Challenges in the Field of Landscape Architecture

Future Hopley: Hutano, Mvura, Miti, 2013 Student ASLA Honor Award, General Design Category image: Leonardo Robleto Costante, Assoc. ASLA, Graduate, University of Pennsylvania
Future Hopley: Hutano, Mvura, Miti, 2013 Student ASLA Honor Award, General Design Category
image: Leonardo Robleto Costante, Assoc. ASLA, Graduate, University of Pennsylvania

When Professional Practice Network (PPN) members were asked about the greatest challenges landscape architects face, the most frequent response was described by one member as “the same challenge we have always faced”—defining and communicating what landscape architecture is, both to the public and to other design professionals, to ensure that the value of landscape architects’ work is understood and recognized. Other recurring topics included the economy, finding work, dealing with limited project budgets, competition, climate change, and water scarcity.

Though such challenges can seem insurmountable at times, there is still a great deal of optimism to be found. For some, “There has never been a better time to be a landscape architect.” And as one respondent put it:

“Today we have great opportunities to redefine public spaces, as the value of parks and innovative open space design are in the news and have the eyes of the public. We need to use this momentum and set the standard for excellent open space design; these are exciting times for landscape architects!”

Outlined below are the major themes that appeared among the challenges landscape architects face—food for thought as 2016 comes to a close and we look ahead to what may unfold in the new year.

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Landscape Architecture, in One Word

Citygarden, St. Louis, MO, 2011 Professional ASLA Honor Award, General Design Category image: Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects
Citygarden, St. Louis, MO, 2011 Professional ASLA Honor Award, General Design Category
image: Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects

When we asked Professional Practice Network (PPN) members what one word they would use to describe landscape architecture or a landscape architect, the breadth of the answers given demonstrates the difficulty of defining a profession that is so expansive and varied. Many members couldn’t stick to the one-word limit, offering longer descriptions:

“Landscape architecture is everything but the building: parks, plazas, courtyards, water features, all of the planting plans and stormwater grading for site restoration plans associated with new bridges and roadways. A landscape architect is part environmental scientist, part engineer, and part designer/artist.”

“A landscape architect is the liaison between the public, engineers, architects, and planners.”

From the responses that did stick to one word, here are the top answers, in order of popularity:

  1. Creative
  2. Design
  3. Diverse
  4. Stewardship
  5. Multifaceted
  6. Versatile
  7. Adaptable
  8. Integrative
  9. Holistic
  10. Synthesizer
  11. Visionary
  12. Generalist

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Keeping Up with Design Trends

What’s Out There® Guidebooks, 2016 Professional ASLA Award of Excellence, Communications Category image: Charles Birnbaum; Barrett Doherty; Mark Oviatt, Oviatt Media
TCLF’s What’s Out There® Guidebooks, 2016 Professional ASLA Award of Excellence, Communications Category
image: Charles Birnbaum; Barrett Doherty; Mark Oviatt, Oviatt Media

In response to the question What one characteristic or skill is most essential for success in landscape architecture? many of ASLA’s Professional Practice Network (PPN) members said that staying up to date, being a life-long learner, and keeping an open mind to new design ideas and technologies are critically important. So, how do our members keep up with current design trends and ideas?

When asked what websites, publications, and other sources were the most important, the top answer was Landscape Architecture Magazine, followed by the ASLA website and other ASLA resources, including The Dirt, LAND, and local ASLA chapters.

Other popular sources of information include travel and site visits—“I’m not so interested in current trends as I am in successful places”—attending conferences, and talking to other landscape architects. And, as one member put it, it is also important to take “time out of each day to walk outside and see what is going on and how people use environment around them.”

Listed below are a few other sources of design news that appeared among the responses.

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Required Reading for Landscape Architects

Activating Land Stewardship and Participation in Detroit: A Field Guide to Working With Lots, 2016 Professional ASLA Honor Award, Communications Category image: Andrew Potter
Activating Land Stewardship and Participation in Detroit: A Field Guide to Working With Lots, 2016 Professional ASLA Honor Award, Communications Category
image: Andrew Potter

With the holidays and end-of-year break nearly upon us, you may be looking for a few new books, whether to give as gifts or to read yourself. In addition to the Best Books of 2016 highlighted on The Dirt, we also asked ASLA’s Professional Practice Networks (PPNs) for books that should be required reading for all landscape architects. Though many of these are classics you may have already read, we hope you find a few titles to add to your must-read (or must re-read) list.

The top 5 books selected by PPN members were:

  1. Design with Nature, by Ian McHarg
  2. A Sand County Almanac, by Aldo Leopold
  3. Landscape Architecture, by John Simonds
  4. The Death and Life of Great American Cities, by Jane Jacobs
  5. Manual of Woody Landscape Plants, by Michael Dirr, Hon. ASLA

A few authors were mentioned for multiple works, including Kevin Lynch for three different books (The Image of the City, Site Planning, and What Time is This Place?) and Julie Moir Messervy for two (The Inward Garden and Contemplative Gardens). Other popular choices, each selected by four or more respondents, were:

Last Child in the Woods, by Richard Louv

A Pattern Language, by Christopher Alexander

The Image of the City, by Kevin Lynch

The Landscape of Man, by Geoffrey Alan Jellicoe and Susan Jellicoe

Bringing Nature Home, by Douglas Tallamy and Rick Darke

Design on the Land, by Norman Newton

Landscape Architectural Graphic Standards, by Leonard Hopper, FASLA

Site Engineering for Landscape Architects, by Steven Strom, Kurt Nathan, and Jake Woland

Time-Saver Standards for Landscape Architecture, by Charles Harris, FASLA, and Nicholas Dines, FASLA

The Devil in the White City, by Erik Larson

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If You Could Change Your Career Path

The Biodesign Institute at Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ, 2009 Professional ASLA Honor Award, General Design Category image: Terry Moore, 2008
The Biodesign Institute at Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ, 2009 Professional ASLA Honor Award, General Design Category
image: Terry Moore, 2008

As a corollary to the previous question covered from a 2014 survey of ASLA’s Professional Practice Networks (PPNs)—What’s one thing you wish you knew when you started your career?—PPN members were also asked: If you could change one thing about your job or career path, what would it be?

On a heartening note, around 10 percent of respondents said they would change nothing:

“50 years have flown by and my career path, which has evolved in several paths over the period, is still fun.”

“I’ve done the types of projects that I’ve wanted to, I founded a successful firm. We do great work for good clients.”

“The eight years I spent in the private sector helped me succeed in the public sector where I am today.”

“I actually did just change the ‘one thing.’ I just started my own studio.”

Almost anyone can relate to many of the other answers given, including requests to “add more time” and “I wish I didn’t have to worry about making money.” However, many responses were specific to landscape architecture, and a few recurring ideas are highlighted below.

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The 2017 HALS Challenge

Roeding Park (HALS CA-59). Grove of fan palms on east side of park. image: Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, HALS CA-59
Roeding Park (HALS CA-59). Grove of fan palms on east side of park.
image: Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, HALS CA-59

The Historic American Landscapes Survey (HALS) was created in 2000 to promote documentation of our country’s dynamic historic landscapes. Much progress has been made in identifying cultural landscapes, but more is needed to document these designed and vernacular places.

For the 8th annual HALS Challenge, we invite you to document a historic city or town park. In 2016, the National Park Service celebrated its centennial with the Find Your Park movement to spread the word about the amazing national parks and the inspirational stories they tell about our diverse cultural heritage. Find Your Park is about more than just national parks! It’s also about local parks and the many ways that the American public can connect with history and culture and make new discoveries. With more than 80% of Americans living in urban areas, urban parks are becoming more important than ever.

Perhaps the city or town park you choose to document may:

  • be so popular that it is threatened by overuse;
  • be challenged with incompatible additions or updates;
  • suffer from neglect and deferred maintenance;
  • be unnoticed with its significance unappreciated; and/or
  • be documented to encourage its preservation.

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Ask a Landscape Architect

At the ASLA Annual Meeting's EXPO in New Orleans this October, attendees had a chance to sound off on what they’d like to find out from their PPN peers. image: Event Photography of North America Corporation (EPNAC)
At the ASLA Annual Meeting’s EXPO in New Orleans this October, attendees had a chance to sound off on what they’d like to find out from their PPN peers.
image: Event Photography of North America Corporation (EPNAC)

Each year, a survey is sent out to members of ASLA’s Professional Practice Networks (PPNs), asking them to sound off on a variety of topics. Past survey themes have included favorite spaces, career paths and work issues, creativity and inspired design, and more. For 2017, we’re asking our members what questions they’d like PPN members to answer.

So, if you had a chance to ask a fellow landscape architect anything, what would it be? Responses are welcome in the comments section below, or by email to propractice@asla.org. We look forward to hearing from you!

Shaped by your responses, the survey will be sent to all PPN members in early 2017, and summaries of the survey results will be shared in LAND’s PPN News section and here on The Field.

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