Stunted growth of mid-level careers.

Landscape Architecture for Landscape Architects Forums PROFESSIONAL PRACTICE Stunted growth of mid-level careers.

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    Samuel J. Jimenez

    I graduated with a 5year Bachelors of Landscape Architecture in 2007. One year later, we heard the first few window panes of the crystal palaces the banking industry created for themselves came tumbling down. The sounds of shattered glass were only muffled by the bursting of the real estate and manufacturing bubbles. In one fell swoop, the world economy had shifted and people’s lives had changed forever. While some were able to hold on to jobs for a few more years, many people lost jobs, houses and even families.

    I was able to keep my first job for a few years due to the fact that I was a part of a small atelier design firm that specialized in landscape architecture and civil engineering. We were 8 designers runner lean and mean, as were many at that time. I was the third person laid off after the work started to dry up. The guy laid off before me had just had an addition to his house constructed for his 2 month old new born. Its four years later and I have remained “underemployed” and have had to take jobs as a consultant for city and non-profits. I even took a job with a prominent non-profit teaching landscaping and landscape maintenance to work-release approved inmates within the prison system. The hourly rate was decent and it was an entry into a great non-profit. It wasn’t till I found myself teaching 12 prison inmates chain sawing in the woods, that I realized, maybe I should not have gone to school for landscape architecture?

    Now that I have spent the past two years working as a community planner, aiding communities redevelop after natural disasters, I find myself attempting to get back into the private design sector. My contract was for 4 month but I’ve been extended 5 times. After 22 months I find myself, mid-thirties, facing unemployment once again. But time-and-time again I am outcompeted by some recent masters graduate with 0 experience. I know many people whom are at a level where we should be project managing and are applying to entry level positions. NYC parks and recreation called me to schedule an interview for an assistant landsape architect position. We were unable to schedule an interview because they were looking for a licenced landscape architect. However, the position was for an assistant LA position with a starting salary of $50k per year in NYC!!! That roughly what i was making when i graduated almost a decade ago!!! needless to say, i was both furious and dumbfounded!

    Most of my classmates moved on to other fields. Many whom graduated the year after me, never actually worked in the profession because they couldn’t find employment. I can’t help wonder the situation, compounded by all of the people around my age, whose careers were forever changed by the economic bubble burst. I come to the same conclusion. Since this phenomenon is not idiosyncratic to the architectural profession, this country is going to have almost an entire generation that is professionally stunted. The children of the baby boomers whom have more responsibility to take care of their families and their parents are the same generation that have not been provided the opportunity to develop in a consistent manor like the generation that came before. Will this be something that totally derails the development of this country. How can we stay competitive in this strange market where 30-40yr old interns are becoming a common?


    Three layoffs in three states in three years, before that I was underemployed working as a degreed planner for landscape architects (the owners knew nothing about business).  I was so broke 2 1/2 years ago I was looking on Craigslist to find ANY job on the weekend to pay for my car repairs.  

    I have been at my current job for over two years now doing large scale subdivision and master planned work (my dream job).  I earn above the average and take home two very large bonuses each year.  I was very very lucky to be in the right place at the right time (and a killer flash portfolio tailored to the job which I labored over several when I WAS working). 

    Bottom line, it sucks.  Talk your way into another field marketing your transferable skills, whatever they are.  I live in Houston, the energy capital of the US.  I knew GIS, but not natural gas.  So I read up on the natural gas process, pitched a completely different marketing strategy than the portfolio, and talked my way into doing GIS work for a landman firm.  I was let go after three months (3 of 3 layoffs) but I had already established in-person contacts with temp agencies and by the time I landed my current full time job I still had agents pitching me temp offers doing GIS in oil and gas. 

    Hope this helps-


    Im almost afraid to reply to this thread…after 2009 im just waiting for another contraction. I was in that group in 2008-2009 looking for a job in the midst of the worst recession in nearly a century. I was fortunate in that I was one of a handful in my class that worked for design firms through school. I actually started on my career path as a design build contractor in the early 2000’s. I went back to school in 04 and discovered a whole new world of design. I feel fortunate to have worked for EDAW before they became aecom around 2006. I worked for a number of different firms, large and small, through 2008. I was unemployed for the first time in my life since adolescence for a few months in 2009. I was fortunate to have a very good portfolio and found a job with a small office via craigslist. I commuted 40 miles each way for a little over a year. I began working from home a few days a week to mitigate the commute. My now wife and I moved 150 miles away and I continued to work on contratc, remotely. Soon, I would pick up several more contract jobs for other la firms. Soon after I began marketing graphics services to other firms and allied professionals. The illustration work slowly turned into conceptual design and illustration and just lately we are starting to be included on projects as full team members, from conceptual design through documentation and closeout. We are a tiny office, just two of us, and continue to offer reduced fee to break into new markets and show new clients what we offer. Its amazing to see how many people that may well need our services have no idea that we, as a profession, exist and what exactly we offer. I have become a better business personover the years, but im still not a great salesman. Lately, ive tended to just tell clients straight up that I dont like being in the psition to hard sell our services, ultimately the profession, and would prefer to come to some reduced fee agreement to offer a sample of what we can do. Ive found that offering reduced fee instead of free helps earn the clients respect and stake in our work, while donating some time on our end usually ends up turning into more work later and a client that fully appreciates what we offer. 

    All this to say that it has been extremely difficult and nerve racking the last few years. The transition from employee to employer has been fairly organic, but not without difficulty. I have learned so much about business, as well as learning to really appreciate our professional history. I will probably never be able to afford or have the time to go to grad school and post 2009 employers seem less than enthused to mentor, so I have become addicted to watching lectures online, reading biographies on halprin, eckbo, and the like and learning to enrich myself through appreciation for art, other design work, travel, and study. For me, I need learn best when there is both incentive and I can practice what I learn through a hands on approach. 

    Many of my classmates either left the profession around 2009, had an employment history and found good jobs, or went to grad school and re-entered fairly recently. The majority left and took different career paths. Personally, I cant see myself doing anything except design. I love every aspect of it, even when its grueling. I feel lucky to have come through an economy that essentially forced me to follow my entrepreneurial spirit, but its also difficult because there are many scenarios where I am learning as I go. I dont have all the answers and I do t really have any precedent to draw upon or mentor to guide me. We probably work three times as hard for half the money as they typical la firm in our area, but we always deliver thoughtful work, and every day is an adventure if not a bit hair raising. Im a natural risk taker, so sitting slouched behind a desk, in a cubicle, pigeon holed into one small aspect of a project does not interest me. To paint a more complete picture, I woild say im also naturally introverted, and creatively inclined. I have found that many firms are not as interested in promoting creative talent as they are managers. Being on my own has allowed me the space to manage, market, sell, and produce in my own way that works for me. I dontthink I would have the same growth opportunities today if the economy allowed me to stay the typical la career course.

    Tosh K

    Note that NYC P&R has killer benefits… for those that were able to stay in relevant positions through the last few years, the benefits have been great.  Most of my peers who did stay have been able to double their compensation in the last few years, being the few with 3~5yrs experience doing everything from design to construction and often marketing and landing projects. 

    As most of our faculty reminded us upon graduation – it may be as bad as the dip in the 70s (there are hardly any graduates from that dip that are in the profession), but our education isn’t just for our profession.

    As nca noted, there’s more value in management than design, especially due to the nature of how firms bill.  Designers with good design sense and software skills are more plentiful than management types in this profession; becoming someone with technical and design competency with an understanding of project management makes you the most ‘desirable’.  Having kept in touch with most everywhere I interviewed (I finished grad school in ’09 with 3+ yrs of experience), I haven’t had a shortage of offers for mid- to senior level positions of late.

    Part of it is trying to be extroverted and aggressive about what you know and how that can translate to added value to a client or employer.

    Samuel J. Jimenez

    I was interviewed by NYC Parks for one position drawing details for parks that were damaged by superstorm sandy. I am currently working as a planner for FEMA working with communities affected by superstorm Sandy. I provide guidance on infrastructure and federal funding methods. AND SOMEHOW I WAS CHOSEN FOR THE JOB. even though im more wrapped up in the subject then any LA ever! .

    Additionally, I was called recently for an interview as the associate landscape architect position. They were looking for a licensed LA and wanted to start them at $48K-$53K. I’m sure the benefits are good, but that is simply not a livable wage in NYC!!! AND they wanted a licensed LA for an assistant position with a ridiculous salary. Oh by the way, I used to be a project manager for Philadelphia Parks and Rec. so I would be an excellent candidate. but not if I’m eat Raman noodle soup and living in an 300sq foot efficiency in the deepest parts of the south Bronx. that’s all one could afford.

    I really don’t want to sound like a cynical dramatist, but it’s really unsustainable. and I can’t go on think this.

    Samuel J. Jimenez

    Thanks for sharing. I found this an interesting POV. It both validates what my experience were and provides an alternative solution. I wish I had a more entrepreneur spirit.


    NYC is terribly expensive.  Despite the higher incomes for LAs and related professions in NYC and California, the cost of living is astronomically higher.  I agree, that you would need to make at least a lower six figure income to live in a shoebox close to work in Manhattan, although I’m not necessarily criticizing (it’s supply/demand).  What interests you about living and working in NYC?  Have you considered working in your profession in less expensive cities?

    Tosh K

    I don’t get it – my friends live within a 20min train ride to midtown and their rent is under $1k (shared) ~ $2k (1 bedroom apt), which is close to what it is in major cities up and down the eastern sea board. <30% of your income toward housing is reasonable.

    maintaining a lifestyle in major cities that you would in smaller areas, is nearly impossible – those places are built on types of work that pay much higher.


    To be less intimidating, I don’t know any profession where management types are more plentiful than designers/engineers/technicians/etc.

    Jay Smith

    Samuel I’m curious as to what your classmates went into to and how they broke into those areas?  I’ve never understood how people transition into other fields with this background unless they have friends who help them get a foot in the door somewhere.  99% of the general population hear Landscape Architect and think we are just glorified gardeners.  Just wondering what your friends did.

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