craft and Design, San Francisco, CA



Snagged, Gallery Installation, University of Texas, El Paso

Compost, Gallery Installation, Ohio State University



National Design Triennial, “Design Life Now,” Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum



“Entry 2006,” Zollverein Design Museum



“Groundswell,” Museum of Modern Art, New York



“Temporal Map of Rome,” San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, acquired for Permanent Collection

“Earth Economics,” ArchiLab, Orleans, France



“Revelatory Landscapes,” San Francisco Museum of Modern Art