How to Become a Landscape Architect

By TACP Staff on July 12, 2019

In many ways, landscape architecture is a unique profession because it requires equal amounts of both artistry and science. People who are both creatively driven and who have a deep appreciation of science and analytics would be ideal candidates for this career.

1. Getting Started in Landscape Architecture

If you’re a person who loves both visually pleasing landmarks, and other outdoor areas and who is passionate about preserving a specific environment, becoming a landscape architect is absolutely something you will want to consider.

When people hear the term “landscape architect,” they tend to picture individuals who choose the most appropriate flowers for a given climate or who make sure that a new brick walkway sits as level as it can given the anomalies of the space they’re working to improve. While it’s true that landscape architecture involves the design of outdoor public areas, landmarks, and other spaces, the end goal is a great deal more complicated. For instance, landscape architects are master craftsmen in terms of important areas like site analysis and inventory, land planning, planting design, grading, sustainable design, and so much more.

landscape architect is essentially someone who serves two different masters at the same time. Not only are they often tasked with creating an aesthetically pleasing setting in an outdoor area (like in a public park or some other type of environment), but they must do so while also protecting and preserving the natural environment. In many ways, landscape architects are artists of a different sort – they’re tasked with making decisions in the context of both the structure and the culture of a landscape while still creating a setting that people can use and enjoy as intended.

In addition to the development of plans for the environment, a landscape architect must also make sure that all decisions meet current building codes, as well as both federal and local ordinances. To that end, they must often be knowledgeable (and passionate) in the greater field of landscape design while still understanding local politics and environmental issues as well.

2. Develop Essential Skills and Techniques

In terms of day-to-day work, a landscape architect will commonly spend much of their time split between two different locations: an office and the great outdoors. Whenever landscape architects become a part of a new project, they often spend a great deal of time using computer-assisted drawing (CAD) and other software to create designs, prepare models, and more – all in an effort to make sure their vision for a particular space like a park, a recreational facility, or even a college campus remains in line with the requirements and other restrictions of the job.

Once the project gets underway, they will begin to spend more and more time at job sites, making sure their plans are adaptable and that they’re able to make certain adjustments or improvements as new information comes to light.

In addition to the planning of new spaces, landscape architects will also design and plan the restoration of natural places that may have been disturbed by humans over time. There are many wetlands, mined areas, and forested lands across the country that people are working hard to restore to their natural beauty. Landscape architects play an important role in these efforts, not only with their deep knowledge of how these environments operate in relation to the long-term damage that may have been done but also in regard to creating plans to return these areas to sustainability in a way that will stand the test of time. This is a large part of the reason why many landscape architects are employed with local and federal governments and working on national, regional, and other historic sites.

As a landscape architect, you will need to be comfortable working closely with not only large internal teams but also in navigating the bureaucracies that come with environmental protection. Landscape architects will commonly find themselves working with city planners, civil engineers, local government representatives, other types of architects, and more. Everyone will have their own different ideas on how certain natural challenges should be addressed, but everyone should be focused on two core areas: making sure that the needs of environments and the needs of the people who live around and who use those environments can co-exist in the safest ways possible.

At the end of the day, the goal of a landscape architect is the same regardless of the project they’re working on; the environment they’re dealing with and the challenges they’re trying to address. They use their passion, their artistry, their education, and their experience to help ensure that human beings are using our environmental resources in the smartest way possible to guarantee that those resources will still be around for decades to come.

To ensure work is accomplished in a professional way, a landscape architect must have a number of skills and abilities, which include complex problem solving, decision-making abilities, critical thinking skills, and time management. They must be socially perceptive, persuasive, willing to learn new techniques and skills, and instruct others. Working well within a team environment is imperative, as is understanding that everyone will not come to the same decisions all the time.  They must have integrity, be dependable, have attention to detail, initiative, and persistence.  They must also be flexible, and able to travel to work sites when necessary, sometimes at a moment’s notice in an emergency.

3. Pursue Higher Education

Per the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the most common path to employment as a landscape architect involves first earning your degree from an accredited program, after which you can then gain experience by interning with a local organization. As you continue with your education and gain real-world experience, you can then pass the Landscape Architect Registration Examination and begin your career in earnest.

Regarding a formal education, the vast majority of states require a landscape architect to be fully licensed. As is to be expected, those requirements will vary depending on exactly what state you are interested in working. According to the University of Maryland College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, for example, those interested in working within sustainable planning, design and management must complete either an undergraduate (bachelor’s of landscape architecture) or a graduate degree (master’s of landscape architecture) that has been accredited by the Landscape Architecture Accreditation Board. The University of Maryland is just one example of an institution that offers two such programs that meet that requirement, which itself is necessary to obtain licensure and begin your career in Maryland.

Coursework found in most university programs include environmental design and landscape creations, CAD design, geographical information systems (GPS), principles and theories of landscape architecture, rural and urban design, and design studio courses.  To gain practical work experience while in college, students should consider completing an internship. Beyond the experience they’ll gain, students will also make valuable professional contacts and mentorships with their professors, both of which will help further their career and enhance their development in the profession.

The BLS states that there were 22,500 people employed in the field of landscape architecture in 2014. The entire industry was expected to add roughly 1,200 jobs between 2014 and 2024, marking a growth rate of about five percent – or roughly as fast as the national average for all professions.

Helpful Organizations & Resources for Landscape Architects

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