When we find the time each day to catch up on what is happening in the world, both within and outside of Landscape Architecture, many of us are guilty of the same routine – we quickly sort through the headlines of the latest tragedies, review the most current real news about fake news, find condensed versions of stories on social media to speed through, and if we are lucky, find one or two worthwhile articles to take our mind off the aforementioned. Though there may be some merit in that process, scanning headlines might not be the best process to keep us all well informed, mentally sound, and energized.
As the profession prepares for the largest gathering of landscape architects in Los Angeles this week at the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) Annual Meeting, I want to suggest we all take a break from that usual routine. Take a moment, however brief, to reflect on what we do as Landscape Architects, to celebrate the work that has been done over the last year, and to focus our advocacy efforts on what we can do in the years to come.
If you are looking for places to celebrate the outstanding work of our colleagues, look no further than the latest awards issue of Landscape Architecture Magazine. To acknowledge the advances in professional awareness, I am thrilled to see that the Land8 Landscape Architects Network acquisition now provides a global reach and connection to the profession for hundreds of thousands of people. The goal of the ASLA to expand the reach of our profession to major news sources is a fantastic step in the right direction. It’s also important to acknowledge leading practitioners in Landscape Architecture and the acclaim and acknowledgement they bring to the profession – for example, SCAPE founder Kate Orff is the first Landscape Architect recipient of the MacArthur ‘Genius’ Grant having just been named last week. Her work, coupled with so many other outstanding professionals and achievements for Landscape Architecture, should give us all something to be proud of, and more importantly, something to push us forward.
While we can’t all be granted genius status, we can all take the time to focus on our own professional paths, and prioritize a process for achieving (or continuing to achieve) success in the future. I am not suggesting we create more awards programs, and I am not expecting everyone to do their best Al Franken Stuart Smalley impression either (for anyone born after the 1980s and do not understand my bad dad joke, click HERE). I am merely suggesting we all evaluate ourselves in a way that allows us to grow, personally and professionally. Here are my thoughts on where to start:
Know Your Voice:
We all have a story about how we found Landscape Architecture. Mine is that I come from a family history in construction. I went to college for Architecture, knowing I wanted to help translate ideas into reality. One of my professors recognized my passion for public space and encouraged me to pursue Landscape Architecture. Other Landscape Architects knew they loved both art and plants, or wanted to “change the world.” And some just wanted to make money. But I’ve realized not many people have really figured out their own voice or their own elevator pitch. Often times for professionals of all skill levels, with all other things being equal, the difference between the person that gets hired and the person that does not, is the one that knows their voice and how to use it. From a business development perspective, when potential clients ask why they should hire your firm, it’s important to know what it is that makes your firm unique, because more often than not, your competitor will be ready to tell them why they should not. At a profession-wide level, we need to establish a strong voice for Landscape Architects so clients stop asking why they need to hire a Landscape Architect at all (because, can’t an architect do it? Or an engineer?). If we do not know, or are unable to share our voice, together as a profession, I have no doubt that other professions will gladly step in to share their own.
Here are a few questions I ask myself when considering my own voice:
- What is a Landscape Architect and what do they do?
- What are you most passionate about? What do you value most? And how does that relate to your work?
- What was your goal in becoming a Landscape Architect? Are you on a path to achieve that?
- What is your elevator speech? What do you call yourself (Urban Designer? Landscape Architect?)? How does that impact the profession?
The word advocacy often leads to thoughts of attorneys, protests, or politics. Though those ideas aren’t wrong, advocacy can and should be achieved on a much smaller scale. I suggest starting by advocating for yourself. After you find your voice, use it. Find opportunities to challenge yourself. Make yourself uncomfortable. In my opinion, it’s the best way to grow and change. Whether we like it or not, when you are responsible for the health, safety, and welfare of the general public – as we often are as Landscape Architects, you have to be political.
Here are a few tips and things to remember on as you jump into advocacy:
- Nobody is perfect. Most people tend to be more reactive than proactive, even in professional organizations. Sometimes all it takes is a question to create positive change.
- Know when not to be quiet…… but also know when to be quiet (political).
- Know your audience. Make your point easy to understand.
- Find a mentor. Somebody that can lead by example and will hold you accountable for your goals.
2017 ALSA Advocacy Day, Illinois Chapter representation from students, faculty, and professionals. (Image: University of Illinois Department of Landscape Architecture)
The last reflection point I want to stress is the importance of collaboration. Many of us would like to reach the name recognition and stature of the Landscape “Starchitects,” who have achieved much deserved acclaim in the design fields. I think it’s important to remember that Starchitects are not just about a single person. The success of their firms is due, at least in part, to their collaboration within and outside of their firms. In my experience, relationships can make or break a project, and the more we can support and elevate one another, the better we all are for it. In my work, I have had the privilege of collaborating with a wide range of professionals – both within my office and with clients, sub-consultants, and colleagues on every project. Attacking these problems with a diverse team of professionals and embracing this collaboration has led to more innovative, interesting, and community-supported work. So, don’t forget the role our allied professionals (architects, engineers, contractors, accountants, etc.) can play in advancing us as individuals, as firms, and as a profession.
Hopefully none of these suggestions were foreign to you, and at the very least, this served as a reminder to take the time needed to reflect on all that you do. Say it out loud with me this time, “We’re good enough, we’re smart enough, and gosh darn it, we’re Landscape Architects!” Now, back to your regularly scheduled social media browsing. See you in LA!
Brad McCauley ASLA, CDT is the Managing Principal at site design group, ltd. (site), who specializes in construction detailing and contract documentation. Through Brad’s extensive knowledge in transforming design into buildable projects, he has helped facilitate numerous award-winning public spaces. His body of work includes urban waterfronts, streetscapes, residential, urban parks, playgrounds, and open space design in both the public and private sectors. Brad is actively involved in a number of professional and service organizations, including serving as the Trustee of the American Society of Landscape Architects Illinois Chapter. A licensed landscape architect several states, Brad has also received Construction Document Technology certification from the Construction Specification Institute.
Lead Image: The site design group, ltd. (site) team, February 2017. (Image: Teresa Foote)