State of the Profession

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    steve phillips

    Jay, Andrew, John,

    “The powers at be who ‘head’ this profession have dropped the ball by allowing engineers, architects, urban planners, landscape contractors and developers the ability to do everything we are trained to do..”

    Andrew Garulay, RLA

    I’m not saying that our profession is not viable. All I’m saying is that the fundamentals of what we do overlaps what others also do. It always has and always will.

    Our profession does not depend on anyone’s generosity. In fact it is a testament to the value of the work done within our profession that we exist at all. I’ve tried so many times to point this out and all anyone seems to hear is that I think our profession is worthless. The fact is that our profession is an add-on, not that the work encompassed by our profession is.

    It is like interior design, anyone can hang curtains and toss furniture around. Some who are not Professional Interior Designers do it well, some do it poorly. There is a profession for it, but it gets done with or without those that are licensed in that profession. Again, it is a testament to the strength of those making it in that profession that they displace others who areallowed to do the same thing.

    No, generosity of others does not allow us to work. Our own strength as individuals and teams in our profession DISPLACE all of the others who are allowed to do our work every time we do work! YES, that adds a whole lot more to overcome than just being good designers or having a stamp. That is part of what makes this profession difficult, but it clearly shows the strength of it.

    The use of our profession is not mandated by law (when it is, you can drive a truck through the loopholes), so we only get work when someone doing a project VALUES us on our own merit. Landscape Architects are out there and working. We are in fact the people who need to displace others in order to work. That proves the value of your education and your experience. No one is forcing anyone to use you . They CAN use their architect, their engineer, a landscape designer, a landscape contractor, or Eddie in accounting. Clearly, we bring something of value if they go out of their way to bring in another professional when so many others could get them by.

    I’d argue that my view shows greater respect to the strength in our profession and those working within it than those who think that we are entitled to work that falls within the description of landscape architecture simly because we got a degree and the privilege to sit for an exam and pass it.

    If you understand that our profession requires us as individuals to displace others by being of greater value to whomever is doing a project it makes it a lot easier to know what you have to do to be successful. The profession itself can not displace others. Those of us in it have to do that on our own.

    Does that make sense?

    steve phillips

    Sorry the rest of my post got cut off.

    My question was with the ASLA. Who is the ASLA? What is the ASLA supposed to be doing?
    In almost 25 years all I have seen them do is give out awards and print that magazine. Are they supposed to be educating the public?

    Yes, engineers, architects, urban planners, landscape contractors and developers can and DO everything that we are trained to do. Who needs a florist when home depot is just up the street? These people don’t want to know what we can bring to the table from the start. The trend has been set: landscape architect, WHAT? No they don’t need us! Not from their point of view. Cash talks!

    There are a few wonderful projects, but most are laughable and pathetic. Don’t know that? Look around, observe. We can see it, the others can not.

    The best compliment I ever had was that people said my projects just “feel” right. When I pressed them as to why it “feels” right, they could not explain, they just said, “it just makes soo much sense and is comfortable, like it has always been here”.

    The big problem that we have is that we do not see the mindset of the the others involved, too often. Developers are interested in price per sq. ft., period. Architects are interested in their building only to its footprint, period. This is what the public SEES. They may notice our woderful parking lot and landscaping, but nothing else. NO, what we deal in is what the public CANNOT see. Forget about feelings and safety! If you can not see what we do, it does not exist, so we do not exist. Therefore not needed. Indoor/outdoor itegration? A sense of place? Ha, HA, HA!!!!

    Back to my question, somebody please tell who the ASLA is? PLEASE?

    Gregory Walker

    at the risk of wading in again – i’m with john on this one. venting is great, but at some point you have to try and move towards something more productive.

    a lot of the sentiments on this thread about the general powerlessness of the l.a. profession are going to be shared by the architects as well. rather than see them as ‘competition’, i’d suggest trying to reach out and form even deeper relationships and partnerships with them. the recent past has a seen a consistent fragmentation through increasingly ‘specialized’ consultants eating away at both. i’d argue we have more to gain by teaming up (as professions) to present a holistic range of services to a client and project, rather than be picked off in isolation.

    both of our professions are taking such a huge hit because our legacy has been that of a traditional service firm. meaning, we offer a service only – if people need and/or are willing to pay for it, we’re golden. if not, then we starve. personally, i’m done with that model, even though we’ve done ok in it. fundamentally, however, it provides very little cushioning against the inevitable downswings. what we’re pursuing for the long term is a 3 legged model: one part traditional service fees (work for hire), one part related ‘product’ design (designing, say, furniture or model home plans – basically an actual ‘product’ that gets done over and over) which would bring in recurring licensing fees; one part speculative work, in which we are an equity partner in a project.

    the goal, financially, is to have the service fees and licensing fees pay for the operations of the office, including our ‘normal’ salaries as owners. the revenue of the equity work is our ‘bonus’ as partners – it would allow us some freedom in terms of what we can take on and the potential return on it long term.

    now, it isn’t easy to get there – we’re only about 2 years into the plan (we were heading there before the crash). getting anyone to develop product right now is incredibly hard – we’re going to be running up against more ‘established’ industrial designers (talk about turf encroachment). not to mention the product companies are getting killed to – less money to develop just any old product. we are partners in 2 developments, but both are on hold until anything approaching a ‘normal’ market returns. despite the hurdles, i do think it’s a much more sane approach long term – when we get the last two areas developed, we’ll have some greater support behind us if there’s a dip in service revenue. also, we’ll have an ability to use the development experience to broaden our client base in that arena – it’s amazing how differently they respond to you when you can talk the lingua franca.

    my ultimate point is this: if you’re waiting around for a job to open up, that’s unlikely to happen. figure out how to create a new market instead. figure out how you can create value in the process.

    steve phillips

    Yes, Andrew, after reading it 4 or 5 times it does make sense and I do agree. Not very readable, but a good post. Thanks.

    steve phillips

    Hey Nick,

    I could not have said it any better than you! Great post!

    steve phillips


    Only landscape architects think landscape architects are necessary.

    How VERY TRUE! Wouldn’t it be a good idea to let others understand the importance of us too? I strongly believe in our work, the general public does not. Only because it is not a tangible thing like a building or a movie, the can not hold or see what we do, that is the problem. Moreover a very good designer will do everything to hide what they have done, you know, organic, subtle, undisturbed. Where has the ASLA been for the last 50 years????? I can’t go on TV and explain it myself!

    steve phillips

    More or less in Engish:

    Listen Mr. Lopez,

    Your teachers lie. Things are not getting better, thing are worse, without a doubt, things are very bad. My teachers lied to me when I was a student. Our profession is like that. Nevertheless, of course I wish you the best of luck. People with tons of experience work without pay these days. I am just afraid that one day you will also have to work and not earn a living from it. If that is “against your religion”, you ought to change your course of studies to tell you the blunt truth. I am almost 50 years old and I have worked without pay particularly when I was an intern. Don’t kill me, I am only delivering you the message. Obiviosly you can read english you should read these posts.

    Juan Antonio, I am only telling you all this because you still have time to save yourself. If you want to be a prima dona, you have to change as soon as possible.


    Hey, I didn’t say that! It was Mr. Heifner. Please give credit where credit is due.
    I know of many municipalities, especially in California, that think landscape arechitects are necessary. Many HOAs require a stamped plan, even here in “wild west” Las Vegas. Caltrans seems to think they’re necessary, as they employ a lot of them. So does the National Park Service. Yeah, maybe the ASLA could have done more, but the housing collapse is the primary reason for the high unemployment. There are many civil engineers and architects without jobs these days as well. Plenty of people in other industries also. So I’m stickin’ to blaming the bankers and hedge fund managers with their financial chicanery, credit default swaps, derivatives and irresponsible lending practices.


    I’ve been arguing for a few years now that a new business model is needed, and I Iike your approach. A friend of mine is an architect. Last time I checked, he still wasn’t licensed, but he seems to be doing ok with his own little shop. He started a furniture line a few years ago that he’s managed to get into a few magazines. One LA I worked for had done a couple of development ventures with an architect. The developed the building where they had their offices. One unit between their offices was rented to other companies. Development involves some complicated deal-making, and there is a large chance of losing one’s shirt, so the risk factor is probably too much for those who are easily rattled. Property management may be a good sideline, but that is also susceptible to downturns. Maybe if you have residential rental properties that can get tenants on rental assistance when the economy is down…perhaps that’s an option. Energy efficiency and alternative energy is a growing field that LA offices could develop. Market the firm as providing a whole array of “greening” options, from BMPs for stormwater management to reducing energy use not just through site planning, but more efficient HVAC and insulation as well. Its one thing to stick PV panels that work on a building or a site, and another to locate them so that they contribute to the aesthetics of the site or structure. For example, PSE&G, the electric & gas utility in NJ, has been putting single PV panels on utility poles all over the state. Utility poles and cables are ugly to begin with, and this doesn’t help. I would much rather see them as larger arrays, configured as things like picnic shelters, carports, or even sculptural features. Why not put them on bridges or noise walls? Yes, that would complicate the process and add a lot more review time, but you’d have something a lot better than what appears to be a “Well, we have to do SOMETHING” kind of knee-jerk reaction that they put in place. Its like NO aesthetic thought was put into it at all, like nobody even considered getting a landscape architect’s opinion. That is the kind of thing I wish more LAs would get a hand in, but too many have satisfied themselves with shrubbing up office parks and shopping centers. Now that work is gone, and they are left high and dry.

    steve phillips

    Lots of info! You are right, I can get alot out of this sight! Thanks Again!


    “what we’re pursuing for the long term is a 3 legged model: one part traditional service fees (work for hire), one part related ‘product’ design (designing, say, furniture or model home plans – basically an actual ‘product’ that gets done over and over) which would bring in recurring licensing fees; one part speculative work, in which we are an equity partner in a project.”

    I think approach this appraoch could work, but only for certain niche markets. We’ve all seen the effect of mass production on architecture and it would be a crying shame to see the same happen to landscape as well. However, if it is a type of service rendered. It can be quite effective. The most applicable market is the residential market. Create a list of categorical criteria that a property meets such as acreage and general topo, the type of service requested (landscape, hardscape, pond, etc.) and any special circumstances (i.e., steep slopes, wetlands). Assign a budget value to each and come up with a rough “quote” to give the client that, should they choose to continue, can then be refined as the process moves forward. This essentially becomes a shrunken down version of the cost estimates that occur at the end of SD, DD and CDs.

    I admit, this is simplistic at best.

    Gregory Walker

    john – i agree that there are limited markets and the model isn’t quite as landscape friendly. however, even in your answer i see more of a focus on design process and not really ‘product’. things like outdoor furniture, lighting – whatever along those lines. could be residential in focus, could be commercial. could be a type of product that you see a need for but just doesn’t exist yet. (and our own products, incidentally, are not furniture based – one came out of a project we did where we created… a specialized kind of thing that we had to customize but which was a huge hit with the owner and everyone else who’s seen it in practice (well, i can’t say what it is publicly. ip issues with that one).

    in all of our cases, though, what we’re really trying to do is extend what we do already – capitalize on the natural intellectual property by products that we generate.


    That makes sense, and sorry we keep rehashing this argument.

    What I’m interpreting from your post is that LA’s are very unlikely prime consultants in the development world?

    We lead entitlement projects, parks, and site planning, etc. Whether we have the largest scope is another discussion, but it’s not uncommon for us to hire and lead consultants AND vice versa. Maybe it’s just the area I’m in.

    Good points regardless.

    Andrew Garulay, RLA

    I’m trying to say that LA’s get very little based on being LA’s, but the idividual or firms are as limited or empowered as their own history and experience. The sky is the limit, but we can’t reach the sky without standing on a foundation equally as strong as the next person of our profession or any other who is trying to touch the same place in the sky.

    Some of them have a few building blocks that we are not entitled to have (their professions are legally required on a project). They inherently start with those advantages. LA’s have to build those on their own without the profession establishing it for us. Some of them are called into the job before it develops into something that having an LA involved in makes sense. As the project evolves, scope creep occurs and the people already working on it start addressing what we think of as our turf. The two main results are that no one bothers to call us in AND the others develop practical experience.

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