Pre-recession landscape architecture

Landscape Architecture for Landscape Architects Forums GENERAL DISCUSSION Pre-recession landscape architecture

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    What was the profession like before 2008? I am new to the profession.

    Robert Anderson

    I can tell you that just prior to the crash everyone was as busy as they wanted to be and pay was at all time highs. I’m not sure if that was part of your question but I believe there is more to it than that.

    Being that I have been through several of these cycles a more important question to ask is what is behind the cycles and how to avoid getting caught out when a dip comes, which it will come again. To the former I can not say but on the later what has served me best; with the exception of the last downturn, which was historically bad, you should stay diversified and up to date on trends and even assist your employers or yourself in trying to position your firm to be able to absorb these valleys that will come.

    Best of luck to you in your career.



    How does this recession compare to others? In terms of LA’s losing their jobs?

    Mark Di Lucido

    Might help you understand ‘what the profession was like’ in terms of job security and pay if you had some numbers. I’ve been through three economic ‘events’: the first when I came out of school in 1991; the second in 2001; and the Big Kahuna in 2008. Averaged this works out to one event every eight years. Except for the Big Kahuna, I suspect the others were more regional so their impacts to LAs weren’t as widespread. Also keep in mind that those regions that put all their eggs in the single-family housing basket (Arizona, Nevada, Florida, etc.) still haven’t returned to pre-recession levels of employment and pay. Others will have different experiences; here are mine:

        ‘Slowdown’ of 1991: just out of school so can’t provide a wage comparison. Took me one year to get a job as an LA.

         ‘Slowdown’ of 2001: Laid off then found a job paying the same in three months.

         ‘Big Kahuna’ of 2008: Took me three years to find an LA job (being in the southwest and a very small market probably didn’t help). My current pay adjusted for inflation, is about 33% lower than what I made in 2007.

    I don’t have any numbers that compare how many LAs lost their jobs during the 2008 crash versus other downturns. I do know however, that a lot more firms closed their doors in 2008 so correspondingly many more LAs were looking for work.


    Thanks for the information Mark. 

    Tosh K

    I remember clients sending us blank checks to move their projects to the front burner (not often, but it happened).  Every firm was rolling in work and clients were spending quite liberally and allowing firms to charge a decent rate for fees (10~15% for institutional/commercial vs 3~7% that is more common now).  Jobs were easy to come by, and people moved up pretty quickly.  A lot of firms kept hiring and growing anticipating future work loads and stretched their finances to do so.  Then it crashed and many firms laid off half or more of their staff.

    I’m told this crash wasn’t nearly bad as the one in the 70s -oil crisis?- (my former faculty pointed out that hardly anyone that graduated in that one stayed in design)  In comparison at least half if not more of my peers stayed or are back in the design field.  In major cities in the northeast the workload seems to be back to ‘normal’.

    It’s hard for smaller firms to be ready for the dips and bumps (they can’t hold that much cash on hand), but the diversified ones with reliable clients did better than others.  I’d also say that the downturn allowed a lot of firms to tighten up their standards and workflow which made them more efficient coming out.


    I was in school, but also working for several firms. i always received positive feedback on my work from instructors, other students, and prospective employers. it could be said that i had a very strong portfolio, coupled with solid work experience–all before graduation.

    i watched as students from the class ahead of me get picked up by firms all across the country–getting a job was easy, the only question was where you wanted to work, and how much you might make. that class and prior year classes probably sent 10-20% of the class to major, big name firms in boston, new york, and california. i was reassured on a reg
    ular basis that i would be able to write my own ticket so to speak, upon graduation.

    around spring 2008 things began to look pretty grim, or at least thats about when we (students) began hearing about the first couple rounds of layoffs. I wasnt too worried.

    by spring 2009, the bottom had completely fallen out. i rmember discussions here and on other architecture sites could get pretty hostile, and clearly lots of architects/landscape architects had way too much time on their hands.

    I had maybe a two month period of non employment, but otherwise stayed employed, worked hourly with no benefits, no contract for firms i would have otherwise considered ‘below me’.

    the recession might have been a blessing in disguise for me as it helped me build my local network and allow the opportunity for me to contract with multiple firms at once as a contract employee. contracting led to a full fledged business. I am confident there are only a couple paths to making a decent living in the design professions–ivy league education (and working your way up the starchitect ladder if youre savvy) OR self employment. the recession pretty much severed my chances of working the starchitect route and delaying my career for grad school wasnt an option financially, so ive worked to build a small design practice from scratch over the last three years.

    Now i have a whole new set of worries that only anyone who has ever been self employed for any substantial length of time will truly appreciate–making rain, taxes, liability, and maintaining intellectual capital.

    Andrew Garulay, RLA

    ” I am confident there are only a couple paths to making a decent living in the design professions–ivy league education (and working your way up the starchitect ladder if youre savvy) OR self employment.”

    I think this is accurate regardless of the state of the economy. The difficulty is gaining the experience in a poor LA economy. The key is persistence, observation of what is actually going on, and positioning yourself  to fit those opportunities (networking & adapting experience).

    Things just happen faster in a robust economy. Adversity can be a motivation. Lack of it can lead to complacency.

    A rising tide lifts all boats.

    Robert Anderson

    Well…I survived two other downturns and never lost my job. I went through the trough in the late 80’s early 90’s then the dot com bust and then the “great recession”. That was the worst. Some economists are saying it was not a recession at all but a depression, the definition of which escapes a humble landscape architect like myself.

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