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Rising from the Rubble: 1500 Design Challenges for the Emerging Future [Land8x8]

On August 11, 2017 in Charlottesville, VA, amidst signs of hatred and spewed words of bigotry, violence erupted as white nationalists clashed with counterprotesters, leading to one person killed and 19 injured. The aftermath of the Charlottesville riot, spurred by the city’s plans to remove symbols of its Confederate past, reignited the debate over what should happen with Confederate landmarks in cities across the country.

On the Land8x8 stage, Harriett Jameson Brooks, landscape designer at MVLA, shared her deep connection with Charlottesville, and how she turned to her profession as she grappled with this blatant display of hate and racial tension that did not match how she saw the progressive, democratic city.

Since the upheaval in Charlottesville, a movement to remove Confederate memorials from public property has gathered steam. While many argue for the preservation of such memorials as a reminder of the country’s history, others regard them as glorification of a shameful time in American history. Harriett understands the desire to preserve history – if only to impart important lessons about the ugliness of the past – however, she confesses that the desire to hold on to tradition is “also a way of justifying our inertia and our hesitancy of picking the past over the future, choosing fear over courage and possibility.”

Image: Harriett Jameson Brooks

“I realized that if there are 1,500 symbols of the Confederacy on public property in the U.S., then there are 1,500 public places in our country that need to be redesigned, reimagined, and reconciled.”

Today there are 1,500 symbols of the Confederacy on publicly supported land in the U.S., including monuments, schools, parks, and roads. While many would see this as a barrier, Harriett considers it an opportunity. “It shook me as a landscape architect.” Harriett exclaims, “I realized that if there are 1,500 symbols of the Confederacy on public property in the U.S., then there are 1,500 public places in our country that need to be redesigned, reimagined, and reconciled.” With a desire to reclaim public space in the South and bring together communities, Harriett formed the Common Ground Collaborative. Through this initiative, she intends to work with communities to create public spaces that reflect their collective values.

While landscape architects are not typically at the forefront of these type of social issues, Harriett urges the importance of joining, if not leading, the conversation. In an effort to confront these types of complicated challenges and push past the existing limitations of the profession, Harriett pursued the LAF Fellowship for Leadership and Innovation. Designed to empower leaders and innovators in the profession, Harriett states that “each of this year’s fellows is finding a way to push back, to expand what it means to be a landscape architect, what types of problems we take on, and why we do the work that we do.” As one of four recipients of the 2017 LAF Fellowship, Harriett has spent the past year exploring ideas such as this that push landscape architects into the conversation and catalyze positive change.

In closing, Harriett proclaims, “I see the world that landscape architects can create when open ourselves to what is deeply personal, when we explore our periphery, and when we take hold of the future waiting to emerge.”

This video was filmed on September 28th, 2017 at ASLA’s Center for Landscape Architecture in Washington, DC as part of the Land8x8 Lighting Talks sponsored by Anova Furnishings.

Stephanie Marino is a landscape architect practicing at LandDesign in Washington, DC.


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Pause, Applause, Pursue

When we find the time each day to catch up on what is happening in the world, both within and outside of Landscape Architecture, many of us are guilty of the same routine – we quickly sort through the headlines of the latest tragedies, review the most current real news about fake news, find condensed versions of stories on social media to speed through, and if we are lucky, find one or two worthwhile articles to take our mind off the aforementioned. Though there may be some merit in that process, scanning headlines might not be the best process to keep us all well informed, mentally sound, and energized.

As the profession prepares for the largest gathering of landscape architects in Los Angeles this week at the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) Annual Meeting, I want to suggest we all take a break from that usual routine. Take a moment, however brief, to reflect on what we do as Landscape Architects, to celebrate the work that has been done over the last year, and to focus our advocacy efforts on what we can do in the years to come.

If you are looking for places to celebrate the outstanding work of our colleagues, look no further than the latest awards issue of Landscape Architecture Magazine. To acknowledge the advances in professional awareness, I am thrilled to see that the Land8 Landscape Architects Network acquisition now provides a global reach and connection to the profession for hundreds of thousands of people. The goal of the ASLA to expand the reach of our profession to major news sources is a fantastic step in the right direction. It’s also important to acknowledge leading practitioners in Landscape Architecture and the acclaim and acknowledgement they bring to the profession – for example, SCAPE founder Kate Orff is the first Landscape Architect recipient of the MacArthur ‘Genius’ Grant having just been named last week. Her work, coupled with so many other outstanding professionals and achievements for Landscape Architecture, should give us all something to be proud of, and more importantly, something to push us forward.

A rendering from Positioning Pullman, a 2017 ASLA Honor Award Winner in the Planning and Analysis category. The plan was the culmination for a three-day “collaborative ideas workshop” with 40 volunteer design firms that outlines a vision for the future of the national monument in Chicago. (Image: Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture)

While we can’t all be granted genius status, we can all take the time to focus on our own professional paths, and prioritize a process for achieving (or continuing to achieve) success in the future. I am not suggesting we create more awards programs, and I am not expecting everyone to do their best Al Franken Stuart Smalley impression either (for anyone born after the 1980s and do not understand my bad dad joke, click HERE). I am merely suggesting we all evaluate ourselves in a way that allows us to grow, personally and professionally. Here are my thoughts on where to start:

Know Your Voice:

We all have a story about how we found Landscape Architecture. Mine is that I come from a family history in construction. I went to college for Architecture, knowing I wanted to help translate ideas into reality. One of my professors recognized my passion for public space and encouraged me to pursue Landscape Architecture. Other Landscape Architects knew they loved both art and plants, or wanted to “change the world.” And some just wanted to make money. But I’ve realized not many people have really figured out their own voice or their own elevator pitch. Often times for professionals of all skill levels, with all other things being equal, the difference between the person that gets hired and the person that does not, is the one that knows their voice and how to use it. From a business development perspective, when potential clients ask why they should hire your firm, it’s important to know what it is that makes your firm unique, because more often than not, your competitor will be ready to tell them why they should not. At a profession-wide level, we need to establish a strong voice for Landscape Architects so clients stop asking why they need to hire a Landscape Architect at all (because, can’t an architect do it? Or an engineer?). If we do not know, or are unable to share our voice, together as a profession, I have no doubt that other professions will gladly step in to share their own.

Here are a few questions I ask myself when considering my own voice:

  • What is a Landscape Architect and what do they do?
  • What are you most passionate about? What do you value most? And how does that relate to your work?
  • What was your goal in becoming a Landscape Architect? Are you on a path to achieve that?
  • What is your elevator speech? What do you call yourself (Urban Designer? Landscape Architect?)? How does that impact the profession?


The word advocacy often leads to thoughts of attorneys, protests, or politics. Though those ideas aren’t wrong, advocacy can and should be achieved on a much smaller scale. I suggest starting by advocating for yourself. After you find your voice, use it. Find opportunities to challenge yourself. Make yourself uncomfortable. In my opinion, it’s the best way to grow and change. Whether we like it or not, when you are responsible for the health, safety, and welfare of the general public – as we often are as Landscape Architects, you have to be political.

Here are a few tips and things to remember on as you jump into advocacy:

  • Nobody is perfect. Most people tend to be more reactive than proactive, even in professional organizations. Sometimes all it takes is a question to create positive change.
  • Know when not to be quiet…… but also know when to be quiet (political).
  • Know your audience. Make your point easy to understand.
  • Find a mentor. Somebody that can lead by example and will hold you accountable for your goals.

2017 ALSA Advocacy Day, Illinois Chapter representation from students, faculty, and professionals. (Image: University of Illinois Department of Landscape Architecture)


The last reflection point I want to stress is the importance of collaboration. Many of us would like to reach the name recognition and stature of the Landscape “Starchitects,” who have achieved much deserved acclaim in the design fields. I think it’s important to remember that Starchitects are not just about a single person. The success of their firms is due, at least in part, to their collaboration within and outside of their firms. In my experience, relationships can make or break a project, and the more we can support and elevate one another, the better we all are for it. In my work, I have had the privilege of collaborating with a wide range of professionals – both within my office and with clients, sub-consultants, and colleagues on every project. Attacking these problems with a diverse team of professionals and embracing this collaboration has led to more innovative, interesting, and community-supported work. So, don’t forget the role our allied professionals (architects, engineers, contractors, accountants, etc.) can play in advancing us as individuals, as firms, and as a profession.

site’s 2015 collaborative Popup gallery, “Take it Outside,” held in conjunction with the ASLA Annual Meeting. The Popup was a public educational and interactive gallery that sought to bring attention to the value and meaning of exterior environments and design interventions that connect people to the outdoors. (Images: Teresa Foote, Sandy Steinbrecher)

Hopefully none of these suggestions were foreign to you, and at the very least, this served as a reminder to take the time needed to reflect on all that you do. Say it out loud with me this time, “We’re good enough, we’re smart enough, and gosh darn it, we’re Landscape Architects!” Now, back to your regularly scheduled social media browsing. See you in LA!

The site team includes 22 diverse professionals with a variety of backgrounds. Our staff includes landscape architects, architects, urban designers, planners, arborists, ecologists, and architects.


Brad McCauley ASLA, CDT is the Managing Principal at site design group, ltd. (site), who specializes in construction detailing and contract documentation. Through Brad’s extensive knowledge in transforming design into buildable projects, he has helped facilitate numerous award-winning public spaces. His body of work includes urban waterfronts, streetscapes, residential, urban parks, playgrounds, and open space design in both the public and private sectors. Brad is actively involved in a number of professional and service organizations, including serving as the Trustee of the American Society of Landscape Architects Illinois Chapter. A licensed landscape architect several states, Brad has also received Construction Document Technology certification from the Construction Specification Institute.

Lead Image: The site design group, ltd. (site) team, February 2017. (Image: Teresa Foote)

LARE Mix and Match

Deciding which exam sections to take in what order, alone or in combination, is the first big strategy decision you’ll make about the LARE once you’ve committed to the process. If you’re in a state or province requiring that you be vetted prior to sitting for the exam, it’s your second big step.

In my case, I combined Sections 1 and 2 in one exam cycle, and Sections 3 and 4 in another. Because I had passed Sections 1 and 2 having taken them on consecutive mornings, I registered for Sections 3 and 4 the same way, one morning after the other. But recovering, changing gears, and refocusing on Section 4 in less than 24 hours proved too much, and I failed with a ‘score’ of 606. In the next exam cycle, it felt almost luxurious to prepare for Section 4 all by itself. For an extra treat, I signed up for the noon time slot instead of the 8am window. It felt so much better to have a nice breakfast, take a last look at my books, and head over to the testing center after rush hour!

Now, I advise folks to sit for one exam section per exam cycle if at all possible. It’s the sanest approach given the inevitable challenges of adult life. If your employer is pressuring you to go faster, if your state has a short window in which to complete the process, or if you’re pregnant, moving across the country, or job-hunting for a position requiring a license, then it’s reasonable to double up.

There are people who do the ironman or ironwoman approach by taking three or four exam sections during a single exam cycle. I’ve met a handful doing Corson Learning. Most have been successful. Note that in a typical exam cycle, all across North America, according to CLARB, there are only a handful of people approaching the LARE this way. It is the exception, not the rule. But if there’s a compelling reason or motivation, it can be done. The iron-wo/man approach requires extreme organization and focus. It’s not a goal, but it is suitable for certain personality types. You know who you are. The rest of us tortoises reach the finish line anyway, with a little less drama and flair. Passing is passing and it really doesn’t matter how you do it in the end.

Exam Pairings

If you haven’t taken a standardized test in a while, it makes sense to take one section by itself first. This will help you overcome test anxiety by giving you experience with the testing center and the process as a whole, which, let’s face it, is stress producing.

Recent graduates in states permitting candidates to test without prior work experience will find that Section 2, Inventory and Analysis, is the most like school and requires the least experience with construction and contracts. It is the shortest exam in time (2 hours plus exam tutorial) and in the number of questions (80). For details on what’s covered in this and other exam sections, see the CLARB Orientations Guide.

In the past, I have advised candidates intent on pairing exams in a single cycle to combine Sections 1 and 2 because they are shorter and do not include the special item types present in Sections 3 and 4. That way, the logic went, you head into the longer, more difficult exam sections knowing that you are halfway to heaven. However, in 2017, CLARB adjusted the LARE content to reflect its latest periodic task analysis. My new advice is that if you are combining exam sections, consider starting with Sections 2 and 3 together, taking Section 2 early in the two-week exam cycle, followed by Section 3 later in that same two week window.

Sections 2 and 3 now seem to hold hands better than before because Section 3 content seems to have changed the most as a result of the CLARB task analysis, such that it has more of a planning focus than before. To that end, one new book appearing on CLARB’s recommended reading list seems absolutely vital to Section 3, but also helpful in Section 2: Planning and Urban Design Standards (student edition). While the low production value and tiny font size is annoying, some sections of this book seems important, as I can tell from my personal copy which arrived in yesterday’s mail.

Sections 1 and 4 now align because of their emphasis on contracts, bidding, construction administration, and construction details in general. Yes, Section 4 is still a bear, and you must perform grading operations, but it now seems to hold hands better with Section 1 than it did before 2017.



Complete the $10 payment at the link above, and you will be emailed the password to access the recorded webinar within 24 hours.


Cheryl Corson is a landscape architect in private practice in the Mid-Atlantic region. She has helped over 600 people pass the LARE since beginning Corson Learning in 2013, two months after passing the LARE herself ( She is author of the Sustainable Landscape Maintenance Manual for the Chesapeake Bay Watershed (2017), available for free at:

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