Landscape Architect Careers
- About 21 percent of landscape architects are self-employed-almost 3 times the proportion for all occupations.
- Almost all States require landscape architects to be licensed, which generally requires a degree in landscape architecture from an accredited school, work experience, and a passing score on the Landscape Architect Registration Exam.
- Good job opportunities are expected, but new graduates may face competition for jobs in the largest and most prestigious firms.
Nature of the Work
People enjoy attractively designed gardens, public parks and playgrounds, residential areas, college campuses, shopping centers, golf courses, and parkways. Landscape architects design these areas so they are not only functional but also beautiful and harmonious with the natural environment. They plan the location of buildings, roads, and walkways, and the arrangement of flowers, shrubs, and trees. They also design and plan the restoration of natural places disturbed by humans, such as wetlands, stream corridors, mined areas, and forested land.
Working with building architects, surveyors, and engineers, landscape architects help determine the best arrangement of roads and buildings. They also collaborate with environmental scientists, foresters, and other professionals to find the best way to conserve or restore natural resources. Once these decisions are made, landscape architects create detailed plans indicating new topography, vegetation, walkways, and other landscaping details, such as fountains and decorative features.
In planning a site, landscape architects first consider the purpose of the project and the funds available. They then analyze the natural elements of the site, such as the climate, soil, slope of the land, drainage, and vegetation. They also assess existing buildings, roads, walkways, and utilities to determine what improvements are necessary. At all stages, they evaluate the project's impact on the local ecosystem.
After studying and analyzing the site, landscape architects prepare a preliminary design. To address the needs of the client, as well as the conditions at the site, they frequently make changes before a final design is approved. They also take into account any local, State, or Federal regulations, such as those protecting wetlands or historic resources. In preparing designs, computer-aided design (CAD) has become an essential tool for most landscape architects. Many landscape architects also use video simulation to help clients envision the proposed ideas and plans. For larger scale site planning, landscape architects also use geographic information systems (GIS) technology, a computer mapping system.
Throughout all phases of planning and design, landscape architects consult with other professionals, such as civil engineers, hydrologists, or building architects, involved in the project. Once the design is complete, they prepare a proposal for the client. They produce detailed plans of the site, including written reports, sketches, models, photographs, land-use studies, and cost estimates and submit them for approval by the client and by regulatory agencies. When the plans are approved, landscape architects prepare working drawings showing all existing and proposed features. They also outline in detail the methods of construction and draw up a list of necessary materials. Landscape architects then monitor the implementation of their design, while general contractors or landscape contractors usually direct the actual construction of the site and installation of plantings.
Some landscape architects work on a variety of types of projects. Others specialize in a particular area, such as street and highway beautification, waterfront improvement projects, parks and playgrounds, or shopping centers. Still others work in regional planning and resource management; feasibility, environmental impact, and cost studies; or site construction. Increasingly, landscape architects work in environmental remediation, such as preservation and restoration of wetlands or abatement of stormwater run-off in new developments. Historic landscape preservation and restoration is another area where landscape architects increasingly play a role.
Landscape architects who work for government agencies do site and landscape design for government buildings, parks, and other public lands, as well as park and recreation planning in national parks and forests. In addition, they may prepare environmental impact statements and studies on environmental issues such as public land-use planning.
Work environment. Landscape architects spend most of their time in offices creating plans and designs, preparing models and cost estimates, doing research, or attending meetings with clients and other professionals involved in a design or planning project. The remainder of their time is spent at the site. During the design and planning stage, landscape architects visit and analyze the site to verify that the design can be incorporated into the landscape. After the plans and specifications are completed, they may spend additional time at the site observing or supervising the construction. Those who work in large national or regional firms can spend considerably more time out of the office traveling to sites.
Although many landscape architects work approximately 40 hours per week, about 1 in 5 worked more than 50 hours per week in 2008, as long hours and work during nights and weekends is often necessary to meet deadlines.
Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement
Almost every State requires landscape architects to be licensed. While requirements vary among the States, they usually include a degree in landscape architecture from an accredited school; work experience; and a passing score on the Landscape Architect Registration Exam.
Education and training. A bachelor's or master's degree in landscape architecture usually is necessary for entry into the profession. Sixty-seven colleges and universities offered undergraduate or graduate programs in landscape architecture that were accredited by the Landscape Architecture Accreditation Board of the American Society of Landscape Architects in 2009. There are two undergraduate professional degrees: a Bachelor of Landscape Architecture (BLA) and a Bachelor of Science in Landscape Architecture (BSLA). These programs usually require 4 or 5 years of study for completion. Those who hold an undergraduate degree in a field other than landscape architecture can enroll in a Master of Landscape Architecture (MLA) graduate degree program, which typically takes 3 years of full-time study to complete. Those who hold undergraduate degrees in landscape architecture can earn their MLA in 2 years.
Courses required in these programs usually include subjects such as surveying, landscape design and construction, landscape ecology, site design, and urban and regional planning. Other courses include history of landscape architecture, plant and soil science, geology, professional practice, and general management. The design studio is a key component of any curriculum. Whenever possible, students are assigned real projects, providing them with valuable hands-on experience. While working on these projects, students become proficient in the use of computer-aided design, model building, geographic information systems, and video simulation.
Many employers recommend that prospective landscape architects complete a summer internship with a landscape architecture firm during their formal educational studies. Interns are able to hone their technical skills and gain an understanding of the day-to-day operations of the business, including how to win clients, generate fees, and work within a budget.
Licensure and certification. As of 2009, there were 49 States that required landscape architects to be licensed. Licensing is based on the Landscape Architect Registration Examination (L.A.R.E.), sponsored by the Council of Landscape Architectural Registration Boards, and administered in two portions, a graphic portion and a multiple-choice portion. Applicants wishing to take the exam usually need a degree from an accredited school plus 1 to 4 years of work experience under the supervision of a licensed landscape architect, although standards vary by State. For those without an accredited landscape architecture degree, most states provide alternative paths to qualify to take the L.A.R.E., usually requiring more work experience. Currently, 13 States require that a State examination be passed in addition to the L.A.R.E. to satisfy registration requirements. State examinations focus on laws, environmental regulations, plants, soils, climate, and any other characteristics unique to the State.
Because requirements for licensure are not uniform, landscape architects may find it difficult to transfer their registration from one State to another. National standards include graduating from an accredited program, serving 3 years of internship under the supervision of a registered landscape architect, and passing the L.A.R.E. can satisfy requirements in most States. By meeting national requirements, a landscape architect can also obtain certification from the Council of Landscape Architectural Registration Boards which can be useful in obtaining reciprocal licensure in other States.
In States where licensure is required, new hires may be called "apprentices" or "intern landscape architects" until they become licensed. Their duties vary depending on the type and size of the employing firm. They may do project research or prepare working drawings, construction documents, or base maps of the area to be designed. Some are allowed to participate in the actual design of a project. However, interns must perform all work under the supervision of a licensed landscape architect. Additionally, all drawings and specifications must be signed and sealed by the licensed landscape architect, who takes legal responsibility for the work. After gaining experience and becoming licensed, landscape architects usually can carry a design through all stages of development.
A majority of States require some form of continuing education to maintain a license. Requirements usually involve the completion of workshops, seminars, formal university classes, conferences, self-study courses, or other classes.
The Federal Government does not require its landscape architects to be licensed. Candidates for entry positions with the Federal Government should have a bachelor's or master's degree in landscape architecture.
Other qualifications. People planning a career in landscape architecture should appreciate nature, enjoy working with their hands, and possess strong analytical skills. Creative vision and artistic talent also are desirable qualities. Good oral and written communication skills are essential. Landscape architects must be able to convey their ideas to other professionals and clients and to make presentations before large groups. Landscape architects must also be able to draft and design using CAD software. Knowledge of computer applications of all kinds, including word processing, desktop publishing, and spreadsheets is also important. Landscape architects use these tools to develop presentations, proposals, reports, and land impact studies for clients, colleagues, and superiors.
Many landscape architects are self-employed. Self-discipline, business acumen, and good marketing skills are important qualities for those who choose to open their own business. Even with these qualities, however, some may struggle while building a client base.
Advancement. After several years, landscape architects may become project managers, taking on the responsibility for meeting schedules and budgets, in addition to overseeing the project design. Later, they may become associates or partners of a firm, with a proprietary interest in the business.
Those with landscape architecture training also qualify for jobs closely related to landscape architecture, and may, after gaining some experience, become construction supervisors, land or environmental planners, or landscape consultants.
Employment is expected to grow much faster than the average for all occupations. There should be good job prospects overall, but new graduates may face competition for jobs in the largest and most prestigious landscape architecture firms.
Employment change. Employment of landscape architects is expected to increase by 20 percent during the 2008-18 decade, which is much faster than the average for all occupations. Employment will grow as the planning and development of new construction, together with the continued redevelopment of existing buildings, creates more opportunities for landscape architects. With land costs rising and the public desiring more beautiful spaces, the importance of good site planning and landscape design is growing.
Additionally, environmental concerns and increased demand for sustainably designed construction projects will spur demand for the services of landscape architects. For example, landscape architects are involved in designing green roofs that are covered with some form of vegetation, and that can significantly reduce costs associated with heating and cooling a building, as well as reduce air and water pollution. Landscape architects will also be needed to design plans to manage storm water run-off in a way that avoids pollution of waterways and conserves water resources.
Job prospects. There should be good job opportunities overall as demand for landscape architecture services increases, but new graduates can expect to face competition for jobs in the largest and most prestigious landscape architecture firms. Many employers prefer to hire entry-level landscape architects who have internship experience, which significantly reduces the amount of on-the-job training required. Opportunities will be best for landscape architects who develop strong technical skills-such as computer design-communication skills, and knowledge of environmental codes and regulations. Those with additional training or experience in urban planning increase their opportunities for employment in landscape architecture firms that specialize in site planning as well as landscape design.
Opportunities will vary by year and geographic region, depending on local economic conditions. During a recession, when real estate sales and construction slow down, landscape architects may face greater competition for jobs and sometimes layoffs. But because landscape architects can work on many different types of projects, they may have steadier work than other design professionals when traditional construction slows.
In addition to growth, the need to replace landscape architects who retire or leave the labor force will produce some job openings.