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Landscape Architecture for Landscape Architects Forums EDUCATION Engineering AND Architecture

This topic contains 1 reply, has 5 voices, and was last updated by  Andrew Garulay, RLA 5 years, 7 months ago.

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    Hello Land8!

    I’m new here but I’m no stranger to the discussion conversations! I would love to hear some opinions on this matter.

    I am currently a senior in an environmental engineering program. My plan for the past several months has been to apply for jobs at companies that have both environmental engineers and landscape architects as well as those that specialize in restoration, which is the field I ultimately plan to work in.

    I am also applying for MLA programs. Temple is on the top of my list since it emphasizes how it has a focus on ecological restoration. I’ll also apply to UMich and considered SUNY-ESF. There are others on my list but they don’t have the strongest restoration background as the ones I just mentioned.

    Anyways, I believe that landscape architecture and environmental engineering have plenty of crossover subject matter wise and think that the combination of the two (similar to civil engineering and architecture) would be a great foundation to a potentially new ‘career path’. However, I have yet to meet someone with an environmental ENGINEERING background AND a landscape architecture background to discuss this with. (notice the emphasis!)

    I know that going into a design field… there is a higher potential to lose that job security and higher annual salary that engineering tends to provide, but I want to have a balance of creating something tangible/creating place and number crunching.

    Lately, I’ve been worried that I am not “design-oriented” enough to pursue an MLA. To elaborate, I am currently in a Intro to Arch course at my university (to help build my portfolio as well as serve as a taste of the future) and I love and hate it. I love it because I get to be creative and don’t need to prove my creation with endless calculations, and I hate it because I don’t particularly “click” well with the design process, most likely due to my engineering background. I’m trying to keep an open mind and not let that hold me back but I know design very significant to LA.

    Thus, I ask you, Land8, is an MLA a good next move for me? Should I work first to get a better understanding of each role (Env. Eng. and LA) in practice? I’ve also strongly considered the Masters in Ecological Engineering offered by SUNY-ESF or a MSLA. Are there other schools you think that have programs best suited for me and my interest? Should I just stick with engineering and tack on a few landscape design skills? Again, I will make my own decision, but I just want to hear new perspectives on my dilemma. 

    I feel like I want the LA education for that type of knowledge of plant material, construction management, and everything else technical about the degree, but not so much design theory part. I really feel like this pretty recent poster: and I have similar interests.

    I’m still fascinated by creating place and the history of landscape architecture. I want to be able to sit in an office and come up with great plans for a site that I recently just visited and conducted different assessments on (Phase 1/Phase 2, Visual Impact, Botanical Survey, etc.) and then follow that project from remediation process to re-purposing….does this job exist? And if not, do you think a B.S. in Env. Eng. and a MLA would be the combination to create it?


    Andrew Garulay, RLA

    I think you may believe that most jobs in these fields are more specialized than they actually are and the same for firms within these fields.I believe that your future work experience will meld these all together for you whether or not you pursue supplementary degrees.



    I understand what you are saying. If I work in a firm that, for example, has an engineering department and landscape architecture department, then my tasks have a chance to become more blended.

    Are you telling me that there are positions where LAs are a part of the analysis of the site, determination and implementation of the remediation method as well as the design of the new site? Could you elaborate on where I would find that? I’ve looked at a couple of firms that specialize in restoration, but noticed that they have staff ecologists, engineers, and landscape architects who offer services specific to their department.

    Honestly, I have a decent environmental chemistry background and am hoping that after potentially studying landscape architecture I will still be able to use it for the projects I would potentially work on. Ideally I’d be a PE/RLA (but an environmental engineer, not civil).



    I work in site design in a civil engineering firm.  The engineers do some mediation work, although usually with sites that contains floodways (and “parts” of floodplains).  I have a BUP and don’t work with them directly.  In response to your original post, there is not one go-to person who handles all of these issues.  Some engineers, whether they are civil, environmental, structural, etc. may have a creative bent, and they may sketch out ideas on trace where they want roads to go, wetlands to be mediated etc., but they are almost always improved by trained specialists, whether they are landscape architects, ecologists, natural resource specialists, etc.  Most of this designing outside the box that the engineers pick up is usually on the job over several years, some of them are good are many of them are terrible.  

    An engineering degree will trump almost anything.  I am not sure what type of overlap you can do with other engineering specialties, such as sitting for other types of PE exams.  I’ve never been a big fan of dual degrees or going from a bachelors in one field to a masters in another field (unless you have worked for a few years in the first before going back to school).  If you go straight to grad school your bargaining power for higher compensation might be marginally better.  But you still don’t have licensure nor actual experience yet.  Many firms, whether engineering, architecture, or landscape architecture, still view their rank and file as specialists in certain fields.  It takes many years of never saying no to ANYTHING that leads to a variety of project experiences OUTSIDE your chosen profession.  I do design everyday with a non-design BUP, but over the past decade, I have done planting plans for commercial projects (with some grading but I never took a site grading class), advanced statistical analysis for an atmospheric testing government agency, and interviewed residents in an impoverished intercity neighborhood for a new community center.  I even talked my way into doing mapping for a landman firm, but I don’t know anything about oil and gas!.  Bottom line, make the most of whatever degree you earn.  You don’t NEED to go for a second degree, just go out and work!  Hope this helps-



    Thanks for the perspective.

    I know it sounds like I want to be the “one stop shop” but I think I’m unsuccessfully trying to ask about the PE/RLA experience. What is that combination like? Do the two fields even combine well? Is the work a balance of both or do you still have to ‘choose a side’?

    I’m glad you emphasize work because I am starting to think that getting experience beforehand will help me understand how I could achieve what it is I want to achieve. Maybe ecological engineering is a better step for me, maybe not. Only the future knows.

    You are 100% right. I should make the best out of the degree I will earn!


    Andrew Garulay, RLA

    I worked in a couple of civil engineering offices doing civil site plans although my degree and license were in landscape architecture. We all crossed over and seldom delegated to individuals based on education or license. Sometimes I’d get singled out for planting plans and one of the CEs did the hydrocad work, but for the most part we dealt with all aspects of whatever we were working on to the point where we felt we needed help. More often than not we’d help each other through something rather that taking it away and doing it on our own. The licensed people reviewed their areas of expertise and redlined or stamped as necessary. It made for a lot of efficiency and staff with diverse skills. I think it made us a tighter more cooperative office culture as well.

    Maybe it does not work that way in the bigger firms. I’m fairly certain that I would not have liked working in a big firm, if that were the case.



    I worked in a small office owned by a landscape architecqt but employing both PE’s and LA’s. My experience there was similar to Andrews–lots of overlap and everyone dug in to whatever task were at hand.

    My view is that LA’s tend to and should be generalists. Sure, there are specialized facets that might seem to belong to our discipline such as planting, but I might even argue that a horticulturist could do a better job choosing plants for a site. LA’s orchestrate solutions based in human experience of space and informed by science or specialists. LA’s arrange the parts into a whole. Technically, there is plenty of crossover from civil to la, but fundamentally they are very different.

    I like how this quote breaks down the logic between art and science, two hemispheres of architectural design that often seem at odds with one another–

    “Science works with chunks and bits and pieces of things with the continuity presumed, and [the artist] works only with the continuities of things with the chunks and bits and pieces presumed.”— Robert Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

    The designers mind will tend to paint witha broad brush, follow intuition (the bits and pieces presumed) whereas the specialist tend to work with the bits and pieces (the continuity presumed). Neither by themselves can build a very funtional or beautiful motorcycle. My point is, while we like to think our technical overlap indicates that we are very similar fields,wfundamentally we are very different Iin approach. I may even go a step further to say that engineers and la’s almost always think very differently–your typical engineer would make a terrible la and vice versa. It has more of a basis in psychology than practice.

    All this to say, when threads like yours pop up on professional forums asking questions along the lines of –‘can I do both?’ I sort of cringe a little. My short answer would be that you can certainly ‘do’both but you can never really ‘be’ both, even if it says so on paper.



    I understand where you’re coming from but I think you are segmenting the fields a little more than necessary.

    Yes the way of thinking/approaching a problem is definitely different. Yes, they achieve different goals. However, I still fail to see why a union between civil engineering and architecture is more accepted than one between environmental engineering and landscape architecture.

    Sure, an LA would design something better than your average engineer but if the task was to design something that needs to manage, mitigate, etc. there’s science behind that. I would like to think that LAs like to create something not only unique but practical. What’s the point of designing an installation for a coastal area if you haven’t taken the time to consider how your design would alter the fluid mechanics of the site?

    All I am trying to say is that with a strong science background, one can potentially make more informed and insightful projects. I like to believe that a balance can be achieved. Every good architect needs a good structural engineer but an architect who has a background in structures may not. Just as a civil engineer with a design background could make a beautiful pool.

    Is there not anybody on Land8 who has training in both?



    I’m glad to hear that you’ve experienced so much crossover in the small firm environment because I prefer them as well.



    You made some very insightful observations that cover a wide range of work experiences and over an entire career.  I have worked in small and large firms, some run by LAs others by engineers.  I broke down your post into separate responses: 

    However, I still fail to see why a union between civil engineering and architecture is more accepted than one between environmental engineering and landscape architecture.

    Outside of academia, I am only beginning to REALLY see these interdependent/fluid “union” as I move up the ladder.  From a previous post, “some” of the engineers put the pieces together as you described.  It really isn’t forced on the engineer.  If you work in an engineering firm and you practice the same engineering as the owner or owners, you play first fiddle.  Everyone else is second.  You can’t expect someone in an unrelated profession, with separate formal training, to just “blend” their training with other fields.  Yes, I saw it at far smaller firms but I think it is still a recent trend.  The LAs in my first job where very old school: I did planning and on occasion did plant inspections, but very rarely.  I did  learn AutoCAD and Photoshop on the job.  So I think there is an exchange of ideas, how it relates to “transferable skills” not so much a union of different formal training in schools. 

    What’s the point of designing an installation for a coastal area if you haven’t taken the time to consider how your design would alter the fluid mechanics of the site?

    Client demands, which can change at mid sentence, coupled with a long review time on the agency side to review, comment, and approve plans.  Engineers don’t always look at the interconnectedness in the same way.  Time and time again, as planners/LAs we have to keep introducing engineers into spatial relationships, cause and effect, explaining “why” you can’t put a lot line into a jurisdictional wetland (which now alters the cul-de-sac bulb which impacts streets at the end of the block).  Engineers are engineers.  There is a different set of training between environmental and civil, but you are also working with people who think in very black and white terms for the most part (there are exceptions).  

     I like to believe that a balance can be achieved.

    I agree with you.  I think there is a balance through mutual understanding of each person’s separate contributions to the whole.  Can you work towards an engineering and LA degree and do both.  Absolutely.  You can’t expect others to do both successfully, that’s a tall order.  In the past 15 years I have encountered maybe 5-6 people who have done two professions successfully side by side, at least 3 of them had a law degree and something else like LA, engineering, or architecture (and yes all 3 did expert witness of some soft involving eminent domain/land use law/and takings).  These people got to this “union” you talk of over several decades of very hard work, not to mention all of them were brilliant people.  Again, this balance is there, but it is more perception from the sidelines.  Just my two cents!



    Money well spent! Thank you for your input! I’m sure the bond I am trying to forge does develop over years of experience, but having it in mind from the beginning is a start.



    You had me up until the structural-architect comment. My experience with dual professionals is that one is far and away subordinate to the other. One usually dominates. Architects are generalists..our job is to synthesize information into a well orchestrated, beautiful symphony of disciplines and specialties. There s people like calatrava, but one could easily argue his work is formulaic, rooted in structural engineering–he just lets the structure shine and has carved out a very specific niche for himself–this is unusal because the typical la will work on a broad array of project types and scales, with varied disciplines on a week to week basis–my experience is that in agiven week we may work on a park, new community master plan, monument signage, private residence, and urban plaza. This seems to occur on a fairly regular basis these days.

    I agree, architectural design is art + science, by definition in fact. My argument is that we each have strengths and weaknesses that lead us I  one general direction or another. A good la is a jack of all trades, master of none. You could be an ee and la on paper, but its not going to mean much in the end because you will just be doing whatever youre particularly good at, not necessarily what your licensing agency or school tell you you are qualified to do.



    To add to my earlier comment–

    There is also professional/business consequence to being  one stop shop. If you area a practicing la/civil, other civils are going to be reluctant to float you work as opportunity arises, same with architects, structurals, ee’s whatever. Youre potentially limiting your market share. I can tell you a large portion of my firms work has come through colleagues not so much rfps or private clients. 

    Theres also project sequence, which I think landscape planner was alluding to. There are many instances where two disciplines are working in tandem to achieve a timely solution. If you alone arein charge of both engineering and design (along with all of the deliverables with each) you may find yourself short handed. Can your ee backgrou d inform your design decisions as an la? Absolutely, but it would be unusal to be both of record on any given project for the aforementioned reasons.



    “…our job is to synthesize information into a well orchestrated, beautiful symphony of disciplines and specialties.”

    I think that was beautifully put. That really makes sense. I’m still doing plenty of exploring on my end to figure out what my own strengths are and which field I may be more drawn to. But I’ll hold that statement in my mind as I continue to ask questions and learn. Thank you.

    “You could be an ee and la on paper, but its not going to mean much in the end because you will just be doing whatever you’re particularly good at, not necessarily what your licensing agency or school tell you you are qualified to do.”

    You’re right. Period. Now, if I only knew what I was good at! I know I will discover it eventually.


    Andrew Garulay, RLA

    Very true. I worked in a civil office that did a lot of work for two separate LA firms that were offspring of the civil office that no longer had any LAs on staff. When I got licensed, the two LA firms stopped using the office that I worked in even though I was an absolute rookie and in no position to take work from them  – both ASLA national award winning companies, by the way.

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