A Day in the Life of a Landscape Architect
If you are thinking about becoming a landscape architect, you should have an appreciation
for nature, a creative flair, and a passion for working with your hands. You should also
have strong writing and researching skills and an affinity for engineering and environmental
sciences. All of these skills will be useful for mastering the art and science of the analysis,
planning, design, management, preservation, and rehabilitation of land. Landscape architects
apply their skills to site planning, garden design, environmental restoration, town and
urban planning, park and recreation planning, regional planning, and even historic preservation.
The growing popularity of this profession
is understandable. Where else could consecutive
job assignments find you planning a
site for corporate office buildings, then have you managing a large wilderness area, and next
creating public parks that won’t interfere with the natural environment?
Even though landscape architects appear to keep average hours, project deadlines can
create a lot of overtime. Working through weekends is very likely. A major job, like planning
a corporate site, can take more than a year to complete. A landscape architect must work with
all the other professionals involved in a project. The list includes architects, engineers, and
construction contractors, and a landscape architect must see that their design concepts will
work with the overall project. Surveys of the land at the site itself must often be made, taking
into consideration complex factors such as drainage, slope of the land, and even how sunlight
falls on the site. Once this is done, they spend the majority of the remainder of the project in
the office, preparing presentations for clients that include cost estimates, sketches, and models.
After a project is approved, landscape architects prepare even more detailed working
drawings and outline explicitly the methods of construction and lists of construction materials.
Some landscape architects even supervise the installation of their designs, although this
is often left to a developer or separate contractor.
Landscape architects can also choose to specialize in areas such as residential development,
parks and playgrounds, restoration, or even shopping malls. Only a few, however, are exclusively
devoted to individual residential designing because the income is too small compared to the
earnings from larger, commercial projects. Most of the profession is centered in urban or suburban
areas, and while the majority of landscape architects work for landscape architecture services
and firms, a full 20 percent of people in the profession are self-employed.
Paying Your Dues
Entrance into the profession requires a bachelor’s or master’s degree in landscape architecture
(from an accredited school), training, licensure (in all but five states), and specialized
skills. It is a long road to becoming a licensed and professional landscape architect. The bachelor’s
degree in landscape architecture takes between four and five years to complete; a master’s
can take two to three years. During and after school, prospective landscape architects
serve as interns to professionals in the field for a period of at least two years. Finally, they will
have to pass the L.A.R.E. (Landscape Architect Registration Examination) to obtain their
licenses to practice landscape architecture as certified professionals. However, if they choose
to take jobs with the government, the process can be somewhat shorter; the federal government
doesn’t require its landscape architects to be licensed.
Present and Future
The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) was founded in 1899, and one of
its charter members was 77-year-old Frederick Law Olmsted, the landscape architect who
designed New York City’s Central Park. Today, the ASLA has more than 15,000 members
across 48 chapters. An ever-growing number of landscape architects are using computeraided
design (CAD) systems to assist them with presentations. Proficiency with this technology
is becoming a requirement in the field. Larger-scale projects are often planned using
geographic information systems technologies and computer-mapping systems. The level of
computer-assisted design in the profession will continue to increase. Job opportunities will
be best for landscape architects who develop strong technical and computer skills.
Knowledge of environmental issues, codes, and regulations will also give landscape
architects an edge in the marketplace. The continued and growing concern for the environment
should see the demand for landscape architects increase as the need to design environmentally
sound development projects becomes even more pressing. Urban planners have
cited the greening of roofs and courtyards in cities as effective approaches to cut down on
energy costs and reduce pollution, making landscape architects in greater demand as society
increasingly understands how the natural world can alleviate some of the strains people place
on the environment.
Quality of Life
PRESENT AND FUTURE
These years are spent interning under the guidance of a licensed landscape architect.
Although the tasks will vary depending on the type and size of the firm the
intern is working for, standard work includes project research, preparing maps of
areas to be landscaped, and, occasionally, participation in the actual design of a project. All
the intern’s work is closely supervised, though; the hours can be long, and the pay is low.
FIVE YEARS OUT
At this point in their careers, many interning landscape architects are either studying
for the L.A.R.E. or have just taken it. For individuals who have passed the
L.A.R.E., responsibilities will increase dramatically as they are now legally able to
carry a design through from start to finish without supervision. With this privilege comes
direct client contact and even the chance to oversee certain aspects of a project. The hours
may increase, and income certainly rises.
TEN YEARS OUT
Landscape architects who have lasted this long without switching career tracks
should at this point be enjoying the privileges of their experience. It is not unlikely
to be an associate at a firm, and the more ambitious individuals may possibly have
achieved the title of partner. In either case, associate or partner, they are seeing an income that
is at the top range of the profession. Landscape architects with 10 years under their belts and
a talent for small business management often open their own firms.