LA organizations doing all LA professionals a disservice. Wake up!

Landscape Architecture for Landscape Architects Forums GENERAL DISCUSSION LA organizations doing all LA professionals a disservice. Wake up!

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    Jack Rutherford

    While I know it’s not instrumental to recovery to sit and dwell on things past, there is some need to make people aware of what is actually going on within our profession. Jobs are disappearing at a record rate in the LA profession across this entire country. In addition we are a few months away from an eager batch of new LA graduates coming into the spectrum with no where for them to go. I know it serves better to have a positive attitude but there is no reason why people shouldn’t be at least bringing some reality into light. Some of our most reputable companies … companies we in a normal economic climate have shown an absolutely ugly side during this downturn. My small firm in California is holding out, barely. I’ve been in the practice a few years so I guess I’m a little set back from any of the real goings on but here is what I do know.
    I’ve heard tales by the dozen from friends I have from college across this country, on how their companies closed their doors… fired people… etc etc.. but none takes the cake like a friend of mine who works for EDSA. I think it was late January he said when they had a huge (big by any standard) layoff. I was sorry for him but over the last few months with each and every conversation I have with him I become more disgusted at the behavior of a company that so many people in our field hold in such high regard. First of all they fired people, many people who relocated (like my friend) only months prior. It get better, as they fire people, they continue to have a valet service at their main location, more than 3 landscapers, a goodie bar for free treats, happy hour at the office where everyone partakes in, bathroom renovations (as he last said to me ) still continue, they still are actively recruiting people with no intentions of hiring them as landscape architects (they are only hiring interns), they fly first class across the globe… the last thing he told me was that they actually, had the nerve to build and open a Cafe in the office to ease everyones tensions. I could go on for days with all he has told me about this place, and it makes me sick. I know this is a private business but come on where is your integrity? The day the Cafe opened was also the day that 401K matching was cut. I mean, I know I don’t work there but come on. They are doing everything to maintain their image but behind the scenes they are acting like one of these wall street companies, spending like nuts and making everyone think they are riding high when they are falling apart at the seams. I just feel like ASLA, this site and others need to bring this garbage into the open. When things are said and done and the economy recovers these companies shouldn’t be able to reap in all the fine people in our profession who are being trampled on while they continue on with business as usual. Hope this makes sense to others out there.

    Rico Flor

    Just trying to be positive and…maybe…creative. With this crisis going full-blast, might be a good opportunity to push the boundaries of the practice, make it more relevant in your own way. One can shift the paradigm a bit and consider EDSA as just ONE of the many models of how to practice the profession.

    Isaac Hametz and I have been discussing something that could be another (albeit off-the-wall) model for practicing the practice. a community based, participatory model could be had. Or maybe another model could be thought of. IMHO, the bottom line could be that we do not have to bash a particular business model for errors in judgement; it is not the only one to practice with. One could create numerous business models, one could plan one’s own career path. One need not feel victimized by ABC or CDE because of they adhere to their own style of making money (socially responsible or not). In the end, it’s your own choice to make something out of your passion for landscape architecture, not them. In the end, you might be the innovator that the next generation might have been looking for. I see you’re from UCLA; I believe you’re school is noted for innovation and social responsibility. You’ve got it good!

    All is not lost. I still believe we’re in a career worth practicing.

    All the best, and honestly…Cheers!

    Daniel Miller

    With similar opinions to those who have posted before me here, I would agree that a firm, such as the one named, has a certain reputation to uphold in order to continue doing business in the future as it has become accustomed to. Without knowing any of the real details of this company… their employees, projects or clients, but I do know that they are known for the types of projects they do and the magnitude and quality of their work, meaning that when this economy recovers and these mega resorts and projects start up again, they would like potential clients to view them as the same firm they were before all of this happened.

    While I feel for your friend, and all of my friends, colleagues and classmates who are currently out of work, I find it very difficult to criticize too many firms for laying people off. Last time I checked, there still is no work available, which makes it very difficult to keep payroll. And, not to justify any of the expenditures made by this company, but some things like airfare costs may be built into contracts with clients. It’s not like they can take a coach flight from NY to London, pocket the difference between the price of a 1st class ticket and use it for payroll.

    On the other hand, I think a firm’s only as good as their employees…and if any firm loses all of their employees, when this economy turns around they’re going to be behind. I’ve been fortunate to work at firm which has done everything it can to keep as many employees on board. Aside from a few layoffs, we have all taken paycuts and cut back expenses to keep as many people here as we can, because when this economy turns around we hope to still have a majority of our employees so we can get the ground running.

    Unfortunately for larger companies, design field or not, it becomes easier for employees to become numbers (salaries) and for bottom lines to take precedence. Unfortunately it’s business…

    Best of luck to everyone out there, it will get better.

    Christopher Patzke

    In my ten years of experience I have worked for three design firms ranging in size from four people to 20 people. Universally I found them lacking in good management skills and common professional courtesy. I have constantly astounded friends in other professions with experiences at work. Experiences that landscape architects endure are not acceptable in other professions and I do not know why they are accepted in ours. More often times than not I hear unacceptable professional behaviour dismissed by the stereotype that landscape architects are not good managers or business people. I don’t think this needs to be the case. I think professional organizations could provide management training that addresses good management practices. I think leaders in the profession should also recognize that younger generations expect a different work environment than they experienced. This change in expectation could be dismissed as a sense of entitlement by some but the practical reality is that management must respond to a changing work force or there will be no quality candidates to hire.

    Now, with that said, we are in an extremely difficult economic situation. Professionals need to have reasonable expectations from company leaders who have not found themselves in this situation before. People panic, make rash decisions and mistakes. I think that it is an unfortunate reality. I also think it would be easier employees to endure if everyday work environments were better managed and staff better respected.

    An alternative that I have always found intrigueing was the formation of a professional union in lieu of a professional society.

    Rico Flor

    Hello nrschmid.

    What is this a kibbutz or a business?!!

    Not once did I suggest insubordination, nor was I complaining about the firms’ practices such that I will deserve a “If you don’t like it, leave it” phrase.

    As I said, one could redefine how the practice is practiced. If one confines landscape architecure business and practice as solely similar to said corporate models, then by all means choose to be frustrated when pay cuts or lay-offs are decided. Or when employees voice out a concern (preferably with the proper decorum). Though I recommend you choose to be positive rather than be glum.

    My point is, opening up one’s views on how to be a landscape architect can be altogether personally satisfying, profit-making, and could be almost (insert polyanna music) altruistic. Such as a consultant in participatory design workshops. I’m sure there are other ideas out there.

    Then, there’s no impetus to gripe, is there, if you meet your aspirations?

    Just as there is the financial intelligence to the practice, there also is the need for zen intelligence. Definitely not obtained through schooling. An ice-cold bottle of beer can be among the many paths….

    On that context, cheers!

    Jennifer de Graaf

    I agree with Chris-

    I have heard some very sad stories and also some insane expectations from prospective employees. The dumbest being from a guy with 4 years experience who told me that he felt it was his boss’ job to give him opportunity to grow in the company and get more responsibility. At 4 years out, he was still only picking up redlines. duh.

    I have worked for 5 companies in 12 years ranging from 1 employee to 12. Only one of those firms demonstrated what I believed to be good business management (and they are still in business, I have no worries about my friends there). All of these firms were well respected and did good work, but that seems irrelevant in this economy and when weighed against their business’ many mis-steps. I was laid off by 4 of those 5 employers due to company failure, bad business practices and utterly stupid financial decisions, lost projects, and the inability to adapt. Three of those firms still exist, but I have serious doubts about the futures of two of them. I would be AMAZED if they survived this downturn. There is only that one that I have any confidence in. Too bad I don’t live near there anymore, or I would go back….I digress….

    Each of us is responsible for our own career path, no company should be expected to lay it all out for us, or make it all better. The same goes for what happens when we’re laid off, we may not be able to rely on former employers being available to give references or keep their ears open for us. I suggest getting letters of recommendation from everybody you can just in case your company disappears. In addition, consider your audience when applying for a job. The old school dudes and the younger entrepreneurs can have different values and be looking for different things in an employee.

    In response to being laid off, a good friend of mine decided to open her own firm (she has no work, but at least she is acting on her own behalf). I’ve decided to try to re-train to do something else so that I will have a backup plan for now and the future.

    I believe that 6 months of financial cushion is Not Enough especially right now. I have been out of work 6 months already with no interviews or prospects. I have applied to, and been favorably received by, a few companies who turned right back around and said that they lost a project or three and couldn’t hire, they’ll call me if anything comes up.

    As landscape architects and as professional people, we need to be our own advocates, respect our own profession AND ourselves, and project a respectable, professional, educated image.


    I just read the book, “Everything by Design” by famed hotel architect Alan Lapidus about his and his fathers life in the architecture profession covering nearly 50 years. The book goes in to great detail on the business and economic side of design and running a small office. Personally, after reading this book I must confess that I am sympathetic to a degree with the original posters sentiments. There should be more accountability and perhaps better advocacy for practicing landscape architects–from my limited experience it seems organizations who maybe should take a more active role in this such as CLARB have no interest.

    But back to the book, Mr. Lapidus illustrates at least a handful of points in his over 30 year career as an architect and business owner where faced with a recession and and deals gone bad he invested his values and livelihood in his staff. Again and again Lapidus puts up his own capital to keep his employees on, laying off staff only as last resort, at times living in hotels and selling office furniture and supplies to stay afloat. I’m not stating that I think EDSA or any other firm necessarily needs to make similar sacrifices for the sake of their employees, but perhaps there should be a greater level of transparency from the top down.

    Now, I’ll be getting ready to graduate and seriously begin the job hunt in the next month or so. I’ve made a HUGE investment and time commitment, not to mention seriously life altering decisions and sacrifices to be at the point I should be at come May. My greatest worry aside from whether or not I’ll actually be able to land “A job” is what I’ll be doing and what types of opportunities or lack thereof I’ll be exposed to. Will firms who are in a position to hire use the national economic situation and surplus of qualified workers as reasoning for much lower pay, less benefits, less professional mentoring and development, longer hours, and poorer quality of work environment? I think the answer is clearly yes. Is there a reason for this apparent lack of appreciation or valuing of staff landscape architects? Maybe it’s in part due to the schism between more seasoned professionals and principles and recent and junior level staff with regard to the use of computers in particular. i think there may be an increase (if not only perceived) level in apparent redundancy between junior and entry level staff as you always hear, ” all photoshop perspectives look the same…” Anyone can do autocad with a little training, publishing in programs like indesign, etc, etc.

    Regardless, I think it could be argued that in the shadow of the recession and mass layoffs some things may be owed to the masses of staff landscape architects, designers, engineers, etc- more transparency from the top executives down, and some form of advocacy or at least a level of accountability. There’s more I could say, but as other have pointed out and in light of my own situation I’m going to bite my tongue here and only offer that I do think there could be more done for the lowly employees and there should be some obligation as an employer and business owner who reaps corporate profits when times are good to protect or at least advocate for their staff when times are bad…but I admit I have little knowledge or experience with the firm mentioned or other corporate workings.


    I also agree with Chris..


    Your post made me think a little deeper about what entry and junior level LA’s are looking for. Personally, with regard to corporate social integrity I think these firms could get away with actually paying their staff alot less if more effort was put into professional development injected by a little enthusiasm to grow individually, professionally, and financially. When it comes down to it, approaching graduation in just a couple months, what I am looking for and have worked so hard for is a higher quality of life. Without a doubt I think many here would agree that better living doesn’t necessarily translate to higher salary which I think is the easy and less creative solution for allocating and maintaining quality employees. If I was offered half the average salary expected as an entry level LA, but greater exposure and professional development opportunities I would likely accept. Personally, all things being equal and assuming there may be a job waiting for me out there somewhere I am more fearful of being locked into a stagnant office environment over what my salary or benefits may be. Sticking it out pro bono in something forward thinking like the type of organization you and Isaac were brainstorming sounds alot more appealing than sticking it out as a salaried employee with a bleak future. Still I guess what it comes down to is everyone needs to pay bills..I guess this ended up as more of a


    Someone said earlier the quality of the firm correlates directly to the quality of its staff. You’re right Andrew there are alot of firms out there and no one is telling us we have to work for this one or that one, besides at least our professors. We do have the freedom to choose. With that in mind, perhaps it’s not necessarily in the best interest of the employee so much as the employer in taking better care and having some sense of dedication to their staff, if nothing else, to attract quality workers in the future and maintain quality work. Maintaining quality workers probably also correlates to profitability, etc. But at some point, like when it just costs more to keep someone on than what they produce, it probably makes more sense to lay them off. I think in looking back at what the original poster’s point was it may be our duty here or some organizations duty to at least record the events and take note of how firms respond to these situations.

    I can only think of this as running a landscape construction company…If it takes me months or however long to find the right employees with the appropriate set of skills I need to get my projects done profitably I would think I would consider alternative means to keep them on when tough times hit. Assuming the opposite, that these LA’s who were recently laid off are easily replaceable isn’t saying much about either that companies recruiting and hiring policies or the quality of job candidates in the work force. I’d side with the former as many of the LA’s I know are extremely intelligent, articulate, and technically proficient people.



    I think you may have misinterpreted my tone…I didn’t intend to come off as combative. I agree with most of what you stated. In response to your quaestion, ” ..what business actions should become more transparent.?…” I didn’t intend to imply that literal business actions like financial statements should be available firm wide necessarily, but more along the lines of managers communicating more effectively with staff about the general state of the company and taking them into closer consideration during the decision making process. A small firm here in Denver has maintained probably 95% of their staff regionally all the while communicating with staff about their economic status and taking measure other than making layoffs to counter the downturn in billable work.

    Really, I think it makes better business sense as well if you consider the amount of time it could and often does take to train new employees. I wonder why someone as successful as Lapidus who worked with the likes of Donald Trump and Tishman for years would consider his staff so important as to go broke before laying off his staff? I’m not saying this is right, just posing the question.

    Again, from my limited experience, it seems like the business owner could be likened to a market investor…where the owner is a hedge fund investor taking higher risk-reaping reward when things are good (quality employees being productive and efficient) and taking a hit when things go south. I understand this is purely an ethical dilemma, but what, if any, responsibility does the owner have to the staff? I think good staffing could be viewed as an investment as well..To me, it seems very much in the interest of the owner to maintain their staff unless the staff is of sub par quality, in which case you have to ask why they were hired in the first place.


    I do agree also though that there is a point where it comes down to your bottom line as an owner. Owners are not necessarily in business to give people jobs, theyre primarily in business to make a profit. I just think from a business ethical standpoint there should be at least be a process that precedes layoffs such as cutting hours, benefits, office overhead, etc, etc. I also believe there should be a line of communication so employees can have a chance to be prepared if nothing else. I don’t know what actions any specific firm has taken preceding layoffs. The firm mentioned in this thread may very well have done all of these things or they could simply have had reason not to.

    Christopher Patzke

    I found this very interesting:

    From the AIA Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct:
    “Canon V-Obligations to Colleagues: Members should respect the rights and acknowledge the professional aspirations and contributions of their collegues.”
    “Ethical Standard 5.1-Professional Environement- Members should provide their associates and employees with a suitable work environment, compensate them fairly, and facilitate their professional development.”
    “Ethical Standard 5.2-Intern and Professional Development-Members should recognize and fulfill their obligation to nuture fellow professionals as they progress through all stages of their career, beginning with their professional education in the academy, progressing through internship, and continuing throughout their career.”
    “Ethical Standard 5.3-Professional Recognition-Members should build their professional repuitation on the merits of their own service and performance and should recognize and give credit to others for the professional work they have performed.”

    I quote this for several reasons. Professional societies exist in part to define the values of a profession and advocate for members of that profession without regard for the level of experience of a member of that profession. The AIA, unlike the ASLA, does a pretty damn good job defining these values. We are professionals and not factory workers (no offence to factory workers, they make lovely things that I buy).

    Most importantly, I do not believe in the love it or leave it attitude. This is the biggest cop-out I have ever heard and I think any member of the profession should be offended that anyone would say this about something we are all passionate about and love. Each employee should strive to make wherever they work the best place possible. I have learned a great deal in ten years about the type of firm I would like to own one day and how I will manage the people that will work with me. Not FOR me but WITH me.

    On an important side note I think forums like Land8 Lounge are just what this profession needs.

    Christopher Patzke

    …and it should go without saying that leadership takes ethics, integrity and character.


    Maybe just like every other industry and aspect of our former society as we knew it the economic downturn will serve to reshape and provide stimulus for new startups based on the structure and ideals many of us prefer with business models more akin to design and collaboration rather than investment banking.

    Christopher Patzke

    Not at all…everyone is welcome to their opinion and forums like this allow for people to express their opinion. the challenge with forums like this is not to take it personally when someone does not agree with you.

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