Thomas M. Paine is a landscape architect with four decades of experience in urban open space planning and design in the United States, Europe and Asia. From 2008-2015 he was a principal of AGER, a multidisciplinary design firm founded in 2001 with offices in Shanghai, Beijing, Chengdu, Hong Kong, and Boston.
With deep roots in New England history and landscape architecture, Paine has spent much of his career thinking about safeguarding and enhancing the essential role that parks and cultural meaning play in the life of a community. He grew up in suburban Boston, Massachusetts, in the heart of New England, where villages, towns and cities are known for their age-old commons and greens in the heart of the community. He began his career in a firm whose founder had worked for Frederick Law Olmsted, the father of the profession of landscape architecture and designer of Central Park. Paine wrote pioneering design guidelines for commons and greens in the visionary book On Common Ground in 1983.
Paine’s involvement in Asia goes back to 1976 when he became the first Western landscape architect on the staff of the Taiwan Tourism Bureau and championed cultural preservation projects in Lukang and Orchid Island. Living in downtown Taipei, he studied spoken Chinese and Chinese ink brush painting. He first visited China in 1988, before its meteoric transformation and spent a year in Shanghai in 2007 as Director of Design for AGER, traveling all over China, before opening the firm’s Boston office, the first office opened by a Chinese design firm in the US.
Paine’s fascination with East-West exchange is in his blood. Two hundred years ago several of his Boston forebears were involved in the China trade. One hundred years ago, two of his great aunts spent time in China, one teaching in a girl’s school in Hankou (Wuhan), the other an artist who took thousands of photographs of urban and rural life from Beijing to Guangzhou.
Paine is an Overseer of the Massachusetts Historical Society, the oldest such institution in the United States. Two of his ancestors signed the Declaration of Independence, perhaps explaining some of his idealism. He is an authority on the Boston area’s astonishing legacy of firsts and innovations spanning all fields of human endeavor, as well as its many connections with China.
Paine recently co-organized with public-spirited Guangzhou citizens a highly successful bilateral trade and cultural exchange event in Guangzhou celebrating the 230th anniversary of the first American/Chinese contact that took place in Guangzhou in 1784. He will be featured in CCTV’s forthcoming documentary The Maritime Silk Road to air in mid 2016.
He is a graduate of Harvard College, Harvard Graduate School of Design, and the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business.