Is Our Flagship Publication Sending Out the Right Message?

Like many landscape designers and architects, I receive the Landscape Architecture magazine on a monthly basis. But I have to say that over the past year or so, I’ve been less inclined to read it. It’s not because the case studies or product information isn’t important to me or that it’s not relevant to the profession; it’s because there seems to be this glaring disparity between what goes on in LA mag land and the real world. Take this excerpt from a much appreciated reader in this month’s Letters to the Editor, written by Buck Pittman, ASLA of Jacksonville, FL:

“Am I missing something in Landscape Architecture? Where have been the articles and commentary concerning our profession within the worst economy since the Depression? To read our flagship publication each month, no one would guess there’s anything wrong at all – but there most certainly is… This profession is in the middle of a major reshaping because of this economy and Landscape Architecture seems to be missing it…”

He goes on to say, “I urge you to take a much bolder step toward engaging our circumstances in this most difficult time and letting us know you care.”

At first I thought, YES! This means there will be more content on what we really want. But the reality check has not come in the mail yet. The magazine may be letting the comments in but they’re not changing their approach.

What I think we would all benefit from learning about in addition to the project pieces are some real hard facts. Industry data about our profession as it relates to the economy, which sectors are hiring and which are remaining stagnant, direction for new graduates throughout the country and the world, or even a valuable section on how to create such systems as green roofs and bioretention ponds, not simply the finished product.

I believe it was ASLA that posted not too long ago that Landscape Architecture was one of the top fields to work in. Maybe it’s time to see the facts behind the figures and for Landscape Architecture to show us that they’re really listening.

Published in Blog


  1. Great post Jill, thanks for contributing this!

    I think your analysis is spot-on and in line with my thinking with regard to LA Mag. I stopped reading a few months ago because it was all starting to sound the same. I made a post about this in the ‘Lost Generation of LA’s’ thread.

  2. Right on Jill.

    Of course I cannot speak for what has happened in the last four months mainly because i have been unemployed and cannot afford to re-up my subscription…

  3. hey Jill, I think some good articles for the Magazine might deal with issues of treating the profession more like a business and less like a wimpy ideology. We need to talk business strategy not so much about how important we think we are. The issues we deal with like environment, sociology, sustainability and so forth are very important but worthless until we learn how to sell them. Why can “as seen on tv” sell millions of “snuggies” that no one needs while Landscape Architects in general can’t even keep a fully staffed office? I hear a lot about the “real world of landscape architecture” in school, but maybe it is time for our magazine to take the practitioners back to school and teach them how to compete in the “real world.”

    Lets find the LA’s that are actually fiscally successful and see if they would mind bringing everyone else up to speed.

  4. On the contrary Landon, I’ve gone back and forth with myself on this woth regard to practical education in school- I dont think it belongs, maybe a little.

    The reason being I think it takes a strong set of KSA to ‘sell’ any service, and this is only founded on good theory, ideas, and vision, which school should promote..

  5. At least its not as bad as some of the architecture mags. ASLA has indeed mentioned the economy…a while ago, and you had to dig for it. I guess they don’t want to beat a dead horse. There is much room for improvement, however, like stuff we can actualy use in practice. And how about some diversity in the projects? I keep seeing the same people, and even the same projects, over and over. I prefer the nuts-and-bolts approach of Landscape Architect and Specifier News, and not just because they published one of my projects last year. They offer tips, details, and technical help, along with new product information. And a lot of them. You know, information you can use. LASN is advertiser supported, so it is FREE to the subscriber. Can’t beat that. And they publish an annual specifiers guide that has a place of honor on my desk. It has so many dog-ears and post-it notes in it, it surprises even me (plus they have a good website). Anybody touches my specifiers giude, they get hit.

    It seems that there is room for more than one magazine. Architects have Architectural Record, and the much better Architect. Architect is also FREE and focuses less on the buildng than the people and construction details. We have LA and LASN…and hopefully Contour soon.

  6. Speaking of Architectural Record, I bought the latest issue yesterday mainly because it had an article about the recession, along with bits about how individuals and firms were handling it. It also had a really cool article about transit stations, and mass transit is kind of a pet subject for me. I wish the LA mag would do more on infrastructure projects, but I guess for the most part they don’t make for very pretty pictures. The LA mag staff seems to have decided long ago that it wanted to be a slick brochure for promoting the profession, rather than offering serious journalism and educational value for those IN the profession, even though that is its primary readership.

  7. I feel like we’ve been rousing LA Mag here on this site for months. The lack of response makes me think they stick to their bubble. I’m honestly surprised we havent seen more publications come out of this recession. Certainly, there are some LA’s with writing skills. Some real commentary and criticism would do us a lot of good.

  8. I totally agree, and yes, we’ve been talking about it a little on the boards, but not nearly enough in my opinion. I’ve written to them, but they have ABSOLUTELY NO RESPONSE. No autoreply, no form letter, no nothing. Oh dear. Is it because I don’t have ASLA after my name?
    As I wrote on the ‘lost generation’ post, its like they’re some kind of weird Hotel California organization, dancing the night away at black tie mixers while the rest of us are trying to sell matches out in the cold….haha. Ok, maybe not that disparate but sometimes it seems pretty damn close.
    I really really appreciated the letter Jill quoted in this months issue (I can’t afford it – I read my husband’s copy since his firm pays for his membership!) and I appreciated the Michael VanValkenberg letter a couple of months ago.
    There is a new publication in the works, by the way – hopefully we will see it in the next month.

  9. Tanya,

    I also appreciated the letter from Van Valkenburgh. I think it was a very selfless thing to do. I would love to work for a person like that–obviously a great designer, manager, and advocate for the profession and craft.

  10. It’s great to see this discussion going, and to be honest the article could have gone on and on but I really wanted to hear from you instead! Jon and Tanya made a great point that there are a lot of us out there that can not afford to continue our ASLA membership and/or our magazine subscription, especially when most (decent) employers cover these costs while you’re employed with them.

    I wonder if LA mag has any plans to change formats, all the great ideas you all have should really be HEARD. Jason brought up LA Specifier News, so I googled of course and found, which right off the bat I see the ‘Economic Indicators’ section at the left. At least they’re giving it a shot.

    Another revealing article if you’ve got the time is a quick synapsis of the profession as a Top 50 Career of 2010 by U.S. News. I was more interested in thumbing through the 42 COMMENTS and couting:

    One last response is to Nick, that I think the reason why we’re not seeing more publications come about is due to advertising revenue. It’s unfortunately taken quite a hit and knocked out many good publications over the past couple years already.

  11. Interesting development released via e-mail today by ASLA. They have named a new editor-in-chief for Landscape Architecture Magazine. The person they brought on is a veteran design magazine writer. Does this mean that the magazine is headed even further down the wrong path of just pretty pictures and non-reviews? Perhaps he will actually listen to the membership as to what THEY want to see in their $300 a year magazine. We’ll have to wait and see…

    Check the release here:

  12. Jason,
    I just read about the new editor-in-chief here –

    We will see, indeed….

  13. Oh dear, the painful truth comes out. Anyone want to start a new magazine with me???

  14. While going through this thread, I was wondering what the mission statement for LAM is and, sure enough in the link provided by Andrew, it is stated as:

    “The mission of the magazine is to elevate the practice of landscape architecture by providing timely information on built landscapes and on new techniques for ecologically sensitive planning and design.”

    That mission sounds to me like design and technical information with an ecological emphasis under the banner of promoting the profession to (assumably) the public and allied professions

    Jill may be correct in identifying thepotential need for another publication that is intended for purely practicing LA’s- possibly a “shop” publication (virtual or hardcopy) that examines the common issues that we all face in design, business, technology, etc. Whether this could be profitable independent of ASLA is a question that would need to be answered.

    However, good idea and dicussion for now!

  15. Refer down to Tanya’s post, and my first one.There is already a digital one in the works called Contour, hopefully out the 1st of April. Many of the posters here on Land8 are contributors or editors.

  16. Regarding any publication, be it the Contour magazine due April 1st or the long established Landscape Architecture magazine, I would love to see these magazines break away from the conventional Landscape Architecture format. From a design standpoint, the plethora of inconveniently placed advertisements and the drop shadow text in LA Mag is horrendous. I would love to see a revamp from the new editor with a more simple yet elegant layout and some typefaces that make sense.

    Regarding content, they limit themselves so much by sticking to the conventional story format. Sticking to a standard format may work for magazines whose foci touches a broad array of interests, but presenting 1 residential, 1 public space project, etc. month to month does not work for this profession. What we need is a publication that can adapt to what’s happening – more reporting on UPCOMING projects, exclusive content I can only read in Landscape Architecture Magazine (or read there first at least). There is very little interest for me to even read the magazine anymore, when bloggers like Jason King and Alexander Trevi are blogging about fascinating and yet absent topics from the LA Mag. Even architecture bloggers like Geoff Manaugh are more worthy reads (I HIGHLY recommend visiting all these author’s blogs). Publications such as KERB (published annually) are my only fix for design theory: a generally lacking subject in our profession’s flagship publication.

    Lastly, be it for Contour or LA Mag, reassess your purpose. LAM seems like a crossbreed of Landscape Architecture for dummies and LOL (LandscapeOnline, which sadly, is the actual abbreviation and further illustrates my point on the horrific state of media coverage of this profession). Give me a magazine I’ll enjoy reading from start to finish please and thank you.

  17. I personally would like to see more technical data, market and policy analysis, etc… everything I think you all are writing about. Right now LAM is a decent magazine, but it has a better fit alongside ‘better homes and gardens’ more than it does as THE industry journal of professional landscape architecture. To me it seems that LAM has lost their audience, maybe trying to appeal to a broader audience? But the audience should be LAs and people working to advance their knowledge of the LA profession. They highlight a lot of great projects I just think they need to dive into a more technical depth.

  18. Mike G.-

    I think it’s possible to have both a ‘trade publication’ and consumer-oriented magazine in one package. LAM as it exists does neither well in my opinion. It exists somewhere in between. I think LA specifier probably focuses on market analysis and business and technical data moreso than LAM. I’d be fine with LAM going more toward the design side, but I think the interviews and editorial writing could be more connected to whats ACTUALLY going on outside the ASLA bubble.

    I heard a lecture last night at CSU from Shannon Nichol of Gustafson, Guthrie and Nichol in Seattle. I was very surprised to not hear one mention of the economy, jobs, market, or advice for the 100 or so students in the audience graduating or recently graduated. ??

  19. Great discussion group everyone.

    I’ll help you start a new magazine Jill, lol

    I could be you’re European correspondent!

  20. Nick,
    With such a bounty of online and print resources pertaining to design and landscape architecture its not hard to follow many of them. Many have their own ‘niche’ and know their audience. LAM is the magazine of the ASLA, the political and economic arm of the profession. Their ‘audience’ should not be the general public or consumers it should be LAs. They should beprimarily focused on Market and Policy analysis, social and environmental issues…the obstacles to designing better cultural and natural landscapes. If you consider allied professions of architecture, planning, civil engineering, contractors, and the like to be part of the general audience, they are more then capable of following our industry language. However if if its consumers…We missed the boat big time.
    I do agree with you that it could be possible to have both a great trade and consumer magazine in one package. But I would settle for a great trade magazine instead.

    You took a very interesting quote and perspective from the commentary / letters section of LAM. When ever I first open a magazine or newspaper that is the section I immediately read first, every time all the time. I guess that’s why I tune into Land8. I’ll read your magazine, sign me up!

  21. As far as ideas that should be covered, I just found this article about University of Nevada, Las Vegas:

    It mentions that the urban horticulture and landscape architecture programs were in jeopardy (posted March 24th I believe), and there was a post about an hour ago from the GreenScreen facebook page that said the LA program is officially killed off.

  22. I’ve heard through the grapevine that my alma mater is DOUBLING architecture and landscape architecture admissions to their program – this on top of tripled tuition over the past 10 years…kind of the opposite reaction to closing down the program. Current students in the masters program are coming out of school with debt comparable to medical school and law school!
    Despite my normally rosy comments and despite the fact that I will be paying off my student loans for a long time to come I was pretty horrified to hear these stats. (Tuition confirmed, by the way, in the ASLA survey….hey, at least there’s SOMETHING useful!)

  23. Dear all,
    It is great to find a spot where there is a debate on landscape architecture publications. This is rare. Usually there is no feedback at all. But editors like to read comments and letters, it shows that the audience is alive still.

  24. I agree with what Landon Davidson posted below.  That the Magazine tends to deal too much with “ideology” than real world business and the economics of the Landscape Architecture profession.

    Am I the only one who believes that ASLA & the “Landscape Architecture” Magazine are being managed by Liberal minded people & LA’s? 

    Although, I have seen job sites like, Land8 & with many more LA job openings over the past 12 months…I recall just a couple of years ago, entire University LA graduating classes – classes with 40 to 50 graduating seniors where not a single graduate could find an entry level LA job. I read on an LA blog two weeks ago, that an LA graduate has been searching for an entry level job for the past (4) years. Our economy is still a mess.  It would be very helpful to all LAs if the Magazine would address the “job search” issue on an ongoing basis.

    Many years ago, fairly early on in my LA career, I would receive the Magazine every month, but, cancelled it.  I got tired of seeing every issue’s content with at least 50% ADs.

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