Can you give me a realistic picture of being a landscape architect?

Landscape Architecture for Landscape Architects Forums GENERAL DISCUSSION Can you give me a realistic picture of being a landscape architect?

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    You stated that there are not very many opportunities in the States here, and I’m wondering where you see there being more opportunities.  I just graduated in May of this year with my Bachelor’s in Landscape Architecture form North Dakota State University.  I am more then willing to move for a job, I am fine with doing mostly AutoCad and planting plans, but look forward to growing into a more creative and responsible position.  Do you know of any growing firms?

    Davis Walker, PLA

    as far a s work goes for being in school, expect a lot of late nights / early mornings.

    I started the program at uga as a freshman with 20 people then by 5th year it was maxed out at about 70 people and the program was turning people away….


    as far as the professional world, I have worked at a design build and large engineering firm.


    design build- my experience was a lot of quick designs, it was not uncommon for me to see a design built within a year after my I started my design. it also required a lot more direct customer interaction so I spent 50% of my time in my work truck driving around meeting with clients, checking progress of jobs etc….

    at an engineering firm I spend more time at a computer and working more with county requirements and multiple submissions so the process from design to installation is longer, but these projects are MUCH higher budget and scale. definitely more time sitting at my computer do work in cad


    just my .02 and experience




    First of all welcome to land8!  I have read quite a few of these posts and would like to offer my own insight.  I graduated in 2004 and worked for a variety of firms after college.  The first was a small LA firm of 12 people, and the other three were A&E (architectural / engineering) firms. 

    I would say that i have learned the most at the A&E firms interacting with other professions and seeing how they process things.  As a landscape architect I came from the unique perspective of having actually worked in the field during my highschool years (i’m now 32), something most of my fellow classmates had not done.  I absolutely enjoy it for the most part.


    That said, you deserve full disclosure because I was never enlightened to the downsides of the profession before entering. 


    1. You will not get rich as a Landscape Architect.  I have worked for 8 years now and still make less than non licensed rookie Engineers who have yet to pass their PE’s.  This in spite of often overlapping scopes of work. 

    2. Nobody understands what you really do.  Relatives, strangers and even fellow co-workers will have no idea what you do and this is part of the reason LA’s are underpaid and have limited amounts of work.  Most people incorrectly think we are horticulturalists.  Some have no idea, “so you cut grass, diagnose plant diseases and pests.”

    3. When the economy gets tough, you are the first one laid off.  AGAIN i warn all young students out there you’re job will be the first to go.  Landscape Architecture is considered “non essential” in most firms and an engineer can stamp a Landscape plan and push LA’s out of site work.  I have been laid off 3 times in my career starting in 2007 when the recession began.  One stretch i was out of work for 18 months.

    4.  We are in a battle over turf.  In case you aren’t aware yet, we have quite a bit of overlap with duties Civil Engineers perform.  Civil’s have more political clout and have successfully lobbied most states into only recognizing their stamps for site plan submittals and other engineered documents (roadways, utilties, etc.).  Thus they have subliminalized us to the fringes.  



    CML……Well, I do agree with most of what you have stated here.  But, I sort of have to disagree with that first line of 1.  Interesting though, I remember my LA professors at A&M telling our class one day…..”If you’re in this class to get rich, you’re in the wrong place…you better change majors now”.  But, many years later…I came to realize that those LA professors were not RIGHT…well, not about “every” student.

    Though, I’ll admit….my first 16 years as an LA were just lot of hard work and very long hours!!!  13 yrs. working for a couple of LA firms not earning very much…then, it took me approx. 3 yrs. to get my own LA firm up and running.  THEN….everything changed for the better, BIG TIME!  All of that hard work and all of that “over-time” paid off.

    I also have several LA friends who either now Own their own LA firms or became Principals or Partners at elite LA firms…..they are all sitting on seven figure bank accounts.

    NOW…..that all being said…..times TODAY are just “different”.  And I mean NOT in a good way.  The past 5+ years in Landscape Architecture seemed to have been suffering nationwide.  LA grads have been having problems finding entry level jobs….and even more experience LA’s are looking for work.  I think I was just fortunate to have graduated with my LA degree when I did.

    Landscape Architecture is STILL a fantastic profession!  And, I have no regrets….can’t imagine doing anything else, but LA design.  It’s just like any other profession….you have to be seriously committed to it.  ALL IN – as they say.  Passionate and willing to put in the hard work and very long hours. 

    But, I believe Henry’s advise to “Lauren”…to finish her Communications Degree….try that profession for at least a year….then, maybe, sit back and ask yourself….”Is this really what I want to do for the rest of my life?”. 

    Best of Luck to You, Lauren….whatever you decide.

    J. Robert Wainner





    Based on my own personal experience be prepared for many sleepless nights fearing when, not if you will get laid off.  Just remember one thing.  ALL Engineers think they can do your job.  In their eyes you are not essential in the A&E firms.  More often then not you will work within an LA department that is headed by an Engineer Principal partner or Associate Principal.  If that’s the case watch your back.  They will throw you out on the street at the first sign of trouble (slow down in the economy).  Source: 4 layoffs in 6 years from A&E firms due to lack of work. 

    As one of my fellow ex coworkers said, Landscape Architects are designers Engineers are calculators.  They calculate everything from storm water reports to how quickly they can stab you in the back and get rid of you and the state laws are on their side.  The ASCE and its political supporters have steadily beaten down ASLA via a PR campaign and superior funding the past 20-30 years.   Not that ASLA has really helped its own cause. 

    The question remains, why can’t we design a parking lot, grade it, size the pipes and assemble the storm water report and stamp it?  Because the ASCE has successfully lobbied most of the states to only allow THEM to stamp drawings.  If the relationship was more mutual like Architects have with MEP Engineers, WE could lead with good design and let the Civil Engineers focus on what they are good at, calculations.    

    Mark Di Lucido

    Hi Lauren/Everyone:

    I think a very important part of this discussion has to involve the longer view of fulfillment and success in design and craft related professions (touched on by a few folks already). This link will get you to a post by Steve Mouzon (who writes, ‘The Original Green’ blog) and it’s about what it takes to be sought after for the work you do, false starts in professions you may think you like, and the “dark underbelly” of half-assed commitment.  I know most of us are already jaded by inspirational psycho-babble at every turn but Steve’s ‘The Curse of the Craftsman’ is something I wish I could’ve read when I was starting out as an LA.

    Good Luck

    Leslie B Wagle

    Great reference article, but in a way it’s even more about satisfying one’s OWN “tipping point,” because the great majority of the market remains the same (not being clear what makes quality) all the way through life, so you can’t count on fame and fortune no matter how hard you work, if that’s what you’re working for. You have to feel that the part of the market that does appreciate it is enough to work for. That’s a harder choice to make, in other words, than even the lecture implies, because he makes it sound like big things are eventually guaranteed, and no matter what you do, they are not.

    So, I stay quiet a lot, ha. But p.s. that’s true for many creative fields and isn’t unique to L.A.

    Mark Di Lucido

    Hi Leslie

    My takeaway from the post was not that ‘big things’ are eventually guaranteed but that to have a decent chance at big things we need to aim high and be committed, something I’ve certainly been guilty of not doing on occasion, and as a result think it important to impart to anyone starting out in LA (and other professions).  For me, doing the best work I can is its own reward (“my own tipping point”). I am reminded of this all too often by the ‘good enoughs’ I’ve worked on. And I think that good design/craftsmanship sells, certainly not in every client’s mind and for every project but generally speaking I don’t think we are ‘casting pearls before swine’. Besides, if I didn’t push myself to do good work even though a good portion of the world is satisfied with mediocrity, what happens when I am finally called upon to do so?


    If you like getting paid with peanuts…welcome to the club! If I had the chance to do it all over again as a college Freshman, I would in an instant. Yes, peanuts. Not a typo.


    You forgot to mention, if you can actually get a job as an entry-level CAD monkey.

    Tony Harris

    If not too late the LI in the UK have put these few pages together which are good in giving another view of what its like being a LA but not enough public sector interviews perhaps

    I have never looked back since qualifying in 1980 something …blimey is it that long!!   

    Leslie B Wagle

    Thanks for that…I might use it on my junior college students this very week (introduction to site planning in an arch. technology associate’s degree program). A few of the current class are thinking about going on into 4 year degrees in some related field. I just wish in truth that L.A.s weren’t only occasionally, but more routinely, involved in the examples given.


    Yes, if you’re asking such questions, I sense (forgive me if I’m wrong) that you’re on the wrong path: and may be not the most appropriate ‘fit’ for a profession that is more than about pretty pictures and images. LA is the most visionary, holistic and ‘Earth-loving’ of professions. It is relatively young in term of human civilizations compared to engineering and architecture (contamination in recent decades by ‘Star Architects’ and ego-centrism. I believe that LA is uniquely placed to lead and contribute solving to the many socio-ecological-economic crises+problems of our time. LA is expanding but sadly not as politically supported or as a priority in many societies and states (USA, Canada, Malaysia, Australia, NZ, NL, Germany and UK are exemptions), including, surprisingly some modern EU states such as Ireland. 

    So reflect carefully as to your motives, educate and read about the profession, before taking the plunge.With the appropriate frame of mind,it might prove to be a rewarding and challenging endeavor that goes beyond mere notions of ‘career’ to embrace Servant Leadership+Earth Stewardship and Blue-Green Infrastructure.   Best wishes for the future,

    Aidan J. ffrench MILI, Past President, Irish Landscape Institute (Dublin),

    EFLA Policy Workgroup,  Brussels, BLG (2008-2010), Irish Urban Forum (2005-2009)

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