The spaces we spend time in have a greater effect on our lives than we think, says Johanna Spalink-Sievers. As a landscape architect, she does the thinking for her clients, creating pleasing, functional environments.
Johanna Spalink-Sievers' home is full of colors and light
Outside Johanna Spalink-Sievers likes dark green lawns and neatly trimmed hedges. Inside her expansive, pre-war apartment, the white walls are covered in colorful paintings and the shelves are full of books and family photos and small statues. There's a vase of fresh roses on the dining room table.
Spalink-Sievers works with the community to create spaces it can use
As a landscape architect Spalink-Sievers is someone who believes in the importance of space, someone who knows that the right bush can turn an empty patch of dirt into a backyard, someone who hopes that open walkways and a simple, sculpted topiary can turn a blighted housing complex into a place people are proud to call home.
In Bremen Spalink-Sievers has spent the last five years working on one such project called Osterholz-Tenever. It's a high rise development that had deteriorated over the years into a neighborhood with a bad reputation. Now the entire complex has been renovated, with some of the high rises torn down to let the sunlight in.
A simple meal is made more special with good wine and good friends
Spalink-Sievers took part in a competition to rethink the outdoor spaces and won the first prize. Now she's redesigned the whole area, from the winding paths to the roofs of the underground parking garages to those topiaries in front of each building. On this day she is meeting with the event coordinator for the German Chamber Philharmonic Bremen to discuss possible sites for a future open-air concert venue.
"We can't solve social problems with landscape architecture," says Spalink-Sievers, "but we can help make sure that certain addresses are not stigmatized, for example, with a well-designed outdoor space for a housing development."
Landscape architecture deals with the superficial, she says. But that doesn't mean it's meaningless.
A busy architect and mother
Bremen is more than 100 kilometers (62 miles) north of Hanover, but spending hours in the car with her GPS guiding her throughout northern Germany is a part of her job. She listens to classical music and news radio as travels from site to site, meeting with homeowners and the contractors turning her plans into a living reality.
Spalink-Sievers relies on her GPS as she travels around Germany
Other days she spends in her new office, just a five-minute walk from her apartment, developing these plans and running her business with four employees. Until recently, her office was actually in the apartment she shares with her husband and where they have raised their four children.
Spalink-Sievers has always worked and having both a career and a family was non-negotiable for her.
"I simply have a strong urge to do something outside of family and raising children," she says. What made it all possible, she adds, were her husband's support and the help of au-pairs.
But surely some of that success must also come from her own ability to juggle the demands of her job with those of her family, while still finding time to sing once a week with her International Ladies Choir.
"I think that Johanna is a woman that, on the one hand is very structured in her thinking, who knows what she wants and has very clear design principles, and on the other hand has a great warmth and empathy," says Klaus Trojan, family friend and retired professor of architecture at the Leibniz University of Hanover.
Johanna and Jan have been married for 25 years
After visiting a school in Hanover, the development in Bremen and a private home in Burgwedel, Spalink-Sievers has just enough time to pop home and change out of her comfortable shoes into something a bit more formal before she and her husband go to an exhibition and reception for Trojan at the achitects' association.
A day that began early with tea and breakfast with her husband and 18-year-old son, Tim, ends hours later around the same table with Trojan and wine and bread and cheese and meat.
Enjoying the phases of life
This is one finished project Spalink-Sievers is particularly proud of
It's been a full day and in fact so far it's been a full life. But Tim is the last kid still living at home and he should finish at his international school this spring. Then Spalink-Sievers and her husband will get to enjoy something they've never had: a relationship without kids at home. Spalink-Sievers takes this change and her own aging all in stride.
"The art in life is to recognize whichever stage of life you find yourself in and then make the best out of it," she says.
Spalink-Sievers seems to be doing exactly that. So far this phase seems to be made up of grandchildren, walks with her husband in the morning, success at work and lots of trips to their vacation house in southern France.
Author: Holly Fox
Editor: Rina Goldenberg