Professional Objectivity

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    Andrew Garulay, RLA

    This hit me today while responding to another thread. I have worked in civil engineering offices on and off over the last eleven years or so. Each made it a point to emphasize that we must uphold professional standards in our work, that we must respect client’s proprietary information, and that we must respect our clients wishes so long as they are legal and professionally ethical.
    Many times we have had projects where the client is very adament about being rather agressive with their land use. I can think of two instances in the last couple of months where I was a bit agitated with projects, or clients to be more accurate, because they were pushing projects beyond the point that had a reasonable hope of getting permitted. I’m not one to smother myself in patchuli oil and cruise around in a micro-bus, but I like to do the best I can at protecting the land and the values that are well established in the community.
    My employor reminded me in both cases that as professionals we are hired as advocates for our clients. While we tried to steer them in the right direction as much as we could without being combative, it was now up to the permitting process would “adjust” these clients. This did in fact happen.

    Does anyone else have thoughts on the notion of “professional objectivity” in landscape architecture – whether it exists or whether it should exist? Would/does it help us or hurt us?


    I have been under the assumption that land architecture is both an art + science. There should be a balance of both scientific objectivity in practice and craft as well as a good portion of artisitic subjectivity and integrity. Granted, the latter in most cases probably won’t win you a clients allegience.

    I’ve seen an array of different business models in action from the ‘master designer’ who takes the reigns and is given nearly full license to design a project to an entirely ‘reactionary’ (dont know if thats the best term) model where the so-called designer is relegated to that of a draftsperson.

    The only discernable difference I can see between one and the other is the designers ability to orchestrate the process. The ‘master designer’ may not even be able to draw stick figures, but they understand how to conduct a process in line with their clients interests as well as their own professional agenda.

    I wouldn’t want to go to the doctor and have to tell him or her how to perform an operation. We’re supposed to be experts on land use and design of exterior built environments.

    I understand and appreciate that we need to respond to the clients needs, but I’m certainly not convinced that there’s any ‘magic’ in what the client wants.

    I can relate to this topic..I need to think about it a bit more..


    Is that Bomarzo in your profile picture?

    Andrew Garulay, RLA

    I see a big difference between client dictation and professional objectivity. Objectivity does not silence the practitioner from moving a project to follow his own values. It is not a black or white choice. It is continuing to provide service when the client is not moved very far in that direction rather than not making any effort to move them.

    So many write about how landscape architects are supposed to be leaders by stop projects from exploiting the land and go further to say that we are obligated to impose certain practices on projects (see ASLA statement on climate change, or several threads on this website).

    The intended discussion issue is whether it is a professional obligation to to follow the client’s values, or is it more professional to follow the agendas set by ASLA and what is told to us from our professors. The follow up is whether the latter practice or perception is killing us more so than the word “landscape”. I think it is an issue that is avoided because people are afraid to discuss anything that does not imply that landscape architecture is anything other than the highest standards of stewardship.


    The picture in my profile is my own work. It is a small condo courtyard at what used to be the Cape Codder Hotel. It is supposedly where the Cape Codder Cocktail was originated.

    Geoff G

    I have also run into this issue and had to stress with clients that in some cases delays in permitting can end up costing as much or even more than just doing something right the first time. Most clients are very receptive to cost benefit arguments when presented from a professionally objective point of view. At the end of the day, the client did hire you for your expertise, and if there is a better way of doing something or better product to be used it should be considered part of your job to offer the pros and cons of the alternatives. Not that I think many professionals do but, to merely follow client instructions and stamp drawings with blinders on is a disservice to the profession.

    Andrew Garulay, RLA

    What you described as what we should do is exactly what we do. It does work 98% of the time. I’m not at all talking about stamping whatever the client wants – this is that “black and white” that I mentioned earlier.

    There is post after post about asserting the best possible environmental and social consciousness and accepting nothing short of it.That is the extreme that is opposite the “follow client instructions and stamp drawings with blinders on” extreme.

    My discussion point is whether you or I, individuals rather than rhetorical characters, have a professional obligation to our clients to come as close to following their instructions as what is possible within the law and defined professional ethics. Most of these situations come up when the project deteriorates from it original goals for one reason or another rather than having a butcher offer you a hack job. We steer clear of those when they are obvious, but we have had “scope creep” or massive changes develop in a project where it becomes very aggressive on regulations or just on the land in general.

    How do those of you who run into this feel? Are you obligated to “make it work” or are you obligated to “maintain the highest standards”?

    Where do you (any of you) as an individual draw the line? Please note that it is not a rhetorical question of where “would you”, but a question of where do you or actually where have you drawn that line in the past?

    Can someone feel confident that if he hires you he will have a dedicated advocate to get the project done even if budget or other factors force a reduction in how far he can go with progressive practices?

    Tanya Olson

    Artist + scientist + lawyer + marriage counselor!

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