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Connecting the Dots: Landscape Forms Designer on His Path to Kalamazoo

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Landscape Forms Efrain Velez

Efrain Velez has had what one might call an unconventional path to where he is today as a Senior Designer at Landscape Forms in Kalamazoo.

"I've been here for four years, but it really feels like I've been here much longer," laughed Velez.

As a member of the Landscape Forms design team, Velez brings concepts for intriguing and innovative outdoor furniture to life. These concepts can be collaborations between he and one of Landscape Forms' internationally renowned design partners, or one of his original designs such as the Olithas table made of Meldstone "ยข Ultra High Performance Concrete and metal.

No matter the challenge, Velez draws on a past rich with education, mentorship, and multi-cultural experience as well as his local connections in Kalamazoo.

Born in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Velez grew up in the faculty housing buildings of the University of Puerto Rico where his mother was a professor. He began exploring the arts early as a child through school and an apprenticeship with a celebrated painter. At age 15, the Velez family relocated to San Antonio, Texas, where Velez continued to connect with art instructors.

"I have had so many strong, influential mentors in my life," said Velez. "Even early on, I was learning theory and skills that shape my work today.

Velez went on to study and earn an undergraduate degree from the University of Texas at Austin and a master's degree in industrial design from the Scuola Politecnica di Design in Italy before enrolling in the University of Texas School of Architecture.

"Architecture is ultimately about bringing people together to commune, which is what I have always been drawn to in my design work," said Velez.

After formative internships and studies with local, national, and international institutions such as the Marriott group, Renzo Piano Building Workshop in Paris, and the National Autonomous University of Mexico, Velez graduated from architecture school in 2006 and began a career at renowned architecture firm HDR. He participated in architecture projects spanning the country, and eventually joined the firm's burgeoning product design division before leaving the firm during the economic recession.

"I had a series of jobs around Austin during the recession, but my real work was pursuing my own designs - developing independent projects with friends and former colleagues. You can't turn it off."

While speaking as a lecturer at the Austin Museum of Art, an attendee who was familiar with Landscape Forms and knew the company was seeking a new senior designer. The connection was made and Velez moved to Kalamazoo.

Velez has now been in Kalamazoo for four years and expresses his surprise and satisfaction in finding a vibrant arts and design community here.

"I've met some really excellent designers and artists locally that I have begun to collaborate with. It also helps to be within a short drive of Detroit, Chicago, and Grand Rapids. You can really feel how Kalamazoo is growing and being shaped by a strong arts community here and around it."

As Velez dives deeper into his work at Landscape Forms and in the community, the experiences he gains in the Kalamazoo community and with contacts around the world are becoming increasingly important to evolving his design and advancing his career.

"It is easy to see now, looking back, how each experience and person I met led me to where I am today," said Velez. "Now, I am making these connections here in Kalamazoo and sharing with our community how design at Landscape Forms is all about bringing people together in the outdoor space."

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