Why are there \"weak talented\" Licensed Landscape Architects???

Landscape Architecture for Landscape Architects Forums PROFESSIONAL PRACTICE Why are there \"weak talented\" Licensed Landscape Architects???

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    I have noticed recently, some examples of some VERY WEAK TALENTED “Licensed Landscape Architects”. I really hope what I’m seeing is just an “anomaly”.

    For example…..I recently came across a Licensed Landscape Architect on-line (not going to mention his or her name)….this LA holds a B.S. degree in Landscape Architecture from The University of Utah. The University’s website says their LA program is the 13th oldest LA program in the U.S.

    Well, in viewing samples of this LA’s autoCAD drawings, project photos and computer generated color renderings (designs too)…..I was SHOCKED at how BAD they were. I asked myself…how can this Licensed LA with 20 years of experience be this BAD??? How did this LA actually graduate with an LA degree? If I were Head of that LA Department…..no way would I have allowed this person to graduate with a degree in Landscape Architecture from my University!

    Of course, I realize that every LA student who graduates isn’t incredibly talented…..but, after 20 years of practicing Landscape Architect…here is an LA who is SERIOUSLY BAD!!!

    In all honesty…..when looking at this LA’s drawings……My drawings in the 9th Grade were BETTER!!! How is that even possible?

    HOW does a student with such poor design and computer graphic skills even earn an LA degree…..from ANY University? Maybe LA professors are giving way too many students a “free pass” to protect their jobs….because, without those LA students, those LA Professors are out job hunting for another job.

    My experience has told me that all too often….the General Public believes that ALL Landscape Architects and Landscape Designers are the SAME……that, the ONLY difference is HOW MUCH THEY CHARGE for their design services. Well, you and I know that’s just not true.

    Normally, I would think, if an LA just isn’t very talented…..they would “wash out” and leave the LA profession. But , it appears somehow, some LAs (some with VERY LITTLE TALENT)…are slipping thru the cracks.

    J. Robert (Bob) Wainner

    Leslie B Wagle

    We expect some bad in any craft or profession but hope that licensing will weed them out, or the marketplace. I think the answer is just that like bad dentists, vets, etc. a few make it through and maybe a school wasn’t that strong 20 years ago or a state didn’t even have an exam requirement. On the other hand, the person may be sharp enough to have good technical skills but not the same artistic ability, or little experience, or just happened to work at a part time level and was able to satisfy a few people here and there and now wants to return to more activity, all kinds of explanations. At least people with degrees can’t be as bad as complete and total impostors. There are different paths of struggle and clients have different tastes and even the best in a field someties ”fail” certain customers. People just don’t get recognized or rewarded exactly like one might expect – talent gets discouraged and wasted, mediocre abilities with enough stubbornness and lucky positioning can improve or hire gifted help. Think of all the completely contrasting (grade 1.0 to 5.0) feedback scores on Amazon for various products and movie reviews.
    It’s just a strange world that way.

    Andrew Garulay, RLA

    As someone whom you have described in a similar fashion in the past, I could tell you why.

    I could also tell you why landscape architects are losing ground to other professions in the business of design on the land while at the same time there is more design on the land going on.

    I could tell you why not all that you perceive are bad or weak (as Leslie said, there are bad in everything, so I can’t defend all).

    I could tell you why all of the skills and abilities that were critically valued as a complete package in every LA in the past are not always valued today.

    That old package still has its place, but the marketplace is far more diversified. Landscape architects were the people to see who had a standard methodology skill sets with which they processed all projects. Nowadays developers (anyone from a homeowner to a major site developer) know choose the methodology and deliverables that fit their needs and seek out specialists who already work in the fashion that best suits their needs. …. kind of like that Liberty Mutual commercial without the Emu.

    Sometimes a good looking drawing has no additional value to a project than a “weak one”. They don’t “wash out” because they are doing something else that is getting them paid AND allows them to continue to get work. The ones that I see losing work are the old school guys – not because of lack of talent, but because they are focused and insist on producing deliverables that many people no longer value.

    You can’t survive in landscape architecture unless you are doing something valuable. That is a fact.

    There are many people


    surviving in landscape architecture that have great talent and abilities in traditional LA. That is another fact.

    Sometimes talent and strength are not visible to everyone.

    Leslie B Wagle

    Yes I was trying to say I have puzzled over the same things but decided for so many services and products, the examples that puzzle me might just have what someone else wants that we can’t perceive or that we value less. But that odd success also gets some form of rejection where another makes a sale. All of us are in that kind of boat (various versions and brands). We don’t all present the same strong suits but if you kid yourself too much, and blame the market without any willingness to improve skills for a wider array of clients, then you may not have the volume of work you aspire to. But there is the option of preferring a sub-realm anyway.

    Andrew Garulay, RLA

    “We don’t all present the same strong suits but if you kid yourself too much, and blame the market without any willingness to improve skills for a wider array of clients, then you may not have the volume of work you aspire to. But there is the option of preferring a sub-realm anyway.”

    I think that you are exactly right. Especially the part of doing what you prefer to do. No one needs to fit in a mold determined by others even if that mold might be more marketable. I think that those of us still in the game generally try to find where we can apply our strengths and avoid situations that we are not strong in. Hopefully, we can find busy niches where we fit.

    Many Landscape Architects get sucked in to believe that they have to display that they have some competency in everything they were taught to believe is expected of a Landscape Architect whether it is something that is part of their area of practice or not. That may cause people to be compelled to unnecessarily show “weaknesses” which they may never need to use. I used to do that for sure. Finally I realized there was no reason to display things that I neither would be competitive doing nor want to do. It is basically peer pressure from other professionals who want to judge others based on their own standards.

    I no longer feel shame in that I am easily in the bottom 10% in our profession when it comes to graphic presentation. I’m apparently making up for it somewhere and/or I’ve positioned myself to be found by those who don’t value the things that I am “weak” in while valuing the things that I’m strong in. That is what everyone who is making it in this profession does. The strengths and weaknesses vary, but the approach is the same.

    I don’t resent people that do things differently than I do or have some stronger skill sets. I’m not going to try to compete with them where they are strong and I am weak. However, sometimes those same people try to compete with me in my niche and resent me getting the work by streamlining the production and process. They believe that ALL LA work must have a ton of great graphic deliverables just like Bob seems to believe. The fact is that no one wants to be billed for things that they don’t believe they need, and everyone wants design and permitting done yesterday. Those two things are what anyone in this profession has to understand about each situation that they attempt to engage. The flip side is that some do value all the production and graphics – that is great and I know I’m not capable of being competitive there. The difference is that I don’t resent the segments of the profession that I can’t compete with. I stay in my lane.

    We all tend to set a standard based on exactly what we do. If you do more, you are over kill. If you do less, you are unprofessional. However, the standard is set by the licensing because there is nothing else. It tests for “minimal competency” whether you like it or not. It is a diverse profession, thus amongst very competent professionals there is diversity in who has which strengths and who has which weaknesses. The only time this is a problem is when someone does not understand their weaknesses and tries to do what they can’t do well.


    Andrew, I have to agree to disagree with much of what you have stated in your comments here. Of course, I understand that all LAs are not strong in graphics (or all areas of Landscape Architecture)…we all have our specific weaknesses and strong points.

    I have been fortunate over the years to have been expose to designing a wide variety of project types…and to have learned a variety of skills “graphics, design (grading, planting, hardscape, pool areas, site lighting, detailing, etc.) from many very exp. and talented LA’s.

    Graphic communications (whether “black & white” or “color”, IMO are just part of what we do as LAs…to help communicate our IDEAS to our clients. That’s what we do. Whether or not those graphics are computer generated or by hand…we began learning HOW to do that @ the University level.

    I believe in “your” career, you began working for Civil Engineers, so, your emphasis early on was on autoCAD production…which is fine. But, IMO, every design we do should begin with hand drawing…then, if you have good autoCAD skills…move the design/s to autoCAD/computer graphics. I guess I just don’t understand HOW any LA can become successful without some type of “good graphic presentation skills”. Even large LA firms like EDSA and Belt Collins start out “by hand” designing before they move on to computer graphics or autoCAD…I Know, because I did interview with both firms years ago and was fascinated to learn about their design process’.

    But, back to the “example” LA I mentioned early on. Don’t have any idea HOW that person earned their LA degree with such POOR graphic skills…and what I saw, where graphics this LA had produced 20 years after earning their LA degree. Although, I feel sure you can pass the L.A.R.E. exam and get a State LA license from ANY State. I feel sure that neither of those require ANY type of “graphic skills”. This LA I mentioned is designing “Residential” and I’m sure other types of projects; just not sure how?! His/her Design Portfolio was very unprofessional. But, I sort of blame that on the “consumer”…as I tend to believe most consumers believe that if you have a Degree in Landscape Architecture…that we all MUST have the SAME skills. But, you and I know that’s just not so.

    I never really thought that I would remain “active” as an LA only days away from age 70, but, I am. I have found a niche where I assist “Licensed LA’s out of State” who I know…who at times ask for my design assistance. Currently assisting an LA in Nashville, TN. designing a 25,000 Sq. Ft. Residence…..and designing a luxury pool area for another home in the Nashville area that was purchased for $2,250,000.00…I was given a $300,000.00 budget to design the pool area alone. That design work is “detailed preliminary design work” along with “Preliminary Designs in Color”. And not long ago “Color Preliminary Designs” for a Florida Assisted Living Community. So, even for an old timer like myself, there are always niches that fit. Oh, I could have retired a few yrs. back…just never really thought about retiring…..I just enjoy designing and creativity too much to stop. And, I definitely don’t get all of the projects I would like to design…though, none of us do; all we can do is try. I do tend to shy away from “production” drawings, unless it’s a Residential Project that’s a manageable size.

    But, you are correct, every LA has a different set of design skills…so, their skills don’t match up with every project out there. I would have loved to have designed a Golf Course or do some major site planning, but, I just don’t have the experience. Plus, there’s the factor as you mentioned…we will probably all do our best if we design projects we most enjoy.

    Leslie B Wagle

    I think Andrew just wants younger people to know they can find a niche eventually even if they don’t have ”powerhouse” skills in all areas, and roaming a bit at the start can help in understanding oneself. So I guess I am in the middle where I think we should try to both find our way with who we are, but also address any weak places. For example, not long ago I decided to research a way to have some 3D capability without a steep learning curve and investigated several software alternatives. Even there, not all approaches will seem comfortable and useful to every practice. But I was comfortable with one choice after several ”experiments”, and I’m going to have a first try with a real client pretty soon. So, there is the tension between “know yourself” and “strech and grow.”

    The people who are wizzards already are out there and they tend to pile on proposals where 3D skill shows off well and using it often will help them continue to get better, as with all skills. That is their niche, not one I really want. For me, 3D is not a frequent a need, but I just hated feeling inadequate, below what might be possible if I would just cross that first rough patch. I think like Bob that a true LA should be broad in well-developed skills, but some skills are going to dominate in some people. We just have to keep a watch on ourselves and ask whether what we need is to stretch or focus.

    Tim Daugherty

    Bob, I would argue the purpose of a college degree is not confined to job training – regardless of major. Otherwise the university is just a trade school – and it isn’t. One should be able to graduate with a college degree, majoring in landscape architecture, and not necessarily be good at it in practice.

    Second, you seem to define talent in terms of drawing, auto cad, etc. I’ve worked with LA’s that focus on restoration and science aspects of the profession (with the US Forest Service, Corp of Engineers, etc.). Many are immensely talented and can’t draw for $%&^.

    Third, the professional exam has no drawing, auto cad, graphics or sketching component to it.


    Tim…Sorry, but, I’m going to have to disagree with you here AND I think if “Fredrick Law Olmstead” & “Andrew Jackson Downing” were still living…..they too would disagree with your definition of a “Landscape Architect”.

    Even in Wikipedia on line, it describes “Landscape Architecture” as a DESIGN profession.

    I have no idea WHY anyone would want to study Landscape Architecture for 4 or 5 years @ a University and then not wish to become a designer – a “Landscape Architect”. Sure, there are niches on the outskirts of Landscape Architecture….like Forestry; but, I’m pretty sure you can earn a degree in Forestry Management. That’s what it is, “management” not “design”.

    And, though NOW, the L.A.R.E exam is a computerized exam…..back when I took the U.N.E. (Unified National Exam), I had to draw a Grading Plan as well as solve a Design Problem “by hand”. IMO, the L.A.R.E. exam is pretty bogus…it does a poor job of evaluating the “competency” of Landscape Architecture candidates. This National Landscape Architect’s Exam SHOULD evaluate candidates’ design abilities, autoCAD & other computer drawing skills, hand sketching skills, grading abilities, graphic skills, creativity and construction detailing skills. If a High School graduate does NOT wish to be in a “design & drawing” abilities…they should select another degree program.

    I do recall a favorite LA University Professor of mine telling me in private just before I graduated…that “At least 50% of my fellow graduates (of which there were 30)…would not succeed as Landscape Architects”. That sort of surprised me at the time, but, now I know why he said that.

    I believe that if we look at “Landscape Architecture History”…it goes back hundreds of years if not further…and it has always been a “design” profession that required drawing skills. And, I think that stands true still today.

    Andrew Garulay, RLA

    Some see it as a diverse profession and others do not.

    Tim Daugherty

    Bob – did you actually read what I wrote? I’m pointing out the professional exam doesn’t have a graphic component and hasn’t for decades. Yes, we used to have to manually draw the G&D plan, and site plan sections of the exam, but it wasn’t scored on graphic! There was no artistry involved. This isn’t an opinion, it’s a fact – so disagree all you want.

    Who cares why some may want to study landscape architecture in college and then do something else? What difference is it to you? What a bizarre thing to fixate on. You can’t point to a public university anywhere that has “job training” as its mission statement.

    I never defined the profession. You did. I’m not that arrogant.


    Yes Tim, I still disagree with your thinking here. WHY would anyone get an expensive Gov’t student college loan OR use money from their parents to study Landscape Architecture for 4 to 5 years…then, NOT use that education? Waste of $$$. And, then, what if somehow the U.S. Gov’t decided to provide FREE College Educations to every high school graduate? I can see a LOT of wasted money there…as many would just go for the fun of it and not take it seriously.

    You chose Landscape Architecture…WHY didn’t you just go with a degree in “Liberal Arts and Humanities”, yeah, that would be a GREAT career path that would make you financially successful, LOL. That profession pays approx. $39k per year or about twice the annual salary you could earn working full-time @ McDonald’s. In that same line of thinking, WHY would anyone go to Law School & not became an Attorney? WHY would anyone go thru the difficulties of MED School and not want to become a Physician or Surgeon?

    And Yes, I totally understand that the L.A.R.E. exam does not test for “design or graphic design abilities”…it tests to see if a Landscape Architect is competent enough to “protect the health, safety and welfare of the public”. IMO, the L.A.R.E. exam is lacking…but, by the time you even get to the point where you’re taking the L.A.R.E. you should already HAVE “drawing, design and graphic skills”. And, that could be hand drawing and/or computer generated drawing skills.

    However, I am very sure that EVERY U.S. State “requires” that LA graduates practice under a Licensed Landscape Architect for a minimum of 2 years, before they can apply for a State Landscape Architect’s License. IMO, young LA graduates need a minimum of 5 years working for an LA firm to just begin to learn HOW to design, be creative, and produce Contract Documents for clients…so, that projects can be built.

    I would venture to say that 95% of the Landscape Architecture Firms in the U.S.’s Websites have PROFILES that show many projects along with “graphics/drawings” as marketing tools for obtaining more work.

    Even Andre Le’ Notre had to create drawings for Versailles. He didn’t go out to the site and point to areas where the landscape crews were to plant shrubs, trees, seasonal color, groundcovers, grasses, etc…he prepared hand drawn sketches and drawings in advance.

    Even the State of Florida has a “State LA Exam” you must pass to become a Licensed Landscape Architect in that State. The Test is computerized; approx. 100 questions…no graphics. The State LA Board states that if you pass their LA Exam, you are considered to be “competent” to practice Landscape Architecture in The State of Florida. I DISAGREE. By passing their State Exam means, you are “legally eligible” practice Landscape Architecture in The State of Florida…it does NOT mean you are “competent”. Because, that test does not test your design, talent or creative abilities…much less your graphic abilities to communicate your design ideas to clients (via either hand drawings, sketches or computer generated drawings).

    Landscape Architecture is, and always will be a “design” profession. Though, if you can’t “design”, maybe you can get your MLA and become a Liberal University Landscape Architecture Professor and do a “poor” job of preparing your LA students for the “real world” of Landscape Architectural Design.


    Tim…I sincerely meant no disrespect with my last comment here. I have just always had a very strong passion for “Landscape Architecture”…and really, Architectural Drawing & Graphic Design since I was very young. My Dad was a very gifted Advertising Artist and Graphic Designer, so, he had a major influence on my wanting to become a professional designer.

    I took my first Drafting Course my first semester of the 7th Grade (made an A); took 3 more Architectural Drafting Courses in Jr. & Sr. High School…then, at The University of North Texas (North of Dallas) I took several Architecture & Graphic Design Courses (with other basic courses..3 semesters) after graduating from High School. Took a break from my education & enlisted in the U.S. Navy for 4 yrs…then, enrolled @ Texas A&M University in the Fall of 1974.

    In the Navy, I was on an Aircraft Carrier in the Mediterranean Sea (3) 6 month cruises. I got to see a lot of sights in Southern European Nations…Spain, France, Italy, Monaco and Greece. Seeing and experiencing Southern Europe like that…make a big impression on me. I later came to realize, that Europe was practically the birth place for Landscape Architecture…or so, it seemed. Seeing water features, landscapes, Italian villas, streetscapes, various architecture, iconic monuments, etc. So, when I was looking thru the Texas A&M degree program course catalog…..I came across the B.S.L.A. program in Landscape Architecture and it just seemed like a great fit for me. Went thru A&M on the GI Bill, so, I was able to graduate debt free.

    For me…I know I made the correct decision for my career.

    Andrew Garulay, RLA

    I’m doing exactly what I wanted to do when I started my degree in 1983. … after dropping out because I was told by people with he exact same “vision” of the profession that Bob has because my graphic abilities were “not going to get you hired”.

    I went back 12 years later because technology allowed me to draw just fine without using my hands.

    There is more to it than that. I also struggled trying to get into the profession because I believed that I needed to do exactly what Bob did and/or does to work in the profession because that is what everyone in school and already in the profession told me.

    Fortunately I got a front row seat interacting with a wide array of professions and people from design to completion and hearing them talk unguarded without the others in the room to know what they needed, what they thought, how they felt about others involved, and all kinds of other quirks, opinions, and what have you. I worked in a couple of small civil engineering/land surveying companies. We dealt with architects to get site plans put together for the buildings they designed. We dealt with Landscape Architects because we had to put their plans into our plans in order to certify the plot plans. We had to deal with the general contractors for all kinds of things including staking work in the field and as-built plans. We had to represent and advocate for the property owners, architects, LA’s, builders, landscape contractors and whomever else was involved in front of regulatory boards such as ZBA or Conservation Commissions all of the time. …. There is not much that you don’t hear or see.

    That is where I learned that efficiency is everything. Efficiency is not all speed. It is speed and the necessary production to achieve the desired results. Sometimes a whole lot of quality presentation materials and construction documents contribute to that efficiency in selling, permitting, bidding, and/or construction. Then there are a whole lot of times where a lot of it unnecessarily adds production time, cost to produce, time for bidders to go through every last detail, expense if some details are over designed, time during construction flipping through multiple sheets,

    …. and another very big issue is project management. You can find almost any one of the players scrapping to gain control of the project management fees. If you are a risk to someone losing his project management fees and someone else is not, guess who is not going to get referral work.

    The more detailed the construction documents, the more work it is to project manage. Most things in a landscape are not particularly unique and don’t require a design detail to build. Many of those will be built using the contractors own practices whether or not a design detail is provided. Again, this is MANY, certainly not ALL.

    I do work that gets built by a few builders out of a pool of custom builders that the architects who refer me use. They all manage their projects. They all select their subs from their own limited pool of highly capable contractors so that they don’t have to micromanage them, nor have to feed them with details and spec’s because they are seldom going to see anything that they don’t routinely do year after year.

    I ask the different landscape contractors from time to time whether they find it frustrating that I’m not providing them with more. The response is the same. “Everything is there and easy to find – I wish more designers would do it this way”.

    If you can’t tell the difference between a high end residential landscape construction that was built with 15 sheets of plans and a half a ream of spec’s and the one built from a single plan sheet just by looking at the built work it should cause you to ponder that a bit. The built work is the ultimate goal including the cost and time it took to get built.

    If you are complaining that landscape architecture is dying because we are being ignored and others are getting our work, you should ask the people who are not using you why not. It will never come back that you don’t have good enough graphics, or your design details suck, or you don’t supply enough detail, or you don’t provide enough sheets in your plan sets. It is because they think you slow down the project, or you add too much extra cost, or you are trying to displace them on project management – they probably will avoid the answer and deflect the question.

    …. few people knew that I was an LA when I worked in those civil offices and I heard what they said about the LAs that they did deal with and why they often avoided them on projects – unfiltered. … I listened.

    The problem is that some LAs want to tell everyone what they need and why instead of listening to what people need and why.


    Andrew…I just now took a peek at the University of Idaho’s Landscape Architecture Degree Program…and the 2nd course mentioned in the LA degree curriculum…is all about, “graphics, drawing, perspectives and color renderings”. That should have been a clue that “maybe” you would have wanted “reconsider” if LA is what you wanted to pursue?

    You began your career with autoCAD and working for Civil Engineering Firms…maybe that was your calling instead of LA?

    But also, there are many graphic design workshops out there where LAs can (if they wish) can improve their hand drawing or graphic design skills. Mike & Brian Lin own and operated “Beloose Workshop” and have been for many years…@ many Universities all over the Country.

    I developed some pretty good relationships with Civil Engineers over the years…but, as a whole, I came to learn that a majority of Civil Engineers have very little respect for Landscape Architects. And, I know, I’m not the only LA out there that feels that believes that.

    Concerning the Licensed LA that I mentioned at the beginning of this thread…..even that LA’s autoCAD drawings were BAD, so, I wasn’t just referring to that LAs poor graphic/design skills. And, I believe THAT LA is only (1) example. IMO, University LA Departments need to take a close look at the Professors they hire and the various types of courses they teach…to ensure, they are preparing ALL of their LA students for the “real world”. Then, those LA graduates need to do their best to get on board an established LA firm…and spend 4 to 6 years and “Learn”. Working under experienced and talented LAs for a few years will open up a lot of doors.

    I think it’s great that so many LAs DO have good autoCAD skills along with sketch-up and other computer software skills, but, I have had a successful 40 plus LA career….producing close to 600 projects “by hand”. Though now, I consider myself “semi-retired”…I continue to design only because I wish to. I have found a niche in assisting Licensed LAs in and out of State who hire me to assist them….Preliminary Pools, Color Renderings, Preliminary Grading Plans, etc.

    I realize there are several “different” paths an LA graduate can take. But, when I come across an LA or LA firm with a poor website, I find it very disappointing as that tends to, IMO, degrade our Landscape Architecture Profession. It just seems to me, that the general public is pretty clueless about the true “quality” of Landscape Architecture. Too many consumers tend to believe that ALL LAs are the SAME…if they have an LA degree, the ONLY real difference between LAs is their “design fees”…..which as I mentioned before, is just not true.

    Best of Luck to you with the remaining years of your LA career.

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