Job in developer firms

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    Chunling Wu

    Hello All,

    I’m curious the possibility: would developer firms hire landscape architects or designers? I mean those designers are their own staff.

    Is it possible they hire some one who have design background for other positions?

    Thank you


    Hello Terri;

    Well, to answer your question……..YES, there are Developers who have LA’s on staff.  Some Developers, rather than hire Architecture Firms or LA firms, they have Architeccts & LA’s on Staff to design their projects….I believe they feel they can lower their “design costs” this way.  However, that being said, most likely, they are going to be most interested in very experienced designers.

    I had an LA friend several years ago, who was an in-house LA for a high end Multi-Family Developer.  He was very experienced and talented….and designed all of that Developer’s NEW apartment developments.

    I believe there are similar job situations for LA’s in Architecture & Civil Engineering firms….but again, I think these positions will require several yrs. of experience.  As Architects and CE’s don’t have the ability to teach LA’s….they tend to add LA’s to their staffs to increase profits on each project.

    Tosh K

    Yes, there were a few when I was in school that hired designers to help the licensed staff do construction/permitting/zoning drawings and to do nice fluffy renderings to sell the work.  I’d image large scale homebuilders do the same.  I get the feeling qualifications for a large portion of their operations are not degree specific.


    My first job out of college, which lasted for 15 years was working for a major US retailer.  We had a 500 person Design and Construction staff.  I designed stores that we “self-developed” but also hired and managed landscape architects that were working for developers who were building stores for us.  It was interesting work, and I was traveling for the company all over the country.  I learned a lot about landscape design in different parts of the country that most LA’s may not get from just working local or regionally.  It was nice being on the owner end of the business.  I was also able to make a lot of contacts with LA’s around the country.  Two firms that I have worked for since my first job were through the contacts that I made from my original company.  I think developers are getting away from having LA’s on staff and are relying mostly on a team of consultants to provide the services they need.  If they can find a multi disciplinary firm that is a one stop shop for them all the better. 

    Wyatt Thompson, PLA

    Prior to the housing slowdown, a former colleague of mine was hired by a development group to master plan its communities. He had been doing that work for a large, multi-disciplinary firm and I guess it was cheaper for the developer to hire this individual directly. I know others who have been hired on to do visualizations, walk-throughs, etc, but that’s been more on a contract basis I think. I also know several people with landscape architecture backgrounds who are themselves the developer. They hire A/E consultants as needed, but do their own design work and permitting to the level they are capable and qualified. Be aware though that as an in-house designer, if funding or demand for new projects dries up, you’re probably going to be looking for work.

    Jason T. Radice

    I worked for a commercial real estate developer for a while I really liked the job. Depending on how the company works, you are very often the client, so you have a great deal of decision making power you will never get at a LA firm. The second most “powerful” LA employment is generally in architect’s offices, as they are pretty much always the lead on the project, so you get good input there as well.  


    Though I mentioned that some LA’s do work for Architectural & Civil Engineering Firms…..for the most part, I just don’t think that’s the BEST situation for an LA. 

    Oh, I know, there are some large, very successful A&E firms out there… AECOM…but, to me, if you want GREAT LA design services….a client should retain an LA firm……not use LA’s that are onboard an Architecture or Civil Engineering Firm.  It’s just my opinion, but LA’s just do NOT belong in a Civil Engineering Firm.  Many Civil Eng. firms like to add a wide variety of design consultants…, they can hope to get DESIGN FEES for all of the various design services for every project…….and though coordination should be better, I really don’t believe a client benefits…..that they get the BEST results.

    It would be sort of like going to a MEDICAL OFFICE……and having your eyes examined, your dental work done….for women, gyno services…….yeah, one stop for all medical services.  We live in a world of “specialization”……so, I have always believed that for the BEST LA design services, clients should seek out a top LA firm whose ONLY design service is Landscape Architecture….and that also means, no, don’t hire a Landscape Contractor or a Landscape Nursery for DESIGN services……DESIGN is not their specialty.


    I design subdivisions, master planned communities, and town centers in Houston, from inked schematics to CAD bases to platting.  95% of my clients are developers, and the majority of those are residential home builders.  Projects range from 50 ac – 2000 ac.  I am AICP and have a non-design planning degree.  My boss has an architecture degree is LEED AP but not licensed as an architect.  We work for a +125 person engineering and surveying firm.   Our staff of landscape architects focuses on LA services for municipal utility districts (MUDs) which are unique to Houston, open space and recreation plans, and planting plans for some of our larger commercial/office tracts.  With regards to land planning, our direct competitors are mostly landscape architects and a few people trained in architecture.  If you have the artistic side to draw complex street patterns and lotting over hundreds of acres coupled with the CAD skills I don’t think it really matters your formal background.  I think these skills are so specialized and there is a short supply of large-scale designers to complete the work that merit and project experience go a lot farther for a mid to senior-level designer. 

    If you want to do this work as an entry-level designer, I would fill your portfolio with as many examples of subdivision/master plan work that you can do.  If your professors don’t teach you this, you may need to compensate by creating your own projects in your free time (I did) in order to demonstrate your understanding of physical site design. 

    Hope this helps-


    To answer your question from my experience, land developers and commercial builders sometimes hire landscape architects, planners, architects, and civil engineers to work for them as salaried employees. These folks oversee projects and act as an entitlement manager rather than do much design. Occasionally they will work up an in-house concept early on to see if the project makes sense from 30,000 feet, and then bring in their consultant team if/once they decide to move forward. I think that pretty much everybody fitting that description I know of had consulted for the development company that hired them and built up a pretty high level of trust over several years. Most of those folks had also completed an MBA in finance, and all are very competent public speakers.

    Chunling Wu

    Actually, that’s what I’m interested. I wonder if I can work for developer firms and later became one of them as developer/investor. The problem is I don’t have business background. I’m curious how should I start this career. Of course, I will not have problem to work as designer as well.

    Chunling Wu

    In fact, I would like to see the opportunity working in a developer firms, not only in Architecture or Landscape Architecture or Planning driven company. Thank you for the advice.

    Chunling Wu

    I think what you said make a lot of sense. Thank you very much for giving the reality of LA in those firms.

    Jason T. Radice

    This is a very ignorant statement you’ve made here. Sure, being in some arch or eng firms aren’t always the  most glamorous types of work for an LA, but if you are into the planning end of things it can be ideal. And it certainly raises the profile of the LA profession if you are ambitious and push yourself within these firms. Besides, if an arch or eng firm has an LA in there, depending on what they do, the quality of the design can DRAMTICALLY improve for outdoor spaces. How many times on here do we ridicule terrible plaza or landscape designs that were trying to be pulled off by an architect who thinks they know LA? It can only improve design outcomes. For the type of work I did from within the walls of an architect’s office, I’d like to see an LA firm do any better. In fact, many have done a lot worse as many LAs don’t know squat about proper materials and design details for certain types of projects and clients. I am pointing the finger of derision at your crappy crosswalk inlay detail with non-vehicular rated brick, your terrible stamped concrete patterns, your non-code compliant  means of egress and your laughable details. (LAs and engineers are generally TERRIBLE with codes), and often a lack of restraint in design. As well, many arch firms have LA divisions/departments who’s work would rival or surpass those of a traditional LA firm.

    LA firms are very often at the bottom of the development totem pole. Last one called, last one to start design, last one to finish. By the time they are called into the space, the engineering is very often done and even preliminary landscape plans have been filed and approved, so you can’t easily make changes to just about anything. The architects generally have the building design pretty much locked in when the plans are finally given to the LA, so no changes there. Pretty much a “here, put some plants in there” kind of situation. Having personally worked in pretty much all kinds of offices with the exception of a stand-alone LA firm, I can safely say that working with the architects give you the best platform to affect changes to concepts that better suit the layout and landscapes. Only working with a developer yields more power…that of the pocket book. The developer ALWAYS has the final say on design. And working with a developer, you are that final say, so you better know your stuff. You also become a more diverse designer, as you very often deal with reviewing code/zoning and planning issues, architecture plans, civil engineering plans, other LA’s plan, traffic engineering plans, and just about anything else you can think of. And knowing all this is important in commercial LA, and very few people have that kind of experience. Better than being a CAD jockey shrubbing up somebody else’s work.

    A LA working in the office generally at the top of the design ladder, the architect, affords a much greater opportunity for holistic design where all of the design is integrated and worked at the same time from concept within the same walls. True cooperation, true feedback, the whole package. The ONLY time the actual building footprint and the civil engineering plans were together in the same file were on my landscape/hardscape plans, and I cannot even BEGIN to tell you how many issues, some of the very serious, were caught and rectified by this practice. That usually doesn’t happen because of the current permitting structure requires generally staggerd submissions, and that very often leads to really poor outcomes because not everybody is working on the same design at the same time.  

    Wyatt Thompson, PLA

    The individual I wrote about had the same goal. You can pick up the business side as you go or with an MBA. Personally I think there’s a lot to be learned from the trenches, whether you’re working directly for or consulting with a developer.


    Jason……I DO agree with several things you have stated here.  But, when we’re speaking of LA’s employed in a Civil Engineering Firm…..there can be a BIG difference in “talent & experience”.  You definitely can NOT use the word “glamorous” when talking a job with these people. Though I have had many friends over the years who were CE’s….many CE’s have very little respect for LA’s.  Architects can be that way to, but, I less so than CE’s.  I have had some personal experiences with CE’s where I was disrespected beyond belief…and that was when I had over 25 yrs. exp….it wasn’t like I was a rookie LA.  No excuse!  I’ve got some shocking NEWS for the CE’s out there….NO, they are NOT better than LA’s!

    I still argue that IF a developer really desires to have high quality, creative Landscape Architectural Designs for their developments…..they hire “stand alone LA firms”….don’t use the LA design services provided by Civil Engineering OR Architectural Firms.  Oh, I’m sure that are some “exceptions”, but, over the years….my experience has taught me that the most talented & creative LA’s were NOT working for CE firms.  And, I’m not talking about just a couple of yrs. of experience here either.

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