The new Landscape Architect?

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    Mark T Burton

    What are your ideas for how our profession will change when we come out of “The Great Recession”? Here in Phoenix we have an abundance of empty homes, shopping centers, office buildings, etc. and won’t be able to rely on tons of new construction to get us through. Any thoughts or ideas?

    Wes Arola, RLA

    There will not be a lot of “new work” or development, but those existing projects that have been neglected as far as maintenance and attention may need some renovations and modernization in order to serve the higher level of use due to the rise of the economy and also the expectations as far as energy efficiency and waste water issues.


    I think there’s going to be a lot to learn.

    I think LA’s will need to work harder to quantify their services while holding on to the less tangible nature of the ‘craft.’ Someone more experienced than I told me yesterday that at the current state of the practice it take on average 5-10 years for the typical landscape designer/architect to learn all it takes to carry the typical project through from conceptual design to construction management (sd to ca). Then again, I’m not sure how many ‘typical’ projects there will be in the near future compared to the previous ten plus years and what those even look like.

    In essence, I think LA’s desiring to expand their market share will be well advised to absorb and be proficient in a cross disciplinary capacity- getting better at site engineering for example, not so much with the intention to replace the need for civils or other complementary professions, but to better communicate and retain strong working relationships with them- bringing us (back) to the table.

    Andrew Garulay, RLA

    The first thing will be to identify exactly what the viable opportunities are when they arise. Will it be redevelopment or new development? Will it be structured work or restorative, public or private, large scale/small scale, …. Then to identify what most closely suits my own capabilities and what I have to do to be competitive in getting that work.

    All we can really do is look for hints on what construction will be likely to take place.

    Doug Prouty

    Mark, in all I don’t see that there will be a tremindous change or shift in the types of services we provide or to whom they are offered to, here in the valley. In my opinion, I think the change will be in which firms perform certain types of work. What I mean by that is we will see an increase in the amount of small design firms due to the increase in the amount of newly unemployed licensed landscape architects. Small 1-2 person firms have emerged and will now be competing with the firms that are surviving this mess. They will capture some of the market share as their fees will be substantially lower than other firms due to their low overhead and that their current needs are that of pure self-sustainability. Unfortunately it puts a stress on the once larger but now mid or small-sized firms to capture those projects, which in turms may or may not (depending on that firms overall goal and balance sheet) create further layoffs within the now mid to small-sized firm. It’s a large domino effect really. Overall, firms will be looking to capture any type of work available as they try to make ends meet. I’ve talked to other principals and they’ve told me that they are now working on projects that they wouldn’t have considered three yerars ago. It’s rough overall. Firms that have been in the valley for 25 years are haning on by their fingernails hoping that their clients may have a project coming up.

    I haven’t seen an increase or shift in any particular market sector. I don’t think that public projects have increased due to any stimulus money but there may be a slow down due to loss of income that municipalities have receaved due to development fees and other means of revenue. From my understanding, there have been layoffs in many municipalites and some Capital Improvement Projects have been pushed back 1-2 years.

    Project wise, firms that have tradidtionally captured public work are still capturing those projects, while firms that are solely based on private sector clients are still feeling the slow down. Private development is still going forward, but very slowly.

    One thing that can be guaranteed is that it’s not giong to be the same as it was in terms of “baptism by fire” and “learning on the fly”. I came to the Phoenix valley in 1999 and it was “hit the floor running” from then until 2007. Now that the construction industry has stalled here in Phoenix, it will take some time for it to pick back up. As we are seeing, the commercial design side is very slow to stagnant but the residential side is starting to look a bit better as finished lots are being purchased and builders are buying property or purchasing land that have approved platted and engineered (P&E) plans and are ready for construction.

    I don’t know if I’m preaching to the choir as I don’t know your background. But if there is a change in our profession, I think the change will be that we will all have to have our “A game” on no matter what. Hiring standards will be a lot tougher, candidates will be screened more thoroughly and employers will be very particular on who they hire. On the client side, I think that clients will be looking for solid firms with a great track record and that their project fees are trimmed of any overages and padding. The word “Change order” or “Additioanl Service” could turn an existing client into an ex-client. Always communicate with your client and make sure that everyone is on the same page.

    Communication is key.

    I hope all is giong well.

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