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AECOM is the perfect fit for Landscape Architect Shalini Ullal

AECOM is the perfect fit for Landscape Architect Shalini Ullal

 April 27, 2023

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Shalini Ullal is a Landscape Architecture Team Lead from AECOM's Buildings + Place business line in Canada. As part of AECOM's People Spotlight, AECOM is highlighting Shalini to provide an insight into her design inspiration and work.

Passionate about creating architectural solutions

As a student of architecture in Calcutta in India, Shalini was passionate about creating architectural solutions for the people most impacted by the lack of adequate housing—those living in slums. "Upon taking it up as a subject for my fourth-year thesis project, I realized that the problem of inadequate housing required solutions that went beyond the physical buildings that people lived in," shares Shalini.

"As I progressed through the research and design process, two things became clear. First, architecture had to be flexible enough to allow people to build as their needs grew and as their resources allowed. Second, common spaces would be necessary as a low-cost extension of people’s otherwise small homes. In my visits to nearby slums, I saw the difference these shared open spaces made in the lives of people—as extensions of their living spaces, safe places for children to play, and for availability of common amenities like water. This made me think about the interplay between open spaces and buildings, and the importance of integrating the built form with its surroundings."

Career opportunities in landscape architecture

Upon graduation, Shalini pursued a master’s degree in Landscape Architecture at the School of Planning and Architecture in New Delhi, India. "This education further opened my eyes to context-sensitive design and an awareness of how our site solutions can have a major impact on people and the environment," she explains.  

"My aim was to design buildings that were integrated with the landscape and vice versa. When I moved to Canada, I was presented more opportunities in landscape architecture, and I decided to get certified as a landscape architect."

Joining AECOM seemed like a perfect fit as it presented Shalini an opportunity to work on large-scale multidisciplinary and technically challenging projects, where AECOM's integrated disciplines work together to provide comprehensive solutions for its clients.

"The complexity of sites and solutions continue to challenge me to grow and evolve. I am similarly driven by the support, knowledge, and commitment of my colleagues, and knowing that the work we are doing is making a difference in the places we live, to our environment and to the lives of our neighbours, friends, and families," says Shalini. 

Diverse and interesting projects 

When asked about her favorite AECOM project she has worked on, Shalini says: "Although I have been fortunate enough to work on several diverse and interesting projects since I joined AECOM, my favorite is the Front Street Revitalization at Toronto’s Union Station because it transformed the fabric of a very significant stretch of the city. Front Street is the stage-set for Union Station, Toronto’s primary transportation hub. Over 26 million people typically pass through this congested public realm annually. When the City of Toronto and the Toronto Transit Commission initiated a restoration and refurbishment of the aging station that would require excavation of Front Street, they seized the opportunity to reduce costs and minimize disruption by revitalizing Front Street at the same time based on an approved environmental assessment. AECOM’s landscape architects led this re-design and transformed the street into an attractive, vibrant, urban destination with improved safety and mobility."

Working with a talented team 

By working closely with many City of Toronto agencies and stakeholders, Shalini learned a lot. "I was able to understand their concerns and gained an insight into their considerations for public realm design on such a heavily used section of the street."

"I enjoyed the complexity of the project, working with our very talented team in developing new and custom details for different conditions encountered during design, seeing the project closely through construction, and working through the challenges that came our way. I still remember being amazed when the construction fencing was stripped away, and I could experience the entire space between Union Station and the Royal York Hotel—the street was completely transformed. It was also very rewarding to overhear the appreciation of the passersby and the positive comments in the media on how this revitalization had made a difference to visitors’ first experience of the city!" she explains.

Work that positively impacts the community 

Sharing an element of her work that positively impacted the community, Shalini highlights the Front Street Revitalization project again, as it has been particularly transformative in how the space is used.

"As one of the busiest streets in Canada and a conduit for its busiest mobility hub—through subway, commuter rail and road—the street must accommodate all modes of travel including active transportation. In addition to considering safety, accessibility, and emergency vehicle access, we also succeeded in creating a high-quality, multi-award-winning public realm,' she explains. 

"The street was transformed—from a main street divided, into a place for people. Once a busy road that people rushed through on their way to work or home, Front Street is now an outright destination. The car-oriented, deteriorating roadway was replaced by a European-style plaza in front of Union Station that invites people to experience it. Traditional barrier curbs and a tree-lined median were replaced by an open social space, flush across, with removable stainless-steel bollards, planters and decorative paving defining pedestrian/vehicular lanes. The impact of that is also seen in the multiple uses for the plaza. It is home to year-round events like Union Summer, Luminato in the fall and ice skating in the winter, each of which contribute to Toronto’s vibrant culture."

Remaining open to every opportunity

Sharing a piece of career advice, Shalini offers: "Following my professional education in India, my family moved to Russia for a few years, and then we immigrated to Canada. The transitions through completely different geographies and cultures were at times challenging, as it was effectively a new beginning each time we moved. What I find has worked for me has been remaining open to every opportunity that was presented, stepping up and taking on additional responsibilities, and then giving each task my very best. I have also endeavored to develop meaningful relationships with co-workers, allowing me to learn from and leverage the talent and knowledge around me as we strive for collective excellence."

AECOM employs impressive women 

Inspired by Shalini's exciting job role in landscape architecture?

Apply for a career with AECOM and enjoy the many opportunities that await. 


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