Job locations for Landscape Architects

Landscape Architecture for Landscape Architects Forums GENERAL DISCUSSION Job locations for Landscape Architects

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    Just some thoughts concerning the JOBS posted and the “locations” shown here on the LAND 8 job listings (as well as LA jobs listed on various other job boards).

    IMO, location was always important in my LA design career. Well, I’m assuming that most locations in the U.S. and overseas all need experienced and talented LAs. However, if I were now searching for an LA job (regardless of my experience level), I would NOT consider ANY job in the New England (New York) or anywhere along the West Coast. First, for those locations, you have to consider the high cost of living as well as high State Income Taxes. Plus, you have serious year round weather issues.

    I realize that every LA can’t always be “choosy” as to the location…they just need a JOB. But, I would seriously do a lot of “research” on the location (city, State)…cost of living, State Tax rate, cost of apartments, etc. Even visiting the location (which I would think you’d do in a job interview) would be a must do, before you accepted a job offer. Also, having a good understanding of the “economy” in the city where you are considering an LA job is important.

    I admit, I’m a bit bias towards living and working in the Southern States of the U.S….Arizona, Texas, Florida, for example.

    IMO, overseas LA jobs are a bit risky today. I noticed a job opening in Kuwait. My son-in-law just spent 9 months in Kuwait City and is now in Florida. He did not enjoy life in Kuwait. All work in Kuwait is done by Expats, the citizens of Kuwait don’t work…they don’t have to as the Gov’t gives all citizens plenty of money to live on (due to their vast OIL industry).
    Crowded, bad drivers, people liter the streets and the Gov’t is about to start taxing all Expats on their income.

    GOOD LUCK to ALL…..but, be sure to do your RESEARCH!

    J. Robert (Bob) Wainner

    Andrew Garulay, RLA

    The counter point to that is that the areas that you would not consider are areas with people with a lot of money, a high amount of “keep up with the Jonses” mentality, and a lot of regulation. All of these things add up to more opportunity in general as well as a higher need for design professionals not only to meet their aesthetic needs, but also to get them through the permitting process. This makes for a higher value and higher billing rates that can make those areas more than just affordable for people in our profession. That does not mean that you need to go to those places to have a great career.

    Everyone is different and values different things. My feeling is that you should never move somewhere that you don’t want to be just because it has a better job. Your job or career is to sustain and enhance your lifestyle. Your career should never determine your lifestyle.

    I think that is the underlying point that Bob is trying to get across that I would certainly agree with.


    Dear Bob,

    Your statements about Kuwait are misinformed. I’ve been in Kuwait for nearly 3 years leading the Landscape Architecture group for the company looking for that senior position. The two lead designers in the Architecture department are Kuwaiti! The owner and her sisters are Kuwaiti. They are all hard working and talented. The company also has several engineers in different departments that are Kuwaiti too. The government does pay out some money for native citizens and companies that employ them, but it is not going to make them rich. It’s more like a welfare system where some people in the community choose to live a minimal lifestyle and not work. The vast majority of Kuwaitis that I meet are working in a professional capacity, well educated, and nice. The Kuwait parliament is always talking about taxes and limitation on expats, but they never materialize. It’s politics to get them reelected. The country would have a huge talent drain if they took away the advantages of coming here to work and they know it. Maybe once the country is self sufficient with local talent… but that’s going to be a long time from now. The country is something like 75% expat and that is why there is always chatter about reducing that percentage. The politics here sometimes remind me of the conservative west in that regard. Fortunately, the country is led by a benevolent monarch that understands what it takes to keep the country going. They make huge investments in their infrastructure, education, and healthcare (which keeps me busy too).

    Living and working in Kuwait or Dubai is not that much different than the US. I was actually disappointed that it was not as exotic as I had imagined. As a US expat, I am treated very well by the authorities, Kuwaitis, and even the street cleaners. There are tons of US and UK based franchises here for dining and shopping, I make a diligent effort to seek out local places instead. The main challenge for most is distance from friends and family back home.

    One of the huge attractors for me was the opportunity to travel around the region easily. Oman, Turkey, Egypt, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Italy, Germany, and Jordan were all quick and easy trips from Kuwait. Madagascar, Thailand, Morocco, Vietnam, and Cambodia are not far away either.

    That being said, I’m leaving this summer. 3 years away was enough for me. I had a good time, worked on some incredible projects, and led a loyal and hardworking team. I used my spare time to develop new artistic and technical skills. I made a bunch of money too, but that was not the motivation for coming here. Ultimately, I resigned from my job not because of Kuwait, but because the company had an architectural management bias that conflicted with my design and project management philosophy. The same can be said for many large AEC firms in the US though. The other problem was our inability to attract design talent to help me achieve our goals. This leads to burnout and frustration when you end up working 14 to 21 days straight to make up for the lack of staff. That heightened the fact that I really missed my wife, dogs, and motorcycles. No amount of financial compensation can make up for the things you miss while away. And once the honeymoon of working abroad wears off and you realize you are just working for a big AEC firm that treats design and the people who do it as a simple commodity, a sane person leaves.

    Would I advise someone here to take that job they offering? That depends on the person. If you are open minded and love traveling, yes. If you are self-motivated and able to direct others effectively, yes. If you are able focus on your role and ignore office politics and the incompetence of others, yes. If you are offended by people who litter on the beach, treat staff like the tea boys or drafters like lesser people, or terrible drivers…no way. If you are an Islamaphobe, easily frustrated by government red tape, or are a social justice warrior…no way.

    Most of the expats I have talked to that did a short tour in Kuwait had problems because they were unable to create a social network, missed home, or had deeply rooted western cultural values that conflicted with the reality on the ground here. It’s not for everyone, but for those with an adventurous spirit and the ability to easily adapt to a different culture it’s a great opportunity. The first year goes by in a blink of an eye due to all the stimulation of being in a new place.


    Some of my drone videos from Kuwait


    And in regards to taxes… As a US citizen, your global income is taxable, with the first $103,900 (in 2019) tax free 🙂 The amount above that is taxed at the brackets it falls into above the exclusion. It’s a pretty sweet deal! By investing some of the surplus income into green upgrades to the home, you can whittle down that tax bill nicely as well.

    In regards to your other points about doing your research, agreed. I have been offered positions ,via recruitment, with several firms around the US. They are usually in places I don’t want to live, so I politely decline. Where I live and what opportunities it creates for my free time is very important.


    I couldn’t disagree more. In my opinion, expensive places such as California and New York are perhaps the only places where Landscape Architecture is even financially possible!

    The complexity of the built environment, along with strong regulations and oversight by various entities make Landscape Architecture professionals essential in order to get anything substantial built there.
    In other less complex and regulated markets it is all too easy for an owner to simply hire a contractor and eliminate the Landscape Architect altogether. Many contractors offer their design services for free and can likely work with the owner and provide a good value. Now image for a moment that the landscape design needs to be coordinated with the Architect, underground utilities need to be upgraded and relocated, site walls need to be engineered due to limited soil depths, and all materials need to be craned into the site due to access restrictions… suddenly a Landscape Architect is needed.

    Young new graduates want to be (and should be) where the action is. Yes, it’s expensive… and many (like myself) will simply gain a few years of invaluable experience and move on to more affordable cities.
    I think the very last thing that they are looking for is a city with prudent financial policy!

    Also sometimes perception is reality. And the general perception is that if you have the ability and experience of working on projects in complex markets such as California or New York, than you can work anywhere. I started my career in California and spent 3 years working on complex multi-discipline projects in heavily regulated markets. When I decided to move back to the east coast, I was highly valued and was offered a job at every firm I talked to (even in the poor economy of 2009). This was simply because I had worked in California… and a designer from California is usually perceived by others as being more creative and tech-savvy than a designer from Ohio. Now of course it’s not true, but again sometimes perception is reality.


    You’ve made some excellent points here, Joseph. But. literally every city (especially the major cities) have many codes we LAs must comply with. I just personally would never have gone after an LA job in Calif., NY or many other States in the Midwest or Northeast. And, it just doesn’t make sense to me, to own an LA practice in a State that has high State income taxes and where the cost of living is ridiculous. Also, I’ll add that, I’ll admit that I’m a “Conservative” and working in a Liberal City/State would be out of my comfort zone. Location, weather, economic environment has always been high on my list as to where I wanted to practice (though, I have designed projects in 14 different States (while based here in the Dallas, Texas area). I read just the other day, that the Dallas – Ft. Worth area has the #1 economy in America. But, I’m basically on the edge of retirement…but, still doing some design. I think it’s fine if LAs wish to accept LA jobs in California or New York…just do your research and realize how “expensive” it’s going to be just to live in those locations.



    P.S….Los Angeles, Calif. – Just today (June 5, 2019) the news was that there are now 59,000 homeless people living in LA Country, California. And, that you need to earn $46.00 per hour just to be able to afford to rent (at the median rent level). So, IMO, you had better get a GOOD paying LA job if you’re considering accepting a job anywhere in The State of California. Do your “research” and understand everything that’s going on in a specific City/State. Word to the wise.


    Ol Bob is out of touch with reality it appears. Lots of folks starting out in this industry are happily living and working in LA for $25 an hour. Are you intentionally trying to scare people out of certain markets? One has to wonder what your motivations are.


    No, Jeff…I do not have any type of “negative” motivation to write what I have about accepting an LA job in Los Angeles.

    However, young LA’s should be aware…no matter what city of State they are considering accepting a job.

    In LA County, the Average rent for a 1 bedroom Apartment is $2,546.00. Let’s compare that with the Dallas – Ft. Worth area…where it’s between $900 and $1,000.00…a really nice 1 bedroom apt. for about $1,200.00. For a young LA earning say $53,000.00 annually in California, they must pay 9.3% State Income Tax (or approx. $4,700.00). Add the “cost of living expenses”, like food, gasoline, utilities and IMO, California is a bit of a burden on an LA, especially one who is beginning their design career. BTW, The State of Texas has ZERO State Income Taxes and gasoline is now sitting @ $2.57 per gallon.

    It’s a FACT, that Liberal cities like LA, San Francisco, Seattle, Chicago and New York City are dealing with major debt. I’m just being a “realist”. There are good LA jobs across the Country…, WHY burden yourself living in a city/state where your Annual Income is being negatively impacted.

    Hey, I was born in Long Beach, California…great State to “visit”. But, the Liberal politicians are ruining that State!


    Dallas… You get what you pay for.
    In case you haven’t been paying attention, the Country has a major debt problem. By your logic, young LA’s should flee to tax free & high paying countries like Kuwait, but we see your opinion on that too 🙂

    Live and work in a place you love, the rest will sort itself out. A young person can get a foothold in these expensive markets and make a life for themselves while they have flexibility in their lives. Live in a small apartment, use public transportation, and enjoy what the cities have to offer. Once they get ready to settle down, they can choose to stay or move to a less expensive market, as their salaries will have risen. Writing off an area because of high rent prices denies you of the opportunities unique to those places, which has a high value for most of us.


    Funny, jeff…..OK, you and other young LA grads can just live at home with Mommy and Daddy during their first 5 to 8 yrs. of their design career in those high cost of living markets…then, move to “better” location. I see there are several LA jobs on the LAND 8 job market list – bet NONE of those employers are paying higher than normal salaries (to help compensate new hires for the high cost of living in those areas).

    Really, you get what you pay for??? Cost of Single Family Homes in The State of California are ridiculous too. Wonder how many years an LA has to be in our career to be able to afford a home out there? Can you say “over-priced”! Why are so many people and businesses moving OUT of California & New York. Many reasons, but, the #1 & #2 reasons are high State Income Taxes & high cost of living.


    And there it is folks, Bitter Bob lashing out when he can’t make an argument. That job in Kuwait is well paid and compensated, but again, we know your uninformed opinion on that one too. It’s no wonder hardly anyone participate here anymore…


    With all due respect, everyone here is entitled to his/her opinion. But, as for California…50% of California residences are considering living the State (and, many of those are millennials). Major complaint is the high cost of housing. CNBC wrote an article and shows the #1 State to do business in is Texas…California ranks @ #25.

    I admit I don’t know a lot about Kuwait. My Son in Law told me he didn’t care for it. Temperatures in the Summer can reach 130 degrees. No income tax, but, goods are shipped in, so, they are pricey. There is a sense of what might be interpreted as “racism” or at least “elitism”, where the wealthy look down on the less fortunate. Traffic is terrible at all hours of the day…even well after midnight. People liter the streets. But, I feel sure there are MANY very positives about living and working in Kuwait…I just think anyone considering relocating to Kuwait OR any other foreign Nation do a lot of research, before they make that leap.

    Leslie B Wagle

    I haven’t had much to say on the where to locate yourself topic, because there are so many issues for each person/family but I guess my philosophy was shaped by already being married with a child when I graduated. When things were rough someone might ask why not move but then if you chose a ”region,” as we did and decided it would be our “roots,” why not hold out hope where you can search deeply (days before internet duly noted). Also we were burned a couple of times by bad bosses and outcomes, and we just couldn’t see blasting ourselves into the unknown to have that happen yet again (although a single person traveling light could do it).

    What I really notice looking back (maybe this should go into the first day of classes / life satisfaction topic)…is that I ended up with more of a patchwork than I expected. Some of all of these: working for self, small offices, large offices, government, design/build, and teaching. Yet all of them taught me things that I may not have appreciated at the time, but came in handy in hindsight. I’d advise people to keep enough information, drawings, and photos to be able to show for moving through your career. That is, for situations that involve being hired as a consultant as well as for a steady position. It has helped so much to hear of something I’d like to do, and be able to recall having actually worked on something like it, and dig it out of the stash…whether a PUD or a single entry sign. Managers and clients both are careful about who they put their trust into, and being able to show something actually performed (and preferably built) really can ease their minds.


    Just a P.S. here…I’m a little “off topic” here, but, I think it sort of helps with my point of view on this TOPIC of what cities an LA might wish to work in.

    Example: AMAZON is going to build a HUGE Billion dollar facility in Arlington, Virginia. And, employee thousands of people with average salaries of $150k per year. Sounds good. But, let’s consider some of the “negatives”. Virginia has a 5.3% State Income Tax for that that $150k salary range. And, Federal Income Taxes could easily run between $40k to $50k. Then, you have the high “cost of housing”. Comparing Arlington, VA. to say, the Dallas, TX. area where I live…housing in Arlington, VA is 72% higher than the Dallas area. Transportation costs are also higher in the Arlington area. Then, from my standpoint, you also have to consider the annual “weather” up in Arlington, VA…uh, no thanks.

    I really love it up in Virginia (to visit)…and I have designed several projects in The State Of Virginia. But, IMO, Amazon could have found a BETTER location (that would be more beneficial to ALL of their employees). That $150k annual salary “sounds good”, but, when you consider the various “costs” of living in that area…maybe not the best city. NYC would have been even worse, IMO. There are many wonderful cities in the SOUTH with large, International airports, States with ZERO income taxes, much lower cost of living, lower cost of housing, BETTER weather, etc.

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