In Memoriam: Richard K. Underwood, CAPLA Friend and Namesake of the Underwood Family Sonoran Landscape Laboratory
University of Arizona graduate Richard K. Underwood, who passed away on October 3, 2021, was a long-time friend of the College of Architecture, Planning and Landscape Architecture at the University of Arizona. Through his professional and extracurricular work, Richard and AAA Landscaping (the company he built with his brother Bob beginning in 1975) supported CAPLA in many ways. The Underwood Family Sonoran Landscape Laboratory at the college was made possible through the generosity of Richard and his family, and AAA Landscaping continues to support the project through ongoing pro bono maintenance.
The Underwood Family Sonoran Landscape Laboratory, designed by Ten Eyck Landscape Architects and built in 2007, demonstrates the ecological practices of water conservation, urban heat island mitigation, reduction of urban flooding and wildlife habitat creation. The garden provides educational opportunities for K-12 schools and current UArizona students as well as visitors through public tours and workshops. It has become a treasured place for university students, faculty, staff and the community to connect with nature in the interpretive oasis, which is located on a site previously covered by more than an acre of asphalt.
Richard lived his entire life in Arizona. His entrepreneurial spirit, civic mindfulness and leadership created many advantages for Arizonans, while preserving and building on the state’s natural ecology and beauty. His dedication was evident in the vast breadth and depth of organizations and activities to which he committed time and energy.
Richard joined his brother Bob at AAA Landscaping in 1975 with only a pickup truck and $1,000 borrowed from their mother. “I came to help and never left,” he said.
As president of the company, Richard grew the business into a nationally ranked and highly regarded organization that focuses on the industry’s most innovative strategies for sustainable landscape design, construction and maintenance. He was also principle owner of Arid Solutions Nursery, a wholesale nursery specializing in Southwest native and desert-adapted trees and plants.
Richard trained many of his employees to become highly specialized in best practices for construction and maintenance in Arizona’s unique desert environment. His specialization in the use and care of native plants, water harvesting techniques and energy conservation is demonstrated in numerous projects that display sustainable design not only as functional but also as beautiful.
A vocal advocate for sustainable practices in the design and construction industries, Richard also worked to guide the establishment of the Southern Arizona Home Builders Association as life director. Additionally, he was the founder and first chairman of the board of the Canyon Community Bank.
Richard served on the Oro Valley Development Review Board for eight years, where he had the opportunity to expand his impact on the built environment by consistently encouraging sustainable development practices. Development ordinances in the Town of Oro Valley reflect Richard’s extensive knowledge and values on native plant preservation, the establishment of environmentally sensitive land and rainwater harvesting. He was also a founding member of the Oro Valley Chamber of Commerce. He worked persistently with the town to ensure its ordinances were environmentally conscious and designed to minimize the impact of development on critical resources and ecologies.
Richard’s energy and insight expanded well beyond Oro Valley. He participated in many community and civic boards, including the Metropolitan Pima Alliance, Southern Arizona Leadership Council, Tucson Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, Urban Land Institute, Arizona Planning Institute, Arizona Forward and Arizona Open Land Trust. His leadership also involved trade and contractor organizations, serving as the president of the Arizona Landscape Contractors Association and a member of the board of directors of the Associated Landscape Contractors of America, among others.
Richard was a dedicated Arizona business owner who served the public, advocated locally and nationally for sustainable landscape practices and volunteered extensively to the betterment of our communities. He will be greatly missed.