Q&A with Kiawah River’s Landscape Architect: VITA

More than 20 years ago, the beginning of what would become Kiawah River’s master plan was designed with sustainable measures that engaged residents with the community’s diverse ecosystem without disturbing it. From our moss-draped heritage oak trees to the network of open trails laced throughout our 2,000 acres of land, Kiawah River was conceived from the ground up to embrace a Lowcountry sea islands lifestyle.

Working with only the best in natural and organic practices, Kiawah River partnered with VITA, a boutique planning and landscape architecture studio specializing in respectfully merging elegant-build environments with natural sites, to plan the community’s landscape design. Understanding the history of Kiawah River’s land, its culture and the environment, VITA was able to evoke a distinctive sense of place within our community.

We sat down with Jerod Costner, a principal at VITA, to learn more about the inspiration behind Kiawah River’s waterfront development.

What was the inspiration behind the design of Kiawah River’s master plan?

Kiawah River was envisioned as a traditional, seaside community with resort-style amenities. A key aspect of the land planning was to position trails adjacent to the water’s edge, ensuring that all residents could have equal access to the community’s natural amenities. Using neighborhood planning principles for the road layout, a robust trail network connects the community to open spaces, with density radiating out from Jack Island, where the village core is located adjacent to the Kiawah River.

Describe Kiawah River’s design in three words.

Casual, welcoming and family-oriented.

What details have to be considered when designing an agrihood?

We wanted to establish the agricultural fields at Kiawah River’s entrance as the community’s key placemaking identity. To achieve this, VITA planned a design that included several seasonal crop fields, a live oak orchard and cattle pastures for local farmers and artisans to use, ultimately integrating the local community into Kiawah River’s agricultural program.

Today, Kiawah River hosts a working farm partnership with local Johns Island farmers complete with goats, beef cattle, chickens, bees, produce and flower fields. The community is the region’s first agrihood, offering farm-to-table products from several onsite vendors, including Three Gates Cattle Company, The Goatery, Rosebank Farms and Freeman Farms.

What’s your favorite part of Kiawah River’s landscape design?

The moss-covered live oaks that overhang the water’s edge are magical in their elegance and form.

Were you able to repurpose any materials that were already on the property?

The preservation of the heritage live oaks was our No. 1 priority, and the trees really defined the geometry of the community’s master plan. We worked off a detailed tree survey plan, which became the background for designing the layout of the roadways, hoes and open space trail system.