How to Become a Landscape Architect

Many of us go through public spaces without giving too much thought to how they come to be what they are. The benches, trees, sculptures, sidewalks – we take that as a given. However, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of people behind the work that goes into designing and creating public spaces, as well as other large outdoor areas. An important part of this team are landscape architects.

These are the professionals who come up with the way a large space is going to look, how it will function and what it will give its user, in terms of comfort, visual pleasure, convenience, etc. It is probably the perfect choice for you, if while wandering through cities you catch yourself thinking about the actual design and details behind a public space, rather than just seeing the bigger picture.

A creative career, landscape architecture is also extremely technical, since the designs and development need to be done in real terms, fitting the engineering behind the creativity. So this is a career suitable for someone who is willing to spend quite some time in school before taking on a professional position. To learn a little bit more about landscape architecture, take a look at the infographic below.

WHAT THE EXPERTS ARE SAYING

Tom Tavella

Alta Planning & Design

Quick Look Bio

  • Name:
  • Location:
  • Years in the Industry:
  • Company:
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  • Tom Tavella
  • New Haven, CT
  • 26
  • Alta Planning & Design
  • @tavellaFASLA

Understanding My Career Path

  • I started off as an art major out of high school, then went into forestry where one of my professors, who just graduated from a landscape architecture program, saw my art work and said I should look into studying landscape architecture. Once I learned more about the profession there was no turning back.
  • After graduating from the University of Massachusetts I worked for a small firm in Springfield, MA. They had a sizable project in Greenwich, CT, so I oversaw all of the construction for a renovation of a five million dollar estate.
  • From there, our firm was bought out and I worked for a large multidisciplinary firm in Massachusetts. There, most of my work focused on municipal projects like streetscapes and parks.
  • After several years working for them and with my family growing, I moved back to Southern Connecticut. There, I worked for another multidisciplinary firm.
  • In 2008, when the recession hit, I was laid off and I started my own firm, grew it to 4 people then merged it with a large multidisciplinary firm, where I worked until 2013.
  • I recently joined Alta Planning and Design where I am helping manage the Northeast market.
  • Throughout my years working in Massachusetts and Connecticut, I was heavily involved with the American Society of Landscape Architects. I served as chapter president, trustee and national Vice President of Communications. Recently, I served as National ASLA president in 2013. Being part of ASLA has allowed me to transition to various positions throughout my career.
  • What I like most about my job is being able to assist communities design and develop healthy and sustainable environments. I also enjoy mentoring the next generation of landscape architects.

Advice

Join ASLA
Go to the ASLA web site and go to “Career Discovery” tab. This will give you a great overview of the profession and what schools offer landscape architecture degrees. While in school, as well as after graduation, get involved with ASLA and be an active member.

Get an internship
Shadow a landscape architect for a couple days a week, or get an internship. Nothing is more informative then actually see things hands-on.

Cameron Rodman

TBG Partners

Quick Look Bio

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Understanding My Career Path

  • I am an MLA Candidate. I also am the National Student Representative to the American Society of Landscape Architects Board of Trustees.
  • I have completed some residential designs on my own and interned with Stephen W. Hackney Landscape Architecture and the Facility Services – Design Services department at the University of Tennessee.
  • I have worked in my profession as a writer and photographer. I have written for Landscape Architects Network (Land8.com, and been featured on architect.com). I have also conducted interviews with Landscape Architects and featured other related items on my personal website.
  • Becoming a landscape architect requires a formal education (accredited degree) and state board licensure. One can be a landscape designer (one who studies horticulture or similar) and practice residential and planting design. There are also fields like design build. However, all states have limitations on the scope of work as set forth by their state licensure boards. For instance, a landscape architect can do residential design, city planning, stormwater management, large scale ecological restoration, mine reclamation, historical preservation, forestry/national park management, project management, and much more. Check out the ASLA website for more details.

Recommended Organizations

  • The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) – ASLA is the world’s largest society for landscape architects and is the go-to model for numerous international associations.
  • U.S. Green Building Council. (USGBC) – Through programs like LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) the USGBC is seeking to change the products markets and policies surrounding the design industry
  • American Institute of Architects – While I am not a member, their values and goals are very similar to those of ASLA.

Advice

Practice
Practice technical skills constantly (hand drawings, digital skills such as CAD, 3d modeling, and graphic creation).

Read
Understanding design and design thinking is critical to creating informed design. Become familiar with emerging concepts, theories, history, etc. Be sure to read outside of the profession as well. (i.e. ecology, urban development, representation, politics, sociology, etc.)

Start early
Develop professionally before you leave school. Network with licensed landscape architects and seek out opportunities to gain professional experience. Don’t wait until graduation to set yourself apart as an asset to potential employers.

Advice on getting your foot in the door
Volunteering at firms, organizations, parks, and other places will help you gain experience. Employers are looking for the best fit for their firm or office. They will be most likely to hire the emerging professional who has experience and knowledge. You are an investment for their business. The more ready you are to come in on the first day and hit the ground running the less time they have to spend training you. Make yourself an asset.

Bob Kaye

RTK Design Group, LLC

Quick Look Bio

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  • Bob Kaye
  • Marlboro, NJ
  • 32
  • RTK Design Group, LLC

Understanding My Career Path

  • I graduated from Rutgers University with a degree in Landscape Architecture in 1983.
  • After graduation, I went to work for another design/build firm for a short time and went out on my own within 1 year.
  • In 1988, I spent 18 months as a consultant on staff at Rutgers in their Facilities Design Department.
  • The best things about my job are the ability to be creative and see a project from design to fruition, the fact that every day is different and the variety of different aspects there are to the creating outdoor environments, and the response we generally get at the end of the project when we hear “This so far exceeds our expectations of what this project would look like.”

Advice

It takes time
Understand that being creative is as much about experience as talent. It took me 8 years until I became comfortable with my design abilities and began to be able to visualize an entire project in my head before putting it on paper.

Don’t stop learning
Understand the difference between smart people and stupid people; stupid people never stop talking and smart people never stop asking questions. To this day, I try to learn something every day and realize that I don’t know everything about this trade, so I try to surround myself with people that do know and never stop taking advice.

Learn compromise
Understand that everything in life is a trade-off and that there are no right or wrong solutions, so always ask yourself, am I gaining more than I am giving up with this design solution. And most important never forget that form follows function. Any design solution needs to be functional before esthetic.

What are My Study Options if I Want Become a Landscape Designer?


The majority of landscape architects are required to obtain at least a bachelor level degree in landscape architecture, or general architecture with a concentration in landscapes. This being said, a lot of the times, professionals in this field choose to pursue master’s level studies, since they are highly valued by hiring companies. To prepare for this career, you will need to focus your studies on both the technical and creative aspects of architecture, including classes in drawing and sketching, as well as CAD, construction and terrain-related courses.

At the same time, most states will also require you to be licensed as a landscape architect in order to exercise as a field professional. Normally, this involves a 5-part exam, which will vary depending on state regulations and standards.

WHAT IF I WANT A DEGREE TO BECOME A LANDSCAPE ARCHITECT?

  • Louisiana State University
    The Robert Reich School of Landscape Architecture at the College of Art + Design, offers students bachelor’s and master’s level studies in landscape architecture. Besides the academic component, LSU also provides opportunities for internships, international study and work programs and a strong alumni network. Undergraduate tuition here is $8,758 per year for residents and $26,476 for non-residents.
  • Pennsylvania State University
    The College of Arts and Architecture offers Landscape Architecture programs through the Stuckeman Schoop at Penn State. Students can pursue a BLA (Bachelor of Landscape Architecture) as well as graduate level studies, including an MLA, and MSLA, certification in Geodesign and a PhD. The teaching environment is largely studio-based. Estimated annual tuition for resident undergrads is $16,572 and $29,522 for non-residents.
  • Cornell University
    The College of Agriculture and Life Science at Cornell University, located in Ithaca, New York, offers an Ivy League education in Landscape Architecture. Students can pursue a BSLA and their studies must include a concentration, including but not limited to subjects such as horticulture, public garden management, landscape history, among others. Various levels of masters are also offered, including a Dual Degree in Landscape Architecture and City and Regional Planning. Tuition here is $47,286 per year.
  • Kansas State University
    The Landscape Architecture and Regional Community Planning master’s programs are offered at Kansas State University through the College of Architecture, Planning and Design. These have a strong focus on environmental stewardship and creative development. High school students may pursue these degrees through a 5-year integrated program. Graduate tuition here is $4,411 for in-state students and $9,955 for out-of-state, per year.
  • Purdue University
    Located in West Lafayette, Indiana, Purdue offers programs in Landscape Architecture and Horticulture. The program is currently ranked seventh in the US and offers students a comprehensive internship program to help them get there foot in the door. Indiana residents pay an estimated $10,002 per year, while non-residents pay $28,804.

GETTING MY FOOT IN THE DOOR

Whether you are planning to pursue bachelor’s studies only or combine a first-level degree with a master’s, it is highly advisable to get an early start within the field. While focusing on your studies is extremely important, it is also a good idea to begin doing internships, participating in events and networking, and maybe even taking on relevant jobs during the summer.

While many internships do not pay, you will gain an incredible amount of experience and contacts. Additionally, many companies prefer to hire from their pool of interns, since they already know who you are. If you are able to get a head-start and work internships into your school year, you will graduate with one foot already in the door. On the other hand, you can also create designs on your own time, therefore putting together a portfolio to present to potential employers upon graduation. These don’t have to be completed projects, but a set of ideas that lets hiring teams know how you think and what you are capable of.

Also, don’t forget to network! Join your alumni groups and participate in relevant clubs at the university. If you have the opportunity, go to conferences and events within the landscape architecture (or architecture in general) industry. This will keep you up to date on what is happening in the field and will also generate invaluable contacts.