Will LAs always be at the mercy of architects?

Landscape Architecture for Landscape Architects Forums PROFESSIONAL PRACTICE Will LAs always be at the mercy of architects?

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    Francisco Behr AIA

    This is something we often discuss in my classes. My humble and most general suggestion is to learn more about current architects and architecture so you can place your values and beliefs within that context when you have discussions with architects. ( I know that architects would do themselves a great service if they learned more about landscape architects but that is for another discussion and website)
    Most of us know that architects are control freaks and have very big egos ( I know this because I am one, but I’m working on fixing that) so you cannot use agression with people like that. It does take a good bit of diplomatic intelligence to reassert your importance to the design team. So work on your ability to avoid direct confrontation and to force yourself to ask lots of “why” questions followed by “because I want to learn more about YOUR* project”. I think you understand how this approach works with big egos. Slowly slip the word OUR instead of YOUR as the conversation progresses. OK I know that possibly this sounds funny but I know that buried in it there is some wisdom that I hope someone finds.

    I also believe that landscape architects should work on more clearly describing what they can do while also expanding and redefining their services so that clients see their value and importance also. In my class I really encourage students to create process records that record and demonstrate the depth of inquiry and exploration to your clients ( architects included). I find that well organized process records help when debating fees or late payments. Lastly I think that landscape architects need to speed up and learn about BIM because if they don’t they are going to be left out in the cold since pretty soon there will only be ONE, virtual model that is. MOre about that later…

    Rob Halpern

    Mandy and Nick,

    Points taken, and good ones, too
    And your comments take my thoughts to a different direction:
    As I have said before on this Forum, I am a Horticulturist and not a L.A.
    I attend conferences where the horticulturists and grounds managers spend the time griping about the L.A.s who do not listen to what they bring to the table and so have lengthy discussions about what can we do to raise the recognition of Our Profession.

    So to hear it all here again puts me in a mind of “Why is that the question?”
    No doubt some of the “problem” is with one profession’s perceptions of another. And also much of it is, as several here have stated so well, what is happening here, now, with me?

    Several people have posted that it is their own L.A. boss who is holding them back… not simply the architects. Others have more progressive managers. As Mandy’s boss is being a poor mentor, that is not an issue for the profession, I think. It is an issue for Mandy and her career path. Perhaps she can find a boss who is more suitable, or perhaps this is not the time.

    The “why don’t architects respect me” is simply a more comfortable dodge than “what do I do with this crappy situation I’m in?” I write this as someone who has felt my ego (yup, that’s the topic here) slighted by design team members and has had to wrestle with what to do about their slight and my response.

    I think the discussion would be more productive if we didn’t define the issue as one profession victimizing another. It takes us nowhere and is only partly accurate. As we read everyone’s comments here, it seems the problem is at least as much with other L.As as with other disciplines!

    Tim Zhang

    I say no need to be ashamed of our title as Landscape Architects.


    Architects will be the leaders until Landscape Architects head the projects, and select the consultants that they want to work with. Find the client, money and site and you will be the team leader. The one problem that most overlook is that then you become the business manager of others. Billing, taxes, insurance, cash flow, schedules, baby sitter and task master becomes your new role. Most landscape architects have not prepared them selves for such a role. Try managing twelve individuals with common but conflicting goals and personallities, including the client, council and banker. Now do this for a two year period on budget. Then you will know what it like to be the leader. By the way most Architects are not very good at it either.

    Andrew Garulay, RLA

    Baxter, that is reality in a nut shell. He who gets the work coming to him is in control. It does not matter if you are an architect, a builder, a landscape architect, or a landscape contractor. I often hear LAs bitch about contractors who get them work over here, and contractors bitching about the LA being in control over there. When the work comes to you first, you are empowered.

    I do think that the thread is on another subject altogether, however . I think it is more about what is in bounds and what is out of bounds in how we interact with others as we represent our employers. There are employers who may benefit from a more assertive employee, but there is a fine line between being assertive and being insubordinate. Knowing your employer, knowing how long the leash is, knowing what is good for the company that you represent, knowing the others at the table, and many other things takes a long time to develop, understand, and process. Sometimes there are other reasons to “not go there” than are apparent to a newer member of the team. There are personalities, politics, and other agendas that can supersede putting good ideas out there. I’m not saying that this is the case most of the time, but lack of familiarity with all of those under the surface things can cause big mistakes to be made.

    Pat S. Rosend

    IMHO your sense of frustration is partly due to the fact that you do not have all of the information for the ultimate project development and thus propose solutions that seem good to you but may not work due to some other constraints not known to you. This is very common and it is something that is still frustrating to me after almost 20 years of practice. Even at a higher level there are conditions that are not able to be worked around in site planning and development. They are more likely to be political/funding etc. issues rather than physical and at your level you would rarely be expected to be involved in them.

    It can seem like the project leads do not have a good understanding of site planning and design, but it really is a matter of conflicting goals and the best site practices losing out. Ultimately this is the case with most, if not all, projects.

    BTW this frustration gets worse as you practice more. I find that I get much more satisfaction our of smaller incremental changes than I used to. Over the long run it makes the impact you are looking for, it just takes longer to get there.


    Is it too much to ask for the lead or project manager to communicate those constraints?

    Pat S. Rosend

    No, but many times clients prefer to work with more senior personnel. It is up to the managers to decide how much information is pertinant to the job or task in progress.

    Some times things are confidential or extremly sensitive and you will just never get the info you would like or maybe even answers to why your proposed design won’t work. It is a fact of the working world and is something that you get acclimated to over time.

    An important thing to remember is that your boss will apreciate if you have a different point of view, but not if you express it at the wrong time. Sometimes the most difficult thing to learn is the politics of working. It has been my least favorite learning track and I still have to bite my tounge at every moment. I know I am always right :-0 and they just don’t see it!


    Sure, I get that.

    I think most of us in this situation, however inexperienced, understand that there are some constraints out of our control or beyond our understanding that we just need to accept. I think the primary issue at hand is the working relationship between a manager and designer. It’s just as unconstructive when a senior partner or manager thinks they’re always right as when a junior designer does.

    While I agree with you on your point about not having all the information being the root cause of a lot of similar frustration I do not think it’s generally the case in this situation. If, for example, we’re talking about why a parking lot can’t be shaped one way instead of another, the manager should be experienced and well-versed enough in design and the business of design to give substantive feedback, criticism and explanation of why it must be one way over another or concede their opinion.


    Pat, I’ve been on several heavily political projects and I have no problems working directly with city agencies or developers and believe it or not, developers are much easier to work with than architects. Everyone knows the issues on the table and a better product is developed because of that.

    However, when we are working as a sub under an architect or another landscape architect, we often get second hand information or we’re often kept out of the dark on certain issues and development. I’ll have to read the newspaper to find out what’s going on and by then its old news. I understand people are busy and you can’t possibly communicate every piece of information to your subs, but I believe major issues whether it is political, funding, etc….should be communicated. Wouldn’t honest communication produce a better design?

    I honestly do not think this is a simple communication/miscommunication issues. I think it has to do with egos and the person who holds the information has the power over those who don’t. This also applies to manager who chooses to withhold information from his/her designers.


    Mandy, I feel your frustration; I have also worked for wimpy bosses that would never question or stand up to architects or civils in lead positions. They didn’t care; it was just about getting a check. I understand that you don’t want to bite the hand that feeds you, but you have to speak-up to be heard. I feel as a professional it is your responsibility to bring the whole package to a project. And sometimes that might mean (respectfully) rocking the boat. But, ultimately you have to do what the person writing the check wants you to do.

    Since I’ve been working for myself, I’ve been blessed enough to have a mix of homeowner and architect clients. I am the lead designer with my homeowner projects. I have actually had the pleasure of actually working with a client to hire an architect.

    Most of the architects I work with respect me for my skills as a designer. They’re pretty hands off with the site stuff. I tell architects that I am marketing to that, “Site design is one thing you don’t have to worry about. I can do it more efficiently than you can, because it’s all I do.” In most cases it’s true. We as landscape architects can’t afford to sit back and settle for what’s given to us. If you’re willing to just be the guy they call in at the end of the design process to “bush-up the place”, then that’s what you’ll get. You have to try to get the kind of work you want to do.

    Also, as a business owner and old school landscape architect, I’ve realized that almost anyone can come up with a great idea or concept. In a studio environment it’s not about whose idea it is, it’s about the best idea. Senior designers need to really listen to and develop junior staff. If a junior designer comes up with an idea that’s better than yours, you have to put your ego aside and acknowledge it. Junior designers need to realize (in most cases), it takes a long time to develop into a good landscape architect. The boss might not be able to navigate around AutoCAD, but he probably knows the business better than someone in their third year in the profession. So young professionals, it’s o.k. to challenge or question the senior staff, it’s good for the profession, but it should be done respectfully and tactfully.

    Pat S. Rosend

    I got a little off track on my response, but I really think it is a style of managment and not a communication issue. Not a lot of people think that every one involved in a project should know all of the details. It is a poor choice b/c many times I have been blindsided by information that could have been handled differently if we had known sooner in the process. I am sure in the future you will have a chance to work with different managers and find one with a style that is a good fit for your needs.

    FWIW my understanding is that Architects get little or no site planning training in their education track. A former boss of mine got so frustrated with this that he went to the Howard Univerisity School of Architecture and developed a site planning course for architects. He taught it for 20 years. It was very well rec’d and I am not sure why more architects are not taught site planning. They seem to enjoy it.


    A former boss of mine got so frustrated with this that he went to the Howard Univerisity School of Architecture and developed a site planning course for architects. He taught it for 20 years. It was very well rec’d and I am not sure why more architects are not taught site planning. They seem to enjoy it.

    Hopefully for the same reasons more Landscape (Site) Architects are not taught building design.

    I wish I could design buildings, too, but I doubt a single course in Architectural design would gain me a seat at the architects table.

    If we agree that Landscape Architects can not or should not design buildings, then why is it OK for Architects to design sites? Given, some people may respond that the prime should have some voice in ALL consultants work, true?


    Mandy – Long thread to start from scratch, but I’ll chime in with a couple points (based on the scan-job I just did)

    -As a young designer (1 year out of school, 7 years experience) I’ve found that one of the best ways to get my input heard is to use my contemporary skills (computer graphics: sketchup, photoshop, indesign). Nothing knocks small firm old guys out of their socks like a 4 hr sketchup model in schematic design. Even architects are impressed ( = they start listening)… at least in Tampa

    -Another way to get something done is to beat the architects to it. Sketch a revision out faster than they can think. CAD the site plan before they realize that was even happening. This is risky though.

    -I “fought” with a lot of team members while in architecture school (on issues regarding site design, urban planning) and it didn’t help make the design better, it came out unfocused. Realized I was getting a bad rep and started mellowing out and suggesting versus showing. I got a lot more clout once I kept my mouth shut.

    -I try not to bump heads laterally, only down the totem pole (contractors)

    -People can tell when you think they are idiots. AT LEAST try to hide that, whether or not you convince yourself otherwise.

    Andrew Garulay, RLA

    There are several things that get stereotyped in our profession. One is that there is or should be a certain way that employees work with each other and their employers.Another is that everyone should have an opprtunity to be the person who comes up with creative solutions each step of the way. Still another is that LAs are always hired to takeover their area of expertise and come up with the most creative and best solutions from general to detail to be combined with all of the other disciplines that are doing the same for their respective part of the job.

    When you work for a firm that has a certain personality, you have to realize that it is very likely that they were hired as a known commodity. People don’t bring in control freaks when they want them to tow the line. They don’t bring in a laid back firm when they want dynamic cutting edge ideas. It may or may not make you a better designer to take your personality and skill sets and run with them. BUT, it can make you a PITA to your employer or those who hired him for his way of doing things.

    It seems a natural thing to me that most LAs are trained and/or predisposed to analyze and adapt. We analyze and adapt to various land uses that we get involved in designing. We analyze and adapt to climate, to light conditions, to soils, to existing built work, …. We as true professionals also analyze and adapt to our clients (not to say that every prospect should become a client). When we are subs, those who hire us are our clients. Does it not make sense that we should have the skills and abilities to analyze and adapt to them (not that we need to work for every one who contacts us)?

    If this does make sense, how do we expect to become skilled at analyzing and adapting to to clients if we can not learn to do the same for our employers? Some of the most important skill sets that we have are not our direct design skills. We can not survive independently if all we think is important is our design sense and getting our ideas noticed.

    So many come out of school wanting instant authority for our profession, instant authority in our firms, and disregard the fact that every client, every client – professional relationship, every design job, and every mini-society put together to address these things is unique and has its own dynamic. Simply put, you don’t know what you don’t know. So take the time to try to understand what is actually going on instead of taking it ALL in before you decide that you should be empowered.

    If you look at it objectively from the outside in it comes down to frustration from not being personally recognized whether as a unique and gifted designer, or someone who should be an equal at the table of veteran designers, or as a member of a highly respected profession.

    A mature person without an inferiority complex can at least go through the two years of internship taking it an before demanding respect.

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