I am a 2011 graduate of Ball State University’s BLA program and I am proud to say that I work in the residential design field. However, if you had asked me four years ago where my future would take me, I would never have guessed correctly. Let me explain why.
Of the many lessons learned and attitudes absorbed in an undergraduate landscape architecture program, there is one that is especially contagious – the stigma against residential design as a valid career choice. It may start in the form of offhand comments from professors or a witty T-shirt boasting “I’m an LA and I won’t design your garden!” No matter the avenue, this stigma may be detrimental to the career of a recent graduate.
In LAM’s May 2013 issue, editor Bradford McKee suggests that LAM’s readers might want to take medication before reading the magazine to treat the symptoms of what I like to call “Residential Design Phobia” (RDP). He thought they would “recoil at the thought of something they consider too close to housework.” While this is not a new reaction by any means, I agree very strongly with a subsequent letter to the editor on the topic of this stigma. Alan Burke, a landscape architect from the Seattle area who has been practicing in the residential sector for over 20 years, expertly points out that the editor’s veiled apology for creating an entire issue dedicated to residential work only perpetuates designers’ distaste for it. I agree wholeheartedly with his statement:
“While design/build and residential work could instead be a bedrock of training, you ensure that no self-respecting landscape architecture graduate would be caught dead doing it.”
Sadly, I myself contracted Residential Design Phobia in college. However, the last two years – the first two of my career– have proven to be the best course of treatment for the ailment. While working at a small residential design firm in the Washington DC area, I’ve learned that residential design might well just be the answer to many recent graduates’ prayers.
Eight Lessons Recent Graduates will learn from Residential Design:
These are just a few of the lessons I’ve learned since graduation. The keystone to all of this, however, is a willing mentor. Luckily, the small size of most residential design firms is conducive to fostering successful business relationships between recent graduates and design veterans.
I can only hope that more future designers give residential design a chance. It might just be what they have been waiting for. I, for one, am happy to have been cured of my own case of RDP.
by Lindsey Tabor, ASLA. The above article was originally posted on ASLA’s The Field.
Lead image via Will Folsom