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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    Trace One

    Heard about some book on the radio today where the author was positing that management can be either ‘enhancers’ or ‘diminishers’. The diminishers make everyone work for them, and have the common characteristic of not valueing different types of people… I just got out of such an office. The ‘enhancers’ (I think that was the right word) see value in all types of experience, and enable the workers to develop to their best abilities..

    Still doesn’t answer the question of whether Architects have mercy, as asked above.. .

    : )

    and as someone who only went into LA to draw draw draw, I agree, the age divide is pretty huge, as a result of the computer revolution. Different types of people responded differently to computers…I have generally had the bulldog going for a walk on a hot day response, neck in collar straining ever backwards, hoping I could advance enough on the ladder to avoid learning computer, as many of my age group were able to..

    Andrew Garulay, RLA

    Maybe we can sum it up to understand that when Mandy, or Nick, or I feel like it is not going to be well received to be assertive, there probably is good reason for that for whatever reason. That is what I meant by “having your thumb on the pulse”. Something is telling you that it is not right whether it is because your boss is meek, or because you are not yet respected, or because someone is just a jerk, or some kind of gut feeling. Gut feelings are usually based on something that your subconscious understands but your own reasoning wants to deny.

    If we have to be told not to be so vocal as Mandy was, it should be an indication that we did not have a good feel for that pulse or that we are acting as a loose canon. That can be because we just are not yet aware or it can mean that there really were no clear indications. But if the observation is that the principal likes to “take the backseat on issues” should have indicated that the decision to take a different tact would not be well received.

    It has nothing to do with our profession being doomed to be at the mercy of architects. One particular firm has found that going along with certain architects is a good business plan. Others may have a different approach. It is not up to new hires to decide a different approach. It is not a smart path to follow in this job climate either. A job right now is to be cherrished. Employers have choices that employees no longer have.

    John Galbavy

    civils have control of the site?

    we usually have control of the site over the civil. certainly the civil takes the lead on some issues, mostly off site. I have worked in offices with civils and some in which we worked under the civil and it was aweful. It’s just a more natural process moving from architecture to engineering. In my mind its like having a structural engineer design the building before the architect. Of course, collaboration is best.

    Jason T. Radice

    For commercial around here, the civil always controls the site, unless the architect chimes in. This is because the first submission is always the site plan. They usually do some sad landscape design as well just to get approval. If its a third party LA, there is often problems getting things changed because of gov’t reviews already done, or the civil complaing to the owner about having to re-engineer things to accomodate requests. Engineers HATE me because I have them change things all the time, mostly for code issues (you’d be shocked how many have no clue about ADA when grading).


    Believe it or not, the last few project we worked on here we designed and drafted the entire site plan independently of the civil, basically only to hand off our linework during CD’s. They took our cad linework and put it on their layers, graded everything, had a meeting about detention and off-site and offf to bid it went. We design the parking lots, drives, walks, hard surfaces, softscape, fencing, walls, etc, etc with no issues. We went back and forth with them more than a few imes but it was always constructive and mutually respectful.

    We also work closely with another civil firm locally that doesnt mind correcting our mistakes, but the relationship is amicable and they do us plenty of favors and throw plenty of work our way.

    I guess I’d consider myself lucky. I’ve worked with some decent people-civils, archs, etc.

    Gregory Walker

    as an architect, this has been an interesting (and slightly amusing) discussion. from my perspective – and we love working with strong landscape architects – there are a few things i can offer from my end that we see fairly often:

    1- someone has to, imho, maintain the overall ‘vision’ for a project and how all the corresponding parts work together to support that vision. note that i didn’t say ‘create’ the overall vision, nor who it is who maintains it. personally, for most projects that involve buildings on a limited site, the architect is going to drive that process. (it’s the opposite for larger park type projects, where the overall landscape is the dominant experience and the buildings need to support that experience. and i’m happy with either scenario) this doesn’t mean that the architect should be designing the landscape, nor will they be designing the mechanical systems (for that matter). what they have to do, though, is make sure that everyone is buying into/developing their designs towards the same goal. now, if you don’t have a strong architect (and they can’t help provide direction in that regard), nor one that can properly lead the process, i can understand the frustration of working in that scenario. also, i’m going to voice my opinions about all aspects of the design and am not afraid to push people if i feel like the overall design isn’t ‘there’ on the first couple of passes. the best projects we’ve led involve teams which have people who have strong opinions, but who absolutely end up agreeing on the direction we’re all heading in. at that point, we can focus our attention on our respective domains while working to make sure everything flows seamlessly together.

    2- understand, upfront, what your architect is ‘about’ (and vice versa). we tend to be a more ‘ideas’ driven, concept heavy firm. we have a polemic about our aesthetic and business approach. in putting together a project team, we look to play with team members for each discipline who share similar values. point being: there are l.a.’s that i really like as people, but i’m wise enough now to know that our design philosophies just don’t play well together and we simply don’t team up on projects anymore. Likewise, some of my favorite people to work with (because of what they bring) aren’t the people i’d have a beer with at the end of the day. In the end, though, the work (for us) comes first. it won’t be the same for every firm, but if you’re working for firms that only want ‘window dressing’ and that’s not what drives you, then do everything you can to try and work with the people who do.

    3 (and lastly) – professional respect has to be earned. i’m looking for ‘enhancers’ on all of my project team, from the head principal/designers/etc. through to the interns working more ‘behind the scenes’. we deeply value the contribution each has to make, but that value greatly increases when we know everyone is bringing their ‘a’ game, when there’s as much give as take, and when everyone’s ego’s get checked before taking the field. that said, just having an opinion doesn’t make you (or me) right, nor does it guarantee that the project will be able to support it in the end. being able to adapt, modify, and deftly move with the ebbs and flows of projects is a trait that has taken me nearly 20 years to understand, much less think about mastering. it’s one of the reasons great work tend to come from older designers – you have to master the process as much as the work itself. those l.a.’s (and other members) who can are going to be the ones i look for every time we put a team together.

    Trace One

    thank you for entering the lions den, Gregory W., volunteering to us your status as a sacrificial lamb! You sound like you have very good work ethics in your group. I think in my life I have found many architects who don’t have a clue what good landscape design is, how to match it with their architecture, and care even less. The architects will throw down some trees and shrubs and paths, and call it done, in my experience, feeling their abilites wll match any LA’s, and not able to see any different.

    You will get different takes from different people on this blog, but that is how it seems to me..Witness the (non-existent) landscapes around the award winning SANAA designs..Look at Lauri Olin, of the vaunted Hanna’s -Olin, an internationallly recognized LA firm that was co-opted with sucess into the architectual perspective, describing their role in the design of Canary Wharf (an entire new neighborhood, really) as taking care of the ‘greenies between the buildings..”
    I think it is a loss..How wonderful to see really great landscape architecture around really great architecture..

    Gregory Walker

    well, i can’t quite defend some of my colleagues in terms of their approach – it is what it is and we don’t spend too much time looking at those projects for inspiration (either aesthetically or as a working model).

    gets a little stickier when talking about projects that may have a more deliberate ‘non-design’ landscape. in some cases, that could be by design, some cases it’s by setup. one example here – the chipperfield library in des moines has a landscape that, for me, is completely at odds with the building. however, the owner (state) hired an l.a. separately from the design team and they apparently wanted to do what they wanted to do. convinced the owner but fought with the architects all the way through. it shows, whether you think the architect is ‘right’ ‘wrong’ or whatever. it seems like both groups would have a vested interest in preventing that kind of situation from happening regardless.

    Trace One

    fun to talk about..thanks for the reply..I took a class when at UPenn designed by Anne Whiston Spirn for architects and LA’s to take together – really interesting..I worte my paper about how I felt concrete was dead, a dead element, and was countered by a very pretty and nice architect espousing the versatility of concrete, and thus it’s ‘liveness’..Sometimes, in the ‘real’ world, nobody actually sees what we (both LA’s and Arch’s) see at all – that grove or trees or fenestration are important to us, and no-one else!


    Yes, thanks for the comments Gregory.

    It’s refreshing to get an experienced Architect’s perspective in here for a change.
    It’s funny. I keep a regular eye on Archinect.com as well. There was recently a thread entitled something like, “What Other Artists/Designer’s Interest You?”

    I thought it was pretty telling that in probably 30 responses, not one ‘Archinecter’ (presumably Architects) showed interest in Landscape Architecture or Site Planning which I would consider so closely related to the physical development of architecture. Instead, there were many responses proclaiming interest and admiration of Graphic Art/Design and Music. I might consider this evidence for the ‘architecture as object’ mentality which I might argue is so prevalant practice today and leading to the marginalizaion of site and landscape which is inherently ‘fabric’ in my opinion.

    Again, thanks for engaging in the discussion, please encourage more of your colleagues to join.


    Someone brought up the issue of whoever gets the job is the lead and therefore gets to set the vision for the project. I think this is true and so in that sense we tend to be “at the mercy of architects” for better or worse. But what is more interesting to me is why aren’t more landscape architects the lead on projects?

    I look at the Highline project in NYC as an example where the landscape architect was lead and it resulted in a fantastic design and highly valued public space. There seem to be many reasons why it would be valuable to have a LA lead a project – help in site selection and analysis to inform the design decisions early on being just one of them. Is it simply an issue of educating the public? Is it an economic issue – meaning most small to medium projects, especially residential, could never afford to include a design professional from the beginning?

    I dream of a day when the first person that is hired when land is going to be manipulated or built upon in some way is a landscape architect. Is there a way to make this day come sooner? Is there a reason I shouldn’t dream of this day?

    Cliff See

    i think some things this guy said is plain true… the person with the money is the boss, good ideas can come and go in their mind… We also are fantastic Site Architects.

    Just remember our egos can get in the way of many things, including the budget… there will always be a place for a good, solid, do-able idea, if not there maybe at your next firm…

    One simple thing you can recognize and do:
    -go with the suggestion/design of your so-called antagonist architects:
    -take enjoyment in their idea
    -then you absorb that idea,
    -you work your magic from there… make it your own,
    -present how well their idea and your creativity made such a great design. they will admire your talents.

    Your skill (and task) is not always from the beginning point. It can from someone else’s idea… sort of like a “found object” turned art…you must not need a clean slate to create a good design. but like water sometimes, you will flow to a lower level to nurture things around you.

    and i am wondering if this is an Architecture firm or L/A firm?
    thanks, -cliff

    Cliff See

    This is also true, the part about besting the architect… one great reason why L/A’s should never lose touch with quick hand graphics – you might just whip out a loose, quick design, black/white, straight lines with quick shadows too, a simple concept and to the point (L/A’s are good at that)… very fast idea you can show first.

    let nature takes it’s course, show more and speak less.
    realize that doing good business has virtue too, not just a beautiful design.. it serves the needs of all at the table.

    this will not weaken your ambitions.

    Craig Anthony

    That’s an excellent point Cliff. As one of the “old guys” that uses Sketch-Up, Photoshop and Indesign, I still find myself using quick hand graphics on almost every project. I feel that something magical happens when I put the pencil to paper vs. using the computer in design development.

    I am also surprised that there are still architects and landscape architects around that would be “wowed” by a Sketch-Up model. It seems like everyone is making Sketch-Up models and they all look the same. I even had a “know-it-all” client prospect that had created a model.

    And your statement “show more and speak less” is golden. When you really know what you know, there’s a quite confidence that comes with it. Once you’ve established a reputation as a solid player, architects and civils in lead positions will want you on their team and will respect you for your expertise. At least the smart ones you want to work with will.

    I personally am not looking for a fight with the architect (civil, contractor, etc.) when I take on a project. I believe if you’re looking for an adversary, you will certainly find or maybe even create one. I’m probably going to get torched for saying this but, I think a lot of us LAs are walking around with a chip on our shoulder. At this point in my career, I feel I don’t need to prove myself to anyone or fight to be heard. Either you want to take my advice and use me as a resource or you don’t.

    Younger LAs if you’re stuck at a firm where you feel like you’re just a “CAD Jockey” with no voice, hang in there until you can find a new position. But, I will say this, if you’re a year or two out of school there should be more questions than advice coming out of your mouth. No one is asking you to “bow and scrape” to the seniors, but use some common sense.

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