A Day in the Life of a Landscape Architect

Case Study Investigation (CSI): Measuring the Environmental, Social, and Economic Impacts of Exemplary Landscapes - 2015 Honor Award Winner, Research Category image: Landscape Architecture Foundation
Case Study Investigation (CSI): Measuring the Environmental, Social, and Economic Impacts of Exemplary Landscapes – 2015 Honor Award Winner, Research Category
image: Landscape Architecture Foundation

Given how many of our waking hours are dedicated to work, where we work matters. Whether an expansive open office, a maze of cubicles, in a home office, or out on site, our workplaces influence how well we perform and how much we enjoy the work we do every day. To get an idea of what a typical day looks like and where landscape architects spend most of their time while at work, in a 2014 survey of ASLA’s Professional Practice Networks (PPNs), we asked members: How much time do you spend outdoors / on site vs. in an office?

Though the answer to that question necessarily varies depending on the season, the weather, the types of projects being worked on, and what stage those projects are at—as one respondent put it, there is “no such thing as a typical day” for some landscape architects—there were some clear trends that emerged. Ninety percent of respondents spend more than half their time in an office, compared to only 4 percent that spend more time outdoors. Only 6 percent reported splitting their time evenly between the office and being on site.

Survey takers were also asked if they preferred one work environment to another. While many respondents said they spend “way too much” time in the office, the most frequent response highlighted the need for balance, with some time spent in both kinds of work environments. Though most survey respondents spend more time in an office than anywhere else, many agreed that having a good balance between office and outdoor time is key.

Here are a few remarks from respondents on why they prefer a little bit of both the office and the outdoors:

“One of the things I enjoy most about the profession is the mix of office and site work. Keeps life from becoming stagnant.”

“You have to have balance—it is always more fun to be outside, but the time designing is relaxing and rewarding.”

“My greatest impact is made within my office walls, with clients and consultant teams, and in group gatherings of various types. However, I love being outdoors, which makes the times I do get out that much more special and appreciated.”

“I would prefer a more equal split. I’m generally in the office, but nothing is more rewarding than seeing the work done in the office come to life in the field.”

“I like a mix and love the days when I am in the field…time away from the computer, hands-on time, moving around, fresh air, etc.”

“I enjoy a mixture because, while I enjoy working indoors and designing, I also like to have a chance to go outside and see the design taking shape.”

“I like both. At the beginning of my career I spent 100 percent of my time in an office and mostly on a computer. It was awful. I went back to school to get my master’s to be able to get a better job (project management). Now, I have a good mix of indoor/outdoor work.”

“You need both. Being outside/on site is great but then having the office to do the work is great because of the resources that are there.”

“This is the best part of design/build…getting to do both!”

“My long-term practice involved both deeply; each project was different and some were field oriented. Now I teach, and some classes are field classes and others studio work.”

Below, we take a look at why respondents preferred working in one location or the other, or felt compelled to spend more time in the office when they’d rather be out on site.

Kintsugi Garden: The Meaning of Mending - 2015 ASLA Student Awards, Honor Award Winner, Community Service Category image: Daniel Winterbottom, FASLA
Kintsugi Garden: The Meaning of Mending – 2015 ASLA Student Awards, Honor Award Winner, Community Service Category
image: Daniel Winterbottom, FASLA

Enjoying the Great Outdoors

“I believe that landscape architects do their best work while out on the site. Everything else is merely conjecture.”

“I prefer to be outside, to fully experience the place and its context.”

“In the field, hands down. There’s no such thing as bad in the field regardless of the weather, difficulty of terrain, or travel distance.”

“I prefer testing out design ideas on site.”

“It is important to be in the field to stay connected to the end product.”

“Outdoors: in touch with medium of work. See projects realized.”

“I enjoy my times outside the office as this is place where one’s thoughts are getting installed.”

“Outdoors, by far − otherwise you become disconnected and ideas risk straying from the reality of site/context.”

“On site definitely. I’m old fashioned in that on-the-ground experience far exceeds photos and computer-generated models in understanding ‘how a site works.’”

“Some outdoor time makes for a good balance and to get real world (e.g. construction site) experience.”

“I would prefer to be outside, but who wouldn’t when in front of a computer all day.”

“Outdoors on site, full-scale perspective, no LED screens.”

“I would like to work outdoors more because it is rejuvenating.”

A Landscape Legacy - Master Planning a Cultural Landscape for Future Generations at Overlook Farm - 2015 Honor Award Winner, Analysis & Planning Category image: Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects
A Landscape Legacy – Master Planning a Cultural Landscape for Future Generations at Overlook Farm – 2015 Honor Award Winner, Analysis & Planning Category
image: Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects

Focusing on Design in the Office

“I prefer the design aspect vs. out in the field.”

“I would prefer to have a 35/65 (outdoor/indoor) split, but overall, I prefer working on the design production, research, and communication materials to doing extensive field visits, hands-on plantings, or construction observation. When in the field, I like getting involved with photo-documentation, sketching notes, tree and plant ID, and observing how the space is used by people and patterns.”

“I like both but prefer the office environment because the people I work with are amazing.”

“Site visits are fun, but the team interaction in the office when solving complex design challenges is the most inspiring.”

“Prefer informal office environment with other LAs…offers opportunity for discussion and collaboration.”

“I can accomplish more in the office.”

“I prefer the conceptual design world more than the implementation world.”

“It’s where design happens.”

Workplace Demands

“I’d love to be outdoors more and get out when I can but as a manager I spend more time in the office with budgets, meetings, reporting, strategizing.”

“Early in my career I was on-site 80 percent of the time. Then I became a manager, and drove a desk all day. I’d rather be on-site, but it doesn’t pay.”

“Would love to be outdoors more, but our practice is not really structured that way.”

“Prefer outdoors but a typical day finds me in the office designing, managing, and doing office-related tasks.”

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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