’97 BA Landscape Architecture
College of Fine Arts Alumna of the Year
The vast Mojave Desert landscape is often described as harsh, drab, and unappealing. Cecilia Schafler’s preferred adjectives? Dazzling, rich, boundless potential.
Such is the perspective of an award-winning professional landscape architect who grew up in Las Vegas and viewed the Mojave Desert as her playground — an architect who learned from her grandmother how to appreciate the natural beauty that’s ever-present in her arid surroundings.
“I grew up gardening with my grandmother here in Southern Nevada and quickly became fascinated with the exterior spaces,” Schafler says. “I learned from her what plants can survive in our demanding climate, and she also taught me about color, hierarchy, spatial relationships, and scale. Really, my grandmother was my first design instructor, even though the word ‘design’ was never used.”
Given this reality, it should come as no surprise to learn that Lage Design — the landscape architecture planning firm that Schafler founded more than 15 years ago — was named in honor of her grandmother, Rosa Lage. It also shouldn’t be shocking to discover that she has spent the majority of her professional career sharing her knowledge of and passion for landscape architecture with students at her alma mater.
Shortly after graduating from UNLV, Schafler returned to campus as an adjunct professor with the School of Architecture. Over the past two-plus decades, she has taught everything from entry-level classes to upper-division courses.
Schafler certainly has the credentials to both educate the next generation of landscape architects and explain what such a career could entail. After all, prior to launching Lage Design, she worked in both the public and private sectors, including the City of Henderson and JW Zunino and Associates.
Additionally, Schafler has been actively involved with the American Society of Professional Architecture (ASLA) dating back to her days as a Rebel, when she served as UNLV student chapter president. She has since done stints as treasurer, vice president, and president of the Nevada chapter (NVASLA).
The NVASLA recognized Schafler for her many contributions with a pair of President’s Awards in 2017 and 2018. Then in 2021, Schafler received the NVASLA Silver Award, the highest honor given by the organization. The Silver Award was particularly noteworthy, as it was the first time a UNLV alumna and woman received the prestigious award.
The honor was fitting, given that the company Schafler founded in her grandmother’s name — one that is licensed in Nevada, Arizona, and Utah, and boasts a 16-person staff — was the first 100 percent woman-owned landscape architecture firm in Nevada history.
“I worked by myself for many years, and it was a very deliberate decision to grow into a firm,” Schafler says. “There were opportunities I wanted to pursue, and I knew I would have to grow to be able to compete for them. I was also keenly aware of the risks and ready to take on the responsibility for those who came to work with me — as well as the work itself and all the challenges that pop up along the way.”
When did you know with certainty that you wanted to pursue a career as a landscape architect, and what went into your decision to attend UNLV?
Landscape architecture was a very natural fit for me, and I knew I wanted to stay and build a life here. I also recognized that UNLV offered everything I needed to succeed as a landscape architect.
Growing up here gave me a distinct knowledge of the environment and beauty of the Mojave Desert. We live in one of the harshest environments on Earth, and I knew if I could learn to practice landscape architecture here, I can do it anywhere.
Were you at all hesitant to launch your own business in what is traditionally viewed as a male-centric industry?
Not at all. I have always worked hard to make sure my work speaks for itself. My goal is to be selected for projects because we do the best work in every way. Of course, there have been challenges, but I have found the best way to overcome them is to stay focused, solution-oriented, and never take anything personally.
I always strive to be the best prepared professional at the table. That way it doesn’t matter whether you are a man or woman.
Having opened Nevada’s first 100 percent woman-owned landscape architecture firm, how important is it to mentor the next generation of female landscape architects?
Having mentors to give you honest and sincere guidance and wisdom is crucial, which is why I am incredibly grateful for the outstanding mentors — both men and women — who have made a difference in my life.
My message to young women is that there are roadblocks and challenges in every profession. Those roadblocks and challenges will be much easier to overcome if you are doing what you love.
UNLV students and alumni are encouraged to embrace the “Rebel Spirit” — to be daring and gutsy and to resist convention. Describe a time when your “Rebel Spirit” was on full display.
I had a professor once tell me, “If you are going to sin, sin boldly!” To me, that is the Rebel Spirit. I have heeded that professor’s advice many times over the years when I have taken risks, whether in design, in business or personally. I’m someone who doesn’t believe in backup plans. I’m either all-in or not in at all.