Duke Bitsko is a Senior Landscape Architect who serves as Director of Interdisciplinary Design, supervising staff and providing project management services on a range of projects. He is the perfect choice to lead the interdisciplinary efforts of the firm, which has landscape architects coordinating directly with engineers and earth scientists, because Duke holds professional degrees in all three disciplines. Duke brings his strong land stewardship ethic and his diverse technical background to bear by supporting the three-phase interdisciplinary approach to planning and design which is the hallmark of Bioengineering Group.
He began his career in the oil and gas industry, earning two degrees as an undergraduate at Marietta College in Marietta, Ohio: a BS in Petroleum Engineering and a BS in Petroleum Geology. "I was drawn to the dual degree program in an attempt to merge the technical with the theoretical while being exposed to some of the country's most spectacular landscapes." Upon graduation, Sunoco hired him as an Operations Engineer in Midland, Michigan. "I will always be glad I had that experience because I realized I wanted my life's work to involve landscape restoration and the social relevance of creating places for people and natural processes to coexist."
Within two years, Duke decided to pursue a degree in ecological planning and design. After reading Ian McHarg's seminal work, Design with Nature, Duke chose to get a Master's in Landscape Architecture at the University of Pennsylvania. "Both McHarg's book and Penn's core program stressed the same interdisciplinary approach we employ here at Bioengineering Group. McHarg's "layer cake" methodology overlaid site-specific natural and cultural constraints and opportunities to identify local and regional patterns --a valuable tool in ecological planning and design. Because we embrace that philosophy here - investigating a site while understanding its regional value and place, I feel like I've come full circle. It is wonderful to work with professionals who share my vision. "
After graduating from Penn, Duke worked for four and half years at the small, but progressive firm Andropogon Associates in Philadelphia. "They were all disciples and friends of Ian McHarg with a common vision and unique approach to landscape architectural design. I experienced how wonderful it was to have a work atmosphere based on a true collaborative culture." In 1997, Duke joined Carol R. Johnson Associates (CRJA) in Cambridge. "During four years there I was exposed to great technical competence detailing landscape architecture projects under strong mentorship." One project example from this time was Duke's design and management experience with the Athletic Field Complex at Grinnell College, Grinnell, Iowa, where he designed a series of short grass prairie bioretention systems to improve the quality of runoff generated by new athletic fields. The turning point in his career came when Duke became the project manager on the Alewife Reservation Master Plan because CRJA was subcontracting to Bioengineering Group. After working together on the Alewife project, Duke knew he wanted to join Bioengineering Group. "It had always been my dream to work with an entire interdisciplinary team under one roof."
That was about nine years ago and Duke hasn't looked back since. "I was always fascinated by natural processes as they relate to the power of water. Almost everything we do here at Bioengineering Group revolves around water. At the beginning of every project, we identify the body of water that is affected and figure out the relationship between the site and the larger watershed. Improving the overall water quality in any site we work on is a fundamental function that we instill in everything we do."
Two of Duke's current projects highlight the ecological and economic value of low-impact development design strategies, and how far his field has moved in the direction of public education and land stewardship. At the City of Cambridge Water Department's Fresh Pond Reservation, the protection of a Class I drinking water reservoir was the unifying element surrounding the design and implementation of valuable urban recreational land. The Little Fresh Pond project is a perfect example of a public education and a consensus-building process strengthening a master plan. Project highlights include: providing a safe and controlled access to the pond's edge, creating new emergent wetlands within the pond, and incorporating forebays and contiguous riparian buffers to improve the quality of stormwater generated by the adjacent public golf course.
On another project, the Town of Lexington is incorporating low-impact development strategies for the design of a new public works facility. "Working with government agencies on so-called "conventional" projects has always provided my biggest and most rewarding challenges. I have a strong belief that governmental entities have a responsibility to set the standard for green design. After all, it is hard to hold private developers to higher standards if municipalities themselves don't set the bar high." Although challenged by a new 2+ acre building and an almost nonexistent riparian buffer on a tight site, the town and its reviewing agencies embraced the economic and ecological payback of sustainable design. "Not only will the town win by investing in the life cycle cost- reducing materials and building mechanical systems, this LEED Silver project provides the educational framework for the local school system as well as local developers to learn about sustainable construction practices. We are designing demonstration areas, emphasizing resource protection (site and building) and the true celebration of the indigenous water cycle."
Duke is also a landscape architect on a mission to educate and influence people to protect our watersheds and natural systems. "We need to teach people the value of our resource areas and one of the best ways to do that is through volunteering. I've been on the Lexington Conservation Commission for ten years. My work as a Commissioner gives people an opportunity to learn what my profession, and conservation, is all about. Helping to educate the public is a very important and first step to environmental stewardship."
Duke and his wife, Ginna, have three boys and live in a farmhouse on a gravel road (an esker), surrounded by woods and wildlife in the midst of otherwise suburban Lexington. To see their idyllic homestead is to understand Duke's dedicated belief in fostering natural processes even in highly urban settings. "I followed Ginna to Boston. She's a very talented landscape architect and a big part of my story - we met in graduate school. We're always talking about landscape architecture - our boys get a little bored sometimes but they also see how fulfilling it is to love the work you do."