Hi, I was hoping for a little feedback re the general nature of other people's grad school programs. I have no foundation in the principles of design but I was accepted into a graduate LA program and am currently immersed in the 7 week summer "leveling" semester. The experience is nothing like what I expected to get out of a semester claiming to provide design foundation. It seems like this is more for those already posessing a strong artistic background--and my bigger concern is whether the profession itself actually commands strong artistic talent.
For example, rather than learning about line-weight, how to capture proper perspective, shading and shadowing, etc. I am asked to basically just go out and draw ("walking in a loop, capture a scene on paper every so often until you come back to the beginning of your loop--5 scenes in total, vary the distance between you and the subjects but be sure to capture perspective and details"--spend 20-30 minutes on each of the 5 scenes and make each one atleast 12" x 18"). Same class--"draw a still-life of 3 objects in precise detail. Then, rearrange the 3 objects 14 different ways and sketch each of the 14 compositions--due in 5 days (really???) Coming from the perspective of someone who does not draw (well), this is beyond daunting.
In another class, "choose an object of about 12" or less that you have found outdoors, sketch an abstract interpretation of it in a way that conveys what attracted you to the object, and make a model of it. Abstract... what??? Model...how???? (absolutely no instruction/demonstration about how to do pull any of this off). Seems like the method of teaching involves throwing students out into the wind and then when the finished work is presented you are told what you did wrong (but were never provided prior guidance or insight). Then, when the instructor critiques your work it is unspecific or ambiguous, and based upon his/her subjective opinion, you may have to re-do the entire piece.
Then there's AutoCAD....Everyone is telling me that AutoCAD skills are key to successful work in LA, yet the only thing we have learned in 2 wks time (8 hrs of class-time) is how to use polygon command, purpose of ortho mode, snaps, how to create a new layer, and a little bit about how to set things up in paper mode for printing. It's really a shame as there are only 5 students in this class and we're missing out on a great opportunity(while paying dearly) to really learn AutoCAD. Our first assignment was to go and create a bench--provide front view and side view. Seems simple enough...unless you lack a foundation in drawing principles....I spent hours trying to visualize the seat of the bench from straight-on view and was unable to get it right.
2 out of the 3 courses are taught by people who graduated from the program last year (one 'teacher' graduated from the LA program 6 weeks ago---no real world LA experience, no teaching experience or credentials). The AutoCAD teacher has only been teaching for 2 semesters and has never used a PC in her life so she's teaching AutoCAD using her MAC and then walks around to each of us and tries to figure out how to demonstrate the task on each of our PCs (we also all have differing versions of the program). After day 1, I asked her to consider moving us into a computer lab so we could all be on PCs and have the same AutoCAD version so we could move along faster. She declined.
So far...most difficult 2 wks of my life...I'm not a quitter but I'm wondering whether or not this is the profession for me. I guess I thought it would be more technical and a little less 'artsy'. Like most things, alot of it probably depends on the school you go to. One of the 'teachers' remarked that this school really stresses the ephemeral and that you have to learn to get into the "feeling" of the space/object/concept. Apparently, in order to be a successful LA, the way you 'sell' your idea to your client is by presenting it in a way that enables them to connect with the feelings behind your concept. I 'get it', just not sure how to do it, and although that's what I'm supposed to be learning here, it doesnt feel like its happening for me.
I was hoping for a more ecological restoration type of focus and unfortunately the state I reside in does not have many LA education options. While this is just the summer 'design foundation' piece of the program, I was told that what we learn over summer will form the basis of our work in the next 3 years. I feel like I'm being asked to go write a research paper when I haven't learned to read yet. And then everyone says that the 1st year will be a killer and that this is just a warm-up....
Is my experience thus far pretty typical for a LA program? Or, should I be searching for another school...
Any feedback would be immensely appreciated.
Funny you mention… my BSLA program started off extremely abstract. We were cutting out squares, rectangles and circles, and then we’d arrange them on contrasting fields of paper sheets. My room mates used to laugh at the work I’d bring home. After a week of what I thought was silly pre-school craft projects, we moved into learning about form, space, order, rhythm, scale/proportion, etc. It was probably my second semester before I had any studio projects that looked anything like a real site or building shape. I became really discouraged. I couldn’t believe all the hours I was putting in at the studio at night and the money I was spending on materials to produce work that I wouldn’t want anyone to see. Towards the end of my first year the projects had a more realistic feel to them. Each year the program became more and more like the real world.
I said all of that to say this. Now that I’ve been in the field for a couple of decades now, I appreciate all of the abstract projects I did in school. I still use those same basic design principles to arrange objects in space that relate to one another. I don’t spend a lot of time at the conceptual level, but I always start with basically arranging geometric shapes on a field. With all the massive porticos being held up by skinny columns and acres of pavers I see on small homes, some of us need to go back and learn the basics.
Leslie you don’t have to be “artistic” or whatever that means, but it helps to be creative.
Thanks Craig. Would be great to learn the basics...form, scale, rhythm before having to produce detailed sketches of the landscape, that use these design principles.(Latest assignment: choose 2 works from 2 of the great masters and reproduce in exact detail in 18x24) Perhaps a BSLA is a better way for me to go. Thanks Again.
My BSLA program also went from the ethereal to the downright tedious. You may get a clearer picture by looking at/talking with the folks who are in the years ahead of you.
Your entry reminded me of the feelings I had pretty much all the way through school! With hindsight, I realize that I didn't know enough then to know what I needed to know. Was some of what I was taught useless to me? Absolutely, but some of the stuff I thought was useless at the time was invaluable.
Hmm. I think I could do a better job teaching that stuff if they are as you described. However, it seems like a lot of design programs are like that. You go in expecting to be told what to do and then you're just told to go do it, then bring it in for critique. That can be rather nerve-wracking, especially if you're not used to criticism. I know there were some times when I got fed up with it. Some dropped out of my program because of what they perceived as unfair criticism. I heard something similar from someone who went for fashion design. You're expected to already have an interest in fashion and be able to present ideas. The teachers consider themselves to be there to develop your design skills. It can help to have some kind of design or art background before you go into it.
What do you hope to get out of it? These skills aren't very marketable these days. I certainly wouldn't go back for a grad program unless I was independently wealthy. On second thought, if I was doing it for fun and wasn't concerned about the investment value, I'd do a film or acting program.
I can understand how you must feel. I remember being frustrated with my MLA programme at times because I felt they were not providing enough instruction on graphics and technical software. What they did do and what I’ve come to greatly appreciate now in my professional career is that they taught me a different way of thinking. Design cannot be taught and the approach one takes towards design is unique to the designer. This is where I appreciate the MLA when compared to the BLA. With the MLA there is more freedom for you to explore and develop the skillset you desire. The technical and graphic skills I found were more adequately developed during my internships then during my class instructions. However, my time in school allowed me to explore different styles, mediums, processes and different ways to express my designs. In the professional world, you often don’t have this luxury as time is a premium. Enjoy your time in the MLA and explore as much as you can on your own terms. My interest when entering the MLA was golf development, and while I did not receive a single hour of instruction on it, I used my thesis to research ecological golf design and I ended up publishing and presenting my work to academic and professional audiences. You get what you want to get out of an education. Don’t wait for your professors to tell you how to design. Lastly, learn how to not take criticism personally. You will need a thick skin in this profession as we all face criticism from clients, employees and other consultants.
Your description brought back some memories and feelings that I had my first year in OSU's BSLA program "way back when". I had very little artistic, technical or horticultural background and after a single, non-intensive "Intro to LA" course the previous spring, I was thrown into the curriculum in a way similar your current experience. There was a lot of drawing and abstract design with (physical) model building along with technical drafting, beginning construction and woody plants classes. It was very intense and a real "sink or swim" time for me. I managed to keep my head above water and muddle through but really the whole first year was like that- perserverance with sleep deprivation thrown in for good measure. Best of luck to you however it turns out!
You could probably get an Ecological Engineering degree in about the same time it takes to earn an MLA. That might be a little more valuable in the current job market. Just an idea...
Much of the computer programs and graphic techniques that I learned in school where on my own, but were inspired by a class project. I think that is the norm for a University Design Education. You are generally taught the abstract theory behind design and then are expected to apply these things to your projects. Most Autocad classes do not teach you to be a cad master they get your feet wet so you can discover the program as you work on projects. Your time in school is there for you to experiment and discover how you draw, not how to draw.
We are all different people with different perspectives and with design there is not one right answer, most of the time. So if you want to learn design, sounds like you are on a good start, but if you want to be an environmental engineer or more technical person you should find that profession.
Landscape Architecture overlaps other professions and is often confused with them so, make sure you do research and make sure this is what you truly want to do. Civil Engineering, Art, Architecture, Biology, Botany, Horticulture, etc. are all fields we bump into.