Landscape Architect's Internship

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    I’m curious what other LAs feel is an appropriate number of years being in an “internship” position? I realize, it really depends somewhat on the type of design firm an LA goes to work for…whether it’s a traditional Landscape Architecture Firm, a Landscape Contractor, a Landscape Design Build Co., a Civil Engineering or Architecture Firm.

    And, I realize most States require a min. of 2 to 3 years designing for a Licensed Landscape Architect, before they are eligible for a State LA License. But, I’m really talking here about how many years of “experience” should a young LA have before he/she becomes a “competent” LA???

    I have my own “opinion” and that’s all it is, just based on my own experience/career.

    For me, I designed for a Florida LA firm for (1) year, then, designed for a Dallas LA firm for 12 calendar years (but, added 2 years worth of over-time). So, with an equivalent of 15 yrs. of traditional design experience, I went out on my own at age 41.
    I believed, then, I had the experience and competence to take on most any project…well, not a huge resort hotel or theme park, or a golf course, but, most types of projects.

    I know of young LA’s who have a 4 or 5 yr. LA degree (passed the L.A.R.E. exam) and have designed for a Licensed LA for the minimum req’d 2 years. And, some of them are going out on their own…establishing their own Landscape Architecture Firm. Well, I suppose those young LAs could design small projects or be able to design on a somewhat limited basis…..however, IMO, they wouldn’t realistically be able to take on any major projects, even large complicated Residential projects.

    I realize that for me, I “could” have gone out on my own with LESS than 15 yrs. of design experience and be able to design most project types. But, I couldn’t really put a price on how valuable those 15 yrs. of experience were for me.

    I guess I’m thinking here, that too many young LA graduates really believe that within a year or 2 after they graduate, they are full capable and competent to take on most any design project….I strongly disagree! My philosophy about all of this is, “You really can’t teach yourself – Landscape Architecture”. Unless your name is Fredrick Law Olmsted…*smile*. IMO, all LAs need to make every effort to get on board a quality LA design firm OR at least go to work for a Design Firm that has some very experienced and talented LAs who are willing to “mentor” the younger LAs.

    Personally, I believe that States ONLY having a minimum of 2 to 3 yrs. for an LA to design under a Licensed LA is a weak requirement in order for an LA to be eligible to apply for a State LA License. I know, for example, in The State of Florida, once an LA has passed the State of Florida exam, Florida states that by passing their exam, you are “competent to practice Landscape Architecture” in the State of Florida. Well, I disagree with that statement. Competent is the wrong word. What passing that State of Florida Exam actually means is that an LA is “legally eligible to practice” Landscape Architecture in Florida and use the Title of “Landscape Architect)…..But, being
    “competent” to practice at that time, I don’t think so. It takes “experience” to be truly competent and talented enough to practice what we do…and be able to create high quality designs.

    I have even seen portfolios of some LAs with 5, 10 even 20 yrs. of experience whose drawing and/or autoCAD skills are really poor. Well, I admit, I never really had the time to learn autoCAD (being a one person LA firm), I was up to my eyeballs in work for so many years…there was just not time to stop and learn autoCAD. However, I never got any complaints from clients about my preliminary drawings/renderings OR my final contract documents that were all drawn “by hand”. So, to me…that Internship period and the experience level/talent of the LAs you learn under is very critical to LAs having a successful career path.

    Thoughts anyone???

    J. Robert (Bob) Wainner

    Andrew Garulay, RLA

    It is a two sided coin. Some LA firms exploit internships with short pay and have a revolving door by replacing their “seasoned” interns with new interns rather than paying them more. More internship time equals more potential exploitation. The other side of the coin is that you have license candidates with more “experience”.

    But, what is that experience? Is it two years of being a CAD monkey or is it more substantial than that? … who knows?

    As for inexperienced people going out on their own. I don’t really care. Hanging a shingle does not automatically get you or me work. Having a license does not either. Not having a license does not exclude too many people from doing “LA” work either (only in some states in certain circumstances. The free market determines that.

    Bob, you seem like a guy that is to the right of me on most things politically (and I’m definitely to the right despite my address), so I’m somewhat surprised that you don’t feel that the free market should function when it comes to Landscape Architecture.

    I believe that if someone believes that a less experienced person is “good enough” to do the work that they need – have at it. Buyer beware, but why should they pay for more competence if they don’t value it? Those that do value competence hire people based on referral, reputation, and portfolio in that order. The license won’t trump that (can we still use that term?). That should be quite obvious with all the lamenting threads about other professionals and non-professionals doing “our work”.

    The license and the hoops you go through to get it are things that incentivize getting experience doing things you might not get an opportunity to do otherwise or to gain experience in things you might otherwise avoid. I think it is a good mechanism to become known to others who may refer you later, to start to build a reputation through others being familiar with you through the firm you work with, and it starts a portfolio and a trail of built work that you at least had something to do with. One very big benefit that may or may not happen in that process is exposure to see who is working with whom, how business is being done locally, and where future opportunities lie.

    The biggest myth in my opinion is that the stamp in your hand is a key opens all doors. Few others care about your stamp. They do care about your reputation and built work and that may be a result of you chasing that stamp. It does tend to put you on the right track.

    The other thing is that if you can get the experience and reputation for designing on the land following a different path, …. well you still got there and your getting work that the person with two years experience as a CAD jockey and a stamp has no shot at getting. And what the heck is wrong with that?

    Welcome to America


    Oh, Andrew…I definitely “agree” with much of what you have stated in your comments above.

    And, I have to say that it’s nice to learn there really ARE some Conservatives in your State. IMO, having President Trump in the White House is a “plus” for our economy as well as the Landscape Architecture Profession. Development here in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area is booming…believe this area is currently ranked #1 with respect to economic development. I also believe…that 4 more years with Trump in the WH will benefit, not only a majority of Americans, but also, most LAs in America.

    Speaking further about “LA Internships”, yes, I agree, too many of the LA firms out there take advantage of your LA graduates. But, IMO, even a few years as an autoCAD monkey @ an LA firm provides an opportunity to begin to learn the business. My first 3 to 4 years as an LA involved little design…back then, every project was drawn “by hand”, so, I was drawing up projects for Senior Designers & the Principals of the Dallas firm I worked for. From years 4 through 12, I was designing…had 6 to 8 projects on my drawing board on an ongoing basis. We got up to 40 LAs and I was the Top Associate, so, besides designing my own projects, I was expected to help mentor the younger LAs. And,
    we did allow many of our younger LAs to get involved with designing some projects…just brought them along slowly. I would just spend time daily in the studio to make sure
    the younger LAs weren’t spinning their wheels…to help them progress, as I remembered being where they were when I first started out.

    So, at least for me, I feel it wasn’t until I had 8 to 10 years of design experience before I really felt like a “competent” LA, able to take a project thru from start to finish. But, as I gained more experience, I believe my talents/skills/creativity improved.

    I actually received my LA State Licenses in both Texas & Florida in 1979 (2 yrs. after I graduated from Texas A&M)…looking back, not sure WHY a State would allow such an inexperience LA to be issued a State License to practice OR use the Title “Licensed Landscape Architect”. Again, I just believe that more “value” should be placed on State LA Licenses…and by requiring, say, a min. of 5 years of design experience before an LA can apply for a State License, makes more sense to me. But, that’s just me.

    Yes, agree with what you stated about “value” of design services. Many potential clients just are NOT willing to pay for high quality design. IMO, I just don’t believe that very many people in the public really understand how difficult and challenging our profession is. And, that many believe ALL LAs are basically the SAME, regardless of how much experience they have…which, you and I both know, just isn’t true.

    So really, with regards to this topic “Landscape Architect Internships”, I do believe that you and I agree on most of these issues.


    Andrew Garulay, RLA

    I think we agree on most of it. The area where we differ is that I don’t like the licensing becoming too powerful. I think it is OK where it is simply because it is such a diverse field that after two years you should be competent enough to do what someone who would hire someone with two years experience needs you to do. AND, it is highly unlikely that someone who needs more competence is going to blindly hire someone without a track record. That goes back to my belief that no one hires anyone for their stamp, so having the stamp is not a free ticket to work on something that you are not capable of. You would need that longer richer experience ….. in other words after two years of internship and a license the market is going to sort things out.


    Andrew…..I’m not naming any names out of respect for a specific Licensed LA I know. But, that LA graduated with a 5 yr. LA degree 10 yrs. ago. Actually, only worked for a Licensed LA for 2 yrs. (as that was the requirement for that LA to get their State LA license).

    This person didn’t join another design firm after those 2 yrs. of private practice as they feared becoming an “autoCAD jockey”. Instead, this person worked at a couple of different jobs for 4 or 5 yrs. outside of Landscape Architecture.

    NOW, this person has established his own LA practice (with now, maybe 4 yrs. of minor experience…no major projects. So, here that LA is, with a very small LA practice and is landing major Multi-Family projects (and has NEVER designed one before). I have no idea WHY any Multi-Family Developer would hire an LA who has ZERO experience designing upscale Apartment Communities.

    Back when I was 41, I established my LA firm…and I had been designing Multi-Family projects for almost 14 yrs…easily designed over 150 Apt. projects by then. So, when I began marketing…I definitely had the experience & portfolio that helped me land 3 or 4 major Apartment Developer Clients…they KNEW what I was capable of designing.

    I know, this may just be an isolated case…but, WHY do young LAs really believe they have the expertise and knowledge to design project types they have NEVER had ANY experience with? And, if I were a Developer, I’d definitely research several LA’s backgrounds and make sure they were VERY experienced in designing the type of project I was about to build.

    But, I do agree with you about the LA Licenses…maybe too much emphasis is placed on them. That LA State License does NOT mean that a specific LA is competent, talented or experienced @ designing anything……..that LA License just gives an LA the “legal right” to practice Landscape Architect in a specific State. IMO, it takes several years of practice to become a talented LA who is competent. And, there are so many different types of design projects…i.e., Residential, Hotels, Resorts, City Parks, Multi-Family, Commercial Office Developments, Retail Centers, Schools, etc….an LA might be great at designing ONLY (1) type of those various project types.

    Andrew Garulay, RLA

    The internship and license process, in my opinion, is a mechanism to gain experience and knowledge in areas that may otherwise not present themselves or avoided because of lack of confidence or competence. That is a good thing for anyone trying to be competitive in a free market world where you need to be offering something that someone else wants and/or needs.

    I don’t believe that anyone hires any LA just because they have a stamp. The stamp does not get anyone work. It is usually referral from a trusted source who can vouch for someone’s competence or it is from awareness of accomplishments based on reputation. If that is the case, and I believe it is, a person who is not qualified for a particular project is very unlikely to have the opportunity to work on it.

    The flip side to that is that it is a VERY diverse field with some areas of it not needing as much knowledge or as much experience in other areas encapsulated into the “profession”.

    We all tend to measure minimal competency by what is needed in our niche of landscape architecture, but the reality is that no one is fully experienced and competent in ALL areas of landscape architecture, so where should the line be drawn? I don’t think you have any reason to fear competition from someone under qualified to do some of the projects that you do or have done, nor should someone with a simpler project need to be limited to hire someone with more abilities than necessary because of a license requirement that exceeds what is necessary.

    I really don’t care if the licensing was dropped from every state. I used it as a mechanism to force me to delve in areas that I would not have much of which were very helpful in the areas that I do work in.

    Licensure is more like a club with some of those in it wanting to be recognized for what the profession represents rather than their own personal accomplishments.

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