An interview with the co-founder of Gross.Max.

Eelco Hooftman, founder of Gross. Max.
Eelco Hooftman, founder of Gross. Max.



Eelco Hooftman,  founding partner of Gross. Max., will speak on 27 September at Palmstead Nurseries’ workshop on soft landscape, Survival of the Fittest. In preparation, he talked about his work and attitutde to planting – including his love of giant plants.

What did you want to be as a young boy? 

An explorer.

Why or how did you choose landscape architecture as a career?

After secondary school I first worked in a travelling circus. After deciding to undertake university study I wanted to combine an academic qualification with a creative profession. At the time there were not many options, e.g. landscape architecture , architecture and industrial design. I chose the soft option….

Who has inspired you – in the past or today within the industry?

My grandfather was a successful nurseryman in Boskoop, The Netherlands. Most of my inspiration comes however from outside the industry….

How important are the ‘plant materials’ you use and how do you choose what to use once you’re on site?

In the early days of my career plants were mainly ‘building material’ to create spaces. These days plants in our works are to seduce and to create a ‘public realm of the senses’.  We like to visit the nurseries to select trees with character. This is proving problematic as they all look cloned to create the perfect street tree.

Right plant, right place – what does this mean to you?

It means that the plants to be considered do not always have to be native. In our office we have a crusade against what we call the ‘ecological Taliban’.

There’s a distinctly ‘tree feel’ to the morning at Palmstead’s 2012 Workshop with Tony Kirkham talking about how we’ve become shy when it comes to choosing shade trees – do you use them in designs?  

Of course, currently we are working on the transformation of former Tempelhof Airport, Berlin into a public park. Although we embrace the openness, the provision of shade here is an issue.

What are your favoured trees for a small, a medium and a large space? 

Really, this depends on context and concept. I always wanted to design a garden only with plants with the second  Latin name giganteum.

Do you follow or set the trend?

Neither, but I like the idea that in the romantic period there was the urge to even plant dead trees! Several years ago we started to collaborate with Piet Oudolf to introduce his style of planting in the public realm. This is still an interesting collaboration for us.

Is control something that’s important to you? 

Design: yes. Plants: no

What are you working on now?

A linear park in the Central Business District of Beijing; Tempelhof, Berlin; acompetition for a waterfront  opera house in Korea with Zaha Hadid Architects; redevelopment  of St Bartis Hospital, City of London;  Teaching at GSD, Harvard

How do you cope with having so many projects going on at once?

We are the children of the Google Earth Revolution

As someone who is well established within the industry, what do you see as the main challenges we face in the next 12 months?

Survival of the fittest

If you could design a garden for anyone, who would it be and why?

For once for myself, although normally we don’t do private gardens.

Which of your past of current projects are you most proud of?

The Concrete Garden – a series of Cartesian cubes along Scotland’s East Coast. In fact we did not even design the project; it was an ‘objet trouvé’. On top of the concrete cubes – which are remnants of a coastal defence system to prevent an imminent German invasion during the 2nd World War – spontaneous gardens have emerged which look like delicate Japanese Zen gardens and Chinese rock gardens.

Register for the workshop.



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