Recomendations to a Landscape Architect

Discussion in 'Landscape Architecture and Design' started by sepm, Apr 6, 2012.

  1. sepm

    sepm LawnSite Member
    from Toronto
    Messages: 40

    im starting to take landscape architecture in the fall what tips would you give to make it easier and more enjoyable for the contractor to work with the architect (site experience, more hands on etc...)
  2. Dr.NewEarth

    Dr.NewEarth LawnSite Bronze Member
    Messages: 1,476

    I would like to see L.A.'s have to be experienced and certified horticulturists, arborists and hardscapers before they start their education.

    Learn what works and what doesn't work first hand.

    I've seen alot of goofy s*** over the years.
  3. AGLA

    AGLA LawnSite Bronze Member
    Messages: 1,778

    Work for contractors as a laborer in the summers. Understand that your degree and/or your stamp will not get you instant respect (as Dr. NewEarth points out). Most important is to understand that it will take a long time to develop enough experience to know what you do know, what you don't know, and to get comfortable enough in your skin to let people know when you don't know.

    I am a Registered Landscape Architect (12 years) and had 17 years in various positions as an adult landscaper before that.

    Appreciate and show respect to the contractors and laborers around you who have been doing what they are doing for however long they have been doing it. They do not know what, if anything, you bring to the table. Keep that in the back of your mind. You are an empty suit until you show them otherwise. How you show them is up to you, your skill set, and your personality.
  4. allinearth

    allinearth LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 614

    I am always surprised at how little real world knowledge architects have. I think it a certain amount of hands on field time should be required to earn the degree. Or maybe it is I don't know? Also it seems like most don't have any depth of plant knowledge.
  5. AGLA

    AGLA LawnSite Bronze Member
    Messages: 1,778


    I agree with you that there are a lot of people walking out of school having only seen the world from the studio ans having been filled up with expectations and attitudes from professors who never left school. It sounds like Sepm is trying to find out how not to become one of them.

    It is exactly the same for landscape architects as it is for guys starting out mowing lawns in middle school. Both know nothing until they do a lot of work and learn through experience. What they learn is determined through what experiences they go through and the people that they are experiencing these things with. Thirty years later, you find one lawn boy with a gray pony tail still mowing thirty lawns a week worried about losing his business if he takes time off for a knee replacement while another is a high end successful design/build company that competes with anybody.

    It's no different with LAs. Most come out of school knowing a plant list from their sophomore plant class and how to draw 10 pages of construction details of basic things that almost any contractor can put together in his sleep (a pointless waste of paper). One may go work for a huge international firm and learn nothing more about plants the rest of his life. Another may get hired by a small landscape contractor where he'll draw plans, dig holes, participate in running the company, and be way ahead of the game in just a few years. Others will work for high end design firms and be that guy who shows up as a project manager who has no clue at first, but after years of learning through experience that changes.

    Some LAs started out as contractors or laborers and went back to school later in life. No one sucked out what they knew and experienced before going to school. That is what I did.

    One thing that I know is that perception of landscape architects changes depending on which one you work with. The ones that have been around the block do not send projects out to bid to just anyone. They use long established companies that they have established relationships with. They don't go looking for new guys to work with. If you are relatively new or a smaller company and you are contacted to bid on a project by a landscape architect, chances are it is not a well established landscape architect and it probably won't be a great plan. In other words, unless you have a bigger well known high end contracting company, you probably won't have any contact with the better landscape architects or their plans.

    There is a lot more diversity in what landscape architects do than residential and small commercial landscape design. It is not what colleges focus on enough, in my opinion. They tend to focus more on larger scale planning, social, and sustainability issues. My opinion is that they are getting farther away from designing on the land and more involved in philosophy and activism, which is all well and nice, but it does not get you a job or help developers get what they need done to have good property for sale or lease.
  6. allinearth

    allinearth LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 614

    I guess I look at landscape design as an art where plants, trees, hardscape are the paintbrush or paint of the artist. I have seen a few LAs that have too much of a cookie cutter mentality. I have seen several of their plans that all contain the same basic plants in a slightly different arrangement. Not saying all LAs are this way of course.
  7. PaperCutter

    PaperCutter LawnSite Bronze Member
    Messages: 1,996

    Honestly? Figure out what turns you on and learn the heck out of it. Is it plants? Structure? Site design? Then pick something you think sucks and you have no interest in, and learn the heck out of that too.

    I'm not an LA but I work around them (sometimes cooperatively and sometime competing) and what I've seen is there's no standard stock template of "this is what an LA is/does/knows." I met with one who was blown away by the fact that I know how to design structure and do construction drawings because she has no clue. And right now I'm doing a planting plan for a homeowner who hired an LA for the hardscapes (dude is so talented and did such an amazing job I hate him. Seriously want to poke him with a sharp stick) but when this guy did the planting plan it was weak. 77 azaleas is not a Japanese garden.

    So, know what you want being an LA to mean for you, and when you get into the field and realize you're not doing that, you'll have to decide whether to change your perception of the role or change what you're doing.
  8. Skimastr105

    Skimastr105 LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 293

    I am a senior landscape architecture student at Michigan State University. One of the most important things I would recommend, and if given the opportunity, I would redo, is my plant knowledge. The classes I took in school did very little to teach me a solid plant vocabulary. The knowledge I have gained came from working in the industry. During my first 2-3 years in school, I worked for a design build firm in my home town. For the last two years or so, I have been on my own. I opened a design build firm in East Lansing (where I go to school) and focus on residential landscapes.

    Without this real-world experience, I do not feel I would be adequately prepared to do any worthwhile designing.

    Good Luck with school, and where are you going to be attending?
  9. JimLewis

    JimLewis LawnSite Fanatic
    Messages: 6,876

    First of all, I have to say what a great idea to post and get feedback from installers before you go off into the real world and do it! I wish every landscape architect was so open minded and forward thinking! Thank you!

    In our state, probably like a lot of states, there are either landscape architects or landscape designers. The former are usually used on larger residential landscaping projects (e.g. $100K and up) and for commercial projects and the latter are for mid sized to larger residential projects. And of course, L.A.s have to be certified and designers do not. That's how it works around here.

    Because we do just residential landscapes and only a small % of our work are the really large resi. jobs, I deal mostly with landscape designers. Although we do work with a local landscape architect occasionally. And I've installed several jobs that were designed by L.A.'s over the years.

    Some of my issues with L.A.s are the very same issues I have with landscape designers. Some are more specific just to L.A.s. only.

    So one problem that I have with both designers and L.A.'s is the lack of LOCAL product knowledge. In my opinion, if you're getting paid big bucks to design landscapes, you should know all of the local products that are available for landscapes BETTER than the installers do. You should know every paver that is available locally; every kind of SRW; every variety of seat wall or courtyard wall that is available; be very familiar with several of the main brands of outdoor lighting that are available locally; know which plants are fairly common and easy to find; and which ones are almost never available; know what SIZES of plants and trees are common in the area (so you don't specify sizes that are impossible to find); learn what common methods are used in the area for steps up hillsides; learn what kind of rock is available locally; etc. Constantly browse through websites of the top landscape contractors in your area to watch for trends, products and materials they commonly use, etc. Go buy local suppliers, rock yards, hardscape suppliers, pond distributors, etc. and keep up on new materials, innovations, available products.

    The only other thing is that if you don't know exactly the right product to chose for a certain area, leave it to the contractor to chose. Nothing wrong with that. I'd rather you leave me to decide what product to create a nice seat wall out of rather than you specifying something I've never used, don't know how to work with, or is extremely difficult to get.

    One of the things I often see L.A.s do is specify stuff that looks cool on paper but is not really very easy to do or maybe next to impossible to do in reality. They have no clue how to actually accomplish what they designed. They just think it would look cool. Don't do that! If you have an idea, help me figure out what product to use to make that idea happen. Don't just leave me to dream up some way to make it work.

    I could write a lot more but I gotta get back to work....
  10. SoCalLandscapeMgmt

    SoCalLandscapeMgmt LawnSite Silver Member
    Messages: 2,156

    These are all excellent responses. The only thing that I can add is that if you are in an area where irrigation systems are regularly installed you should take some classes and learn how to properly design an irrigation system. I've seen some effed up irrigation systems that landscape architects have designed....almost as though the irrigation system was an after thought. You should be intimately familiar with the product lines of the irrigation manufacturers. Spend a summer installing irrigation, spend a summer working on an irrigation repair crew (so that you can see the results of poor design). Go to your local supply house and look at the products. Pick it up, examine it, watch it operate. The same thing could be said for landscape lighting as well if you will be designing it.

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