Plant People: Behind the Green Designs

This new series of blogs will feature plant people who are following their dreams, doing amazing things, usually behind the scenes. She’ll examine the relationship they have with nature, what inspires and motivates them, and how they stay vibrant in their chosen field. Read along to glean fresh wisdom and creativity from these different perspectives.


plant people zac zamora

I met Zac Zamora of Variance Design in the small town of Johnson City, Texas, population 2,050. I had been visiting Johnson City for several years and recently moved out here full-time. Located about 50 miles from Austin and San Antonio, Johnson City is the gateway to the beautiful Texas Hill Country region. The city is also the home of the The Science Mill.

The Science Mill is a science museum housed in a refurbished mill, which offers interactive exhibits and events for children. Their goal is to ignite curiosity and inspire kids to pursue post-secondary education and careers in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).

variance design

Zac’s collaboration with The Science Mill has truly been a wonderful thing for this small town, as hundreds of visitors make their way there weekly. Variance Design was contracted to build several exhibits there.

Becoming a Plant Person

plant living wall

Zac had an early and ongoing relationship with the natural world. His curiosity as a child and interest in amphibians and reptiles morphed into the study of herpetology, which included the raising and maintaining of neotropical poison dart frogs for a time. Eventually, he earned a degree in Zoology from the University of Texas. 

Honing his skills in Baltimore, he consulted at the National Aquarium. There, he was contracted to refurnish existing habitats and create new ones using a variety of live foliage plants and epiphytes. Zac went on to consult and design habitats for the San Diego Zoo, Houston Zoo, Austin Children’s Museum, and the American Museum of Natural History in New York, just to name a few.

plant wall
Amazon Spheres Nepenthes

His experience maintaining these delicate environments led him to enter and win a contest, where he and his collaborative team designed, built, and installed the panels of the large Amazon Spheres Nepenthes living wall, plus additional individual mini-walls for Amazon in Seattle Washington. Zac’s team was responsible for creating the proprietary life support, fertigation, and remote monitoring system, which they continue to maintain.

Designing with Nature

plant living wall

Zac especially likes experimenting with the mini-living wall system. He loves implementing his proprietary design into specially framed “jewel box” works of art. He enjoys the dynamic of highlighting a specific and unusual plant, invoking curiosity and a sense of delight within the individual who experiences it.

When attending the grand opening in April, I was pleased to see a biomimetic-inspired design created and fabricated by Zac. The “Barnacle” vessel has a design aspect that combines function and an aesthetic value in a unique yet familiar natural form.  

plant barnacle

Zac’s passion for invention and his keen drive to connect people to nature is what makes Variance Design an interesting creative blend of divergent disciplines. Championing the qualities of both biophilia and biomimicry are what this cutting edge, freethinker is all about. The sky is the limit and I can’t wait to see what’s next.

If you’re interested in keeping up with Zac and Variance Design, be sure to visit their website, Facebook, and Instagram pages.

Robbin Voight is a 30 year veteran of the plantscape and horticulture industry. Her horticultural consulting service is based in Georgetown, Texas. She is an active trail guide at several preserves in Austin, and a hobby naturalist. Robbin is a Registered Green Plants for Green Buildings Trainer looking forward to presenting the accredited 'Advanced Living Walls' continuing education course and 'The Economics of Biophilic Design' to architects and interior designers across North America. You can reach her at robbinvoight@yahoo.com

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