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.

Gaining Recognition & Respect

“Awareness and understanding of the profession by the general public.”

“Being recognized by other professionals as designers of space, materials, and systems through time.”

“Being respected as multitalented designers. Many people still see the profession as simply planting gardens. It is so much more!”

“Being valued as a key component to architectural success, and that the budget for landscape-related site projects should be more than 5 percent of building costs.”

“Being visible and being able to charge the fees commensurate with the work.”

“Communication of what we do and why it is so important to everyone, everywhere.”

“Communicating technical competence to other design professionals.”

“Gaining the respect of allied design professionals and being seen as an essential part of the design team rather than an optional add-on service that someone else could do themselves.”

“Generating an understanding of our ability to create infrastructural change in a whole gamut of scales.”

50,000 Trees, 2013 Student ASLA Honor Award, General Design Category image: Sarah Moos, Student ASLA, Graduate, University of California, Berkeley
50,000 Trees, 2013 Student ASLA Honor Award, General Design Category
image: Sarah Moos, Student ASLA, Graduate, University of California, Berkeley

Taking the Lead

“Leadership—green design is in our professional DNA, and we need to exercise our expertise as leaders.”

“Getting to the table and being the lead on more projects, especially in sustainability.”

“Learning to be more aggressive when it comes to claiming our professional space and touting our accomplishments.”

“We need to be more aggressive in asserting and inserting ourselves into the design conversation at community, city, state, and nationwide levels.”

“Prevent areas of strength (green infrastructure, urban design) from being appropriated by architecture and engineering.”

“Getting involved with projects from the start to ensure the aesthetics of a design.”

“Embracing our role as change makers—the time has never been riper for a landscape architect to make a difference. We need to drive home the value of retaining a landscape architect, and then we gently need to guide the team and client to long-term success. Finally, green infrastructure needs long-term care—if we can’t deliver that message successfully, it will fail. We need to advocate on all levels, from policy to maintenance.”

DESERT FARMING MOISTURIZER — Transition from Dry Lands to Domingo Eco-Community, 2012 Student ASLA Honor Award, Residential Design Category image: Jun Zhou, Student ASLA, Graduate, University of Pennsylvania
DESERT FARMING MOISTURIZER — Transition from Dry Lands to Domingo Eco-Community, 2012 Student ASLA Honor Award, Residential Design Category
image: Jun Zhou, Student ASLA, Graduate, University of Pennsylvania

Designing Sustainably

“Making sustainable/ecological practices the absolute standard, and retiring old practices such as irrigating, fertilizing, using nonnative plants, that eventually damage ecosystems.”

“Being fully involved in cutting-edge sustainable planning and design.”

“Keeping up to date with ecologically sustainable practices without discarding previous ideas.”

“Deciding on a clear, concise sustainable design goal for the future similar to the AIA 2030 Challenge.”

“Designing landscapes with less available water.”

“Creating beautiful spaces while also keeping both cost and environmental impacts to a minimum.”

“Applying/communicating technical knowledge of advancing green infrastructure and its long-term ramifications.”

Microcosm of America, 2012 Student ASLA Honor Award, Analysis and Planning Category image: Joshua Brooks, Student ASLA, Undergraduate, Louisiana State University
Microcosm of America, 2012 Student ASLA Honor Award, Analysis and Planning Category
image: Joshua Brooks, Student ASLA, Undergraduate, Louisiana State University

Building and Maintaining a Diverse Skill Set

“Keeping up with digital technology.”

“Maintaining hard skills (plant ID and specification, site grading, and site engineering).”

“Becoming too focused on specific areas of the field and not being focused on being able to do the whole project, even though you are coordinating with other professions.”

“Broadening skills and at the same time covering the basics…don’t forget plants!”

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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