New Urban Design Practice REALM Collaborative Launches Downtown

Buildings may make up a city, but it’s the spaces in between that give it character. That public realm is the focus of new landscape architecture and urban design practice REALM Collaborative.

“Urban design and landscape architecture is an exterior space that has profound affect on the social impact of that space, the social interactivity of that space, and how people engage and live within it,” says Nick Gilliland, one of the founding members of REALM Collaborative. “We get to kind of craft and cultivate how that space is brought about and used every day, and to me, that’s a pretty powerful opportunity.”

Gilliland is joined by fellow landscape architects and urban designers Brian Bernstein and Carmine Russo. All Ohio State grads, each boast over a decade of industry experience. Russo and Bernstein spent time at various firms before heading for global architecture firm NBBJ, joining Gilliland who had spent his entire career there.realm-logo-med

Their careers at NBBJ took them across nation and across the globe, but REALM represents the opportunity to affect change on a more local level.

“We’ve reached a point in our career that we’ve gotten a lot of great experience with the firms we’ve worked with before,” Bernstein says. “I think we were just interested in having more of an intimate touch on the projects that we were working on.”

“We have this international expertise that we’ve developed, and we’re always looking at places that we walk every day and say, ‘What if we could do that here?” Russo adds.

‘That’ is more than just that common misconception that landscape architects place shrubs around a building or something of the sort, Bernstein explains.

“How do you make cities livable? How do you make the spaces in between buildings livable?” he asks.

As many cities, like Columbus, look to attract young talent, it’s those spaces and places that can help a person form a connection with a city. If local cities don’t create the environments that competing cities do, they stand to lose out on the next generation.

“We want to help the cities in our region to compete on that level by creating space and places and destinations that attract people to stay and retain,” Russo says.

REALM sees ample opportunity to do that in Columbus. Columbus is a rapidly growing city, and if even some of the growth projected over the next 10 to 20 years happens Downtown, there’s opportunity for what REALM considers smart growth.

“We want to contribute to that and we feel like there’s an ability to do that here,” Russo says, adding that if they didn’t think there was an opportunity to make an impact, they wouldn’t be doing it.

Nick Gilliland, Brian Bernstein, Carmine Russo Jr. - Photo credit: Henry Bernstein/Three Driveway Media
Nick Gilliland, Brian Bernstein, Carmine Russo Jr. – Photo credit: Henry Bernstein/Three Driveway Media

If REALM represents the space in which they work, collaborative represents how the practice aims to do it.

“We know we’re not experts at everything, but how do we create partnerships with people that are?” Gilliland asks.

The team considers themselves leaders that can bring the appropriate people to the table to help create a more informed, better design solution. Through those collaborations, the trio can continue to grow and learn from others with expertise in certain fields.

The REALM team has surrounded themselves with experts in other fields as part of a shared office space Downtown at 22 E. Gay St.

“We didn’t want to be isolated in an office space by ourselves; we wanted to be in a space particularly even with different professions,” Bernstein says. “And clearly, being Downtown was something that was important to us in terms of being within the world that we’re really trying to affect.”

While the practice itself might be new, Bernstein shies away from calling them a startup. They’ve got the industry experience, they are just implementing under their own name with a bit more freedom.

We’re a very powerful group, but also very nimble at the same time to allow us to adapt and evolve in a very rapid, meaningful way to each of our clients’ different needs,” Gilliland says. 

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