Business-in-residence Spotlight: livingLab

Landscape architecture : planning : project realization



What do they do?

livingLAB is a planning and landscape architecture design studio that partners with governmental entities, cities, townships, neighborhood organizations, and other nonprofits, as well as private landowners, to create sustainable, cutting-edge planning and community design projects.


Leah Groya(planner and interviewee), Jason Macdonald, Courtney Piotrowski (landscape architects), and Lauren Hoffman (landscape designer). photo-1

The Start:

livingLAB started five years ago when Leah, Jason, and Courtney, who all worked together previously,  discussed their idea of wanting to start a design studio where they could be integrated with the community, heavily involved in projects, and flexible with their approach to projects. After a number of late night meetings and strategy discussions, as well as a considerable amount of research and advice from a variety of folks, livingLAB was born.


livingLAB has a number of long-term relationships with existing clients. When a client that livingLAB has a relationship with wants to start a new project, the dialog can quickly evolve from conversation into a formal agreement for a particular scope of work – whether it be developing a graphic to capture the vision for making a neighborhood more walkable, or putting together construction documents for a new park. On the other hand, some agencies  post  RFPs (Request for Proposals) through a public bidding process. This process works  like an ad. An agency will submit their desired project and multiple design companies will respond to the RFP, stating their expertise, approach to the project, availability and professional fees associated with completing the work.
whs-community-market-garden What are they working on now?

In addition to a variety of other exciting projects, livingLAB is working with DTE Energy to design and construct a new public park in downtown Detroit that will open in 2017. They are also working on developing a U-pick apple orchard and market on the east side of Detroit with  Wolverine Human Services and with the Woodbridge neighborhood in Detroit  to create a plan called Walk Woodbridge, to identify ways to make the community more walkable, bikeable, and more connected to the surrounding neighborhoods.


livingLAB aims to portray the full spectrum of triple bottom line values (people, profit, and planet) not only through business operations but also in their projects. livingLAB works to learn the personality of the communities they work with to make recommendations and designs that reflect their needs.

Leah M. Goya, interviewee.
Leah M. Goya, interviewee.

Leah’s Background:

Beginning her college experience as an undeclared Freshman at Michigan State University, Leah was interested in learning about a variety of fields and career paths. Thus, she would meet people and ask them what their major was, and what it entailed. One woman she talked to was getting a degree in urban planning. It sounded interesting enough, so Leah asked for more details. As a result of that conversation, she enrolled in the Urban Planning 101 course, figuring, “Hey, if I don’t like it, at least it could as an elective!.” As a result of a whimful conversation and one class, Leah began her journey down the path of Urban Planning, gaining a Bachelor’s Degree in the subject, and going on to work at a large design  firm for fifteen years, where she would eventually meet the other masterminds behind livingLAB.

Leah’s Advice:

“Get experience,” she said, “Get experience!” Leah’s advice to high school students or anyone trying to figure out their future was to try a multitude of different things considering you never know what path an opportunity may lead to. “Just gobble up experience. Take offers, try things, go places, and see the world.”

Want to learn more about livingLAB and what they’re up to? Visit their Facebook Page  or contact them via their website,

Green Garage business-in-residence spotlights are written by Nehe-Miah Scarborough, a student at Detroit Cristo Rey High School who’s interning with the Green Garage.

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