The day before you started classes …

Landscape Architecture for Landscape Architects Forums GENERAL DISCUSSION The day before you started classes …

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    Andrew Garulay, RLA

    I’d like to know how many landscape architects are doing what they hoped to be doing at the time that they enrolled in their undergraduate program. I wonder how many totally forgot what their initial expectations were by the end of their first year.

    Did your whole mindset change once you began learning what Landscape Architecture is according to the professors? Did you turn your back on what you initially wanted to do? Do you even remember why you enrolled?

    I happened to have gone into it because I wanted to do residential landscape design and not be the guy with a shovel in his hand for the rest of my life. I did not have the idea that I wanted to design retirement neighborhoods, or Alzheimer Therapy Parks, or community gardens, or shopping mall parking lots, or save the planet from global warming. Do we adopt the career path instilled into us by our professors or do we stay with our initial hopes and dreams?

    Just curious because I recall that most of the students that I started with had entirely different notions of what landscape architecture was on the last day of class that first year than the first day of class. I wonder how many lost whatever their hopes were and adopted what the professors hopes for them were. … and how many abandoned the profession because they did not like what they were doing. I believe that only 4 or 5 of the 13 in my class stayed with the profession for more than 3 years. Is that common?

    Mark Di Lucido

    I’m not doing what I hoped to be doing the day I started classes but am pretty sure I couldn’t go back to my original career expectation and find fulfillment in it. While in college, my goal was conservation oriented—like working for the National Park Service. Now, as I wind down my career, I’m a bureaucrat managing public art. In between these, I did a lot of site-planning for large-scale residential projects as well as commercial and municipal design. Guess this means my career goal has evolved and that’s OK.

    Many of the professors I had didn’t impart much wisdom about the future professional directions available to us. Those that did had lots of real-world experience. My original mindset, as well as thoughts about remaining in the profession weren’t changed by any of them disabusing me of my early understanding of the profession; they were changed once I graduated and experienced the mind-numbing, eye-ball straining sameness of production work that many of us do as LAs starting out working for others. That along with comparatively low pay, I believe, are partly responsible for many of us getting out of the profession.


    I’d have to say YES, my LA career path went in the direction that I had hoped for. I worked for one LA firm for (1) year in Sarasota, Florida…then, spent 12 years designing for a Dallas LA firm (and added 2 yrs. worth of over-time during that period). At the Dallas firm, I was able to design: upscale Residential projects, high-end Multi-family projects (in 14 States), Commercial Office Developments, Hotels, Restaurants, Shopping Malls, Churches, Schools and College Student Housing Communities. At that LA firm, we grew from 8 LAs to 40 during the time I was on board…so, I had the opportunity to learn the profession from many experienced and talented LAs. At age 41, with basically 15 yrs. of exp., I established my own private practice in the Dallas area and continued designing many of the same types of projects…though, a majority of my projects were multi-family (in 8 States), College Student Housing Communities and high-end Residential Projects. One of the biggest differences was “compensation”. You just naturally do better financially, working for yourself than working for a design firm. I have no regrets…feel that I had a good run. And, even though I consider myself pretty much “retired” now, I still do manage to get an occasional Residential Project to design. Though, having working on my own since age 41, I was literally burning the candle on both ends…you have to have a lot of self-discipline and drive to be self-employed…and be willing to be in long hours. Personally, I can’t think of having any other career.

    Leslie B Wagle

    I was originally interested in private residential and small scale social spaces (urban mini parks etc.) but was open minded and just soaked in the education and hoped for the best. I assumed I would be in some medium sized office and eventually feel secure enough to work for myself (not necessarily build a multi-person business). As it turned out, I found myself in a city with enough work opportunities to get the time needed for the exam, but that weren’t challenging or financially steady enough to justify staying on once I had that license. So I struck out of my own earlier than ideal, then just made it work. Fortunately, some repeat clients helped steady it, but there were advantages in being self-directed while my son was growing up. I later got invited for 3 years into a major firm in a nearby city about the time my son was leaving for college anyway, but a recession ended that and I floundered for a couple of years getting some old business back again.

    The main semi-regret is that there was an opening in a city planning office, and I thought I was lucky to be hired. It was a commute and longer hours, which solved the immediate problem. Then in the course of working there, while I finally was able to get good benefits and save for retirement, the tasks of course were basically administrative and regulatory, not creative in the sense of classic LA. And it only took a couple of what I felt were bad “tweaks” made by management to turn me seriously unhappy. I did try for other positions but all were further away, had other negatives, etc. and I dreaded re-kindling what would have to be a new start from scratch 1-person business. The whole passage eventually lasted 15 years but I was “free” then to do anything I wanted.

    During that time, new tools such as Google Maps, dropbox, and just plain information searching had evolved and so I thought I would try virtual consulting. It’s been pretty rewarding but not a substitute for a full time job if you are still in the main career lane or have more family obligations (my son is grown and all I want is a part time life challenge). I think I am essentially trying to “compensate” for the planning time and just enjoying the chance to tackle real life if minor scale projects. So at both the start and end of my career, that aspect of self-direction, i.e. flexibility &/or lower pressure pacing has worked out well.


    I had a pretty good idea of what I was getting into before enrolling… I had been working in the industry for 7 years before going back to school 🙂 School was then a breath of fresh air because I could throw the rules and budgets out the window and explore things in more detail. Few of the younger folks in the program stayed with it after graduation. I think that was mostly because they did not know what a landscape architect does prior to enrolling or have a passion for the things that are critical to our success. I’ve had a great career with diversified experiences, though the most memorable positions were totally unexpected. I worked in a small practice for a decade doing a mix of high end residential, commercial development, parks, schools, churches, etc. The diversity in project types was stimulating and the principle was a great mentor. One of my gigs was in state government administering the development and funding of motorized recreational trails as a planner. Not exactly landscape architecture in the formal sense, but it sure was fun and challenging. I managed the LA department at a big AEC firm in Kuwait doing massive projects. It was an amazing experience professionally and culturally. I think my private practice is the most creatively rewarding though since I get to choose the projects and my level of involvement. I do the usual mix of work, but also take on community gardens, design competitions, and alternative/green building projects. You get what put into this profession and the path you take can be an adventure of your choosing.

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