Michael D’Angelo, principal of his eponymous landscape architecture firm, talks sustainability and the summer job that started it all.
The stunning rear lawn at a Brookline residence. The project’s landscape contractor was Doug Curtiss. PHOTO BY CHRIS RUCINSKI
The stunning rear lawn at a Brookline residence. The project’s landscape contractor was Doug Curtiss.

At the time, it was just a summer job. But looking back, those months spent working outside shaped Michael D’Angelo’s (m-d-l-a.com) future as the owner of his own landscape architecture firm. “I worked at a very large estate in Connecticut that was roughly 300 acres. The summer home was modeled after an Italian villa. There was a 144 apple tree orchard, walled gardens and woodland trails that were miles long. I was part of a crew of about 10 people who worked in the gardens, maintained the orchard and cut the trails through the woods. I think that was probably what got me pointed in the direction of landscape architecture. I majored in it a couple of years later at the University of Rhode Island,” says D’Angelo.

The pool area at the Brookline residence. The project’s general contractor was RTHarris Builders. PHOTO BY CHRIS RUCINSKI
The pool area at the Brookline residence. The project’s general contractor was RTHarris Builders.

After graduation he worked for Copley Wolff for seven years before deciding to open his own firm in 2014. Recently, the firm expanded with another office in Glastonbury, Connecticut. The small-but-mighty company works on a variety of projects from the commercial to the residential. “We’ll do everything from urban courtyards in the South End to roof decks in the Back Bay to homes on Lake Winnipesaukee, all the way up to large projects for multifamilies, universities and corporate offices,” he says. D’Angelo enjoys the variety of maintaining a diverse portfolio. With residential work, he and his team get to be more creative, more personable and the commercial projects present compelling challenges. “There’s a big drive to have outdoor space, we just did a large roof deck at One Financial Center as an amenity for the whole building to use. And on the multi-family side, there’s a lot of emphasis to make it feel like a resort—many of these buildings have swimming pools and hot tubs,” he says.

The process for each differs, but no matter what the project, D’Angelo prefers to get involved as early as possible. “We like to work with the architect to coordinate the details, help site the driveway and even position the house. We use our knowledge and expertise of the grade and terrain of the earth to select the best location for these things. We stay involved all the way through construction to the end,” he says. “One of the best ways you can be sustainably-minded is how you plan the driveways and the roads so you don’t just clear cut the forest.”

HEADSHOT BY DOROTHY GRECO

Almost all of D’Angelo’s commercial projects are LEED certified and therefore the landscape architect is required to show sustainability measures and how they’re using water efficiently. D’Angelo uses permeable pavements that absorb water into the earth instead of letting it run off. “Probably the biggest piece of what we do in terms of sustainability is managing stormwater. A lot of the towns around Boston require us to show that we’re getting the water to the ground, keeping it onsite and letting it infiltrate. The biggest way we contribute is how to manage the stormwater creatively,” he says. In one project, they’re taking the stormwater, holding it in tanks and then reusing it for irrigation.

Although the emphasis on sustainability isn’t as significant when working on smaller residential projects, there are still some clients that consider it. D’Angelo is involved with a development now on the Jamaica Plain and Brookline border that will feature 36 new, unique residences clustered around a historic mansion that will be converted into condos. The goal is to make this high-end community feel as if it’s placed within the woods. “They’re leaning on us to tuck the homes into the natural topography and take a different approach than maybe an engineer would when they lay out a subdivision. We’re looking at the existing trees to see how they relate to the site and how we can work the houses and the roads around them,” says D’Angelo. “Where we bring the most value in terms of sustainability is site planning, water management and then planting strategies.” To this end, he tries to use less lawn and more flowering meadows, incorporating drought-tolerant plants and native plants instead of those with higher water needs.

Another view of the grassy steps leading up to the loungers by the pool. PHOTO BY CHRIS RUCINSKI
Another view of the grassy steps leading up to the loungers by the pool.

D’Angelo’s come a long way from the days he spent maintaining a single estate. But he’s still committed to making sure things grow, himself included.