How Did You Discover Landscape Architecture?

Scott Outdoor Amphitheater, Swarthmore College image: Simon via Flickr
Scott Outdoor Amphitheater, Swarthmore College
image: Simon via Flickr

One of the opening questions of the 2014 survey of ASLA’s Professional Practice Networks (PPNs)—and a good opening question for any talk with a landscape architect, as the answer is usually surprising—was: How did you discover landscape architecture? One member’s answer can serve as a concise summary of the results: “In a round-about sort of way.”

Many of the landscape architects who completed the survey did indeed take the scenic route to their current profession, and a large number said they had never heard of landscape architecture until college or later. One of the most popular answers for how they discovered the field was “by accident.”

Several other trends did emerge, however, with the most popular answer—nearly half of the responses—involving some key experience during college. Other responses focused on the impact of family and friends (approximately 20% of responses) and career research during high school (about 12% of responses).

Discovered landscape architecture during high school or earlier
For many of those who learned about landscape architecture before college, an early love of gardening, the results of an aptitude test, or the recommendations of a guidance counselor often played a role. Multiple respondents also mentioned assignments to research possible career choices or other school projects that led to a discovery of the field:

“I wrote a report on NYC’s Central Park in 1986 for High School Civics, the rest is history!”

Influence of family and friends
Another frequent answer was first hearing about landscape architecture through someone nearby, whether a relative, friend, neighbor, classmate, or colleague:

“My brother enrolled in a LA program, and I discovered that it blended design, environment, and construction, all of which I was interested in.”

“I loved architecture and the natural world. I had a family friend who I learned was a landscape architect and was essentially paid to combine the two things I love.”

“A friend told me that there were people that designed golf courses called ‘landscape architects.’”

During college
Professors, advisors, and introductory landscape architecture classes certainly played a part, but the single most popular answer in this category was that people just happened upon the subject while flipping through the course catalog:

“While applying for colleges, I selected landscape architecture as a hybrid between archaeology/cultural studies and design—this was the first time I had seen the word/profession.”

“During my college search I discovered that I could combine my favorite subject (art) with my second favorite subject (science) to create my dream job!”

“Reading a course calendar (stumbled on it when I was thinking I wanted to be an architect!).”

“A love of plants and the outdoors and looking for a profession that would integrate the landscape into architecture. In all honesty, it was a complete stumble through my college career guide.”

“An exhibit of landscape architecture models and drawings in the student union of the university I was attending.”

“I ran across a flyer posted on campus about an ‘introduction to landscape architecture’ summer class. I had never heard of the profession before that.”

“I was instantly hooked when I spoke to the professors about the program and saw the diversity of student projects.”

“I had fulfilled all my course requirements and needed more units to graduate, so I could take anything I wanted. A friend recommended a plant ID class. I signed up. Lied to get into the class as a non-major. Fell in love and the rest is history.”

Harvest Home – 2014 Student Collaboration Award of Excellence Winner. For the 2013 Solar Decathlon, the George Washington University team created a full landscape on an asphalt tarmac to showcase a sustainable residential landscape design. The design demonstrated a fusion of function, aesthetics, and regenerative ecosystem principles that started in the landscape and extended throughout the home. image: Adele Ashkar, Nick Gringold, Ryan McKibbin, Julie Melear, Sharon Metcalf
Harvest Home – 2014 Student Collaboration Award of Excellence Winner. For the 2013 Solar Decathlon, the George Washington University team created a full landscape on an asphalt tarmac to showcase a sustainable residential landscape design. The design demonstrated a fusion of function, aesthetics, and regenerative ecosystem principles that started in the landscape and extended throughout the home.
image: Adele Ashkar, Nick Gringold, Ryan McKibbin, Julie Melear, Sharon Metcalf

For many, finding their current profession involved a “long and winding path,” stumbling upon landscape architecture one day as a result of a mix of “luck” and “intuition.” Many also described how, knowing little about what landscape architecture was, they were “hooked” after a brief introduction.

Through a Related Discipline
Approximately 15% of responses mentioned discovering landscape architecture via architecture:

“After working for a few years in municipal arts and sustainability planning, I realized, through two of my colleagues with LA degrees, that LA was the synthesis of my professional interests.”

“Was not accepted into the Architecture Program – so picked what I thought would be close – Landscape Architecture – with the intent of transferring out – but never did – thank god.”

“Didn’t want to be architect.”

Landscape Architecture in the Media
Several responses recounted fortuitous discoveries of landscape architecture in books, on TV, during lectures by landscape architects, or at exhibitions. HGTV, a PBS special on William H. Whyte’s The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces, and a show at the Art Institute of Chicago of photographs by Terry Evans were all mentioned, among other sources:

“After studying fine arts in college, I was looking for a way to use my artistic skills and interest in nature and science in a more practical but still creative way. A friend who owned a bookstore showed me Ian McHarg’s Design with Nature. That did it.”

“I truly do not know other than my uncle was an Architect and I recall seeing (John O.) Simonds’ book on his shelf one day.”

Landscape Architecture Magazine at the local library when I was in high school (and thought I wanted to be an architect).”

“The Simpsons (true story)! It was on an episode when I was about 11 years old. I knew that’s what I wanted to do ever since.”

Experience of Landscapes
Living near or traveling to some of the world’s stunning natural, historic, or impeccably designed landscapes also provided a few transformative experiences, pointing the way toward the profession of landscape architecture:

“By experiencing F.L.O. parks in my hometown of Rochester, NY”

“Communing with nature in the Southern California desert.”

“Going to college, I learned to appreciate arboretums and campus planning, open spaces.”

“I lived in Japan and noticed how geography influenced the culture.”

“On a visit to Everglades National Park.”

At the start of 2014, a questionnaire was sent out to members of ASLA’s Professional Practice Networks (PPNs). The theme: career paths in landscape architecture. As you can imagine, responses were varied, and included many insightful comments and suggestions. Synopses of the survey results were originally shared in LAND over the course of 2014, and we are now re-posting this information here on The Field. For the latest updates on the results of the annual PPN Survey, see LAND’s PPN News section.

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