ASLA Oregon LANDbytes APRIL 2012 Feature:
The True Value of Landscape Architecture
By Meika Jensen - firstname.lastname@example.org
Landscape architecture, once an underappreciated job concerned with little more than plant placement, has grown to become one of the hottest up-and-coming careers. Students at Harvard, those in online Masters degree programs and even mid-career job training are devoted to increasing knowledge of landscape architecture.
Experts in the landscape architecture field combine knowledge of horticulture and general ecology with land use, planning, and aesthetic concerns. They plan gardens and public parks, but also advise builders on terrain characteristics; help land owners use plants efficiently; and look for ways of harnessing natural energy to conserve and preserve in almost any setting. In part due to landscape architecture’s overlap with environmental science and sustainability, undergraduate students are majoring in landscape architecture programs in greater numbers than ever before. The promise of robust job prospects in a sagging economy also helps the major’s popularity.
“Employment of landscape architects is projected to grow 16 percent from 2010 to 2020,” the United State Bureau of Labor Statistics says in its most recent Occupational Outlook Handbook. “Planning and development of new construction and redevelopment of existing buildings will drive employment growth. With land costs rising and the public’s desire for more beautiful and functional spaces, the importance of good site planning and landscape design is expected to grow.”
Interest is not simply from the industry side; universities across the country are seeing a rise in students choosing landscape architecture as a major. According to the Council of Educators in Landscape Architecture, the number of students pursuing undergraduate degrees in landscape architecture rose 20 percent in the brief window between 2008 and 2010. “As shown by the profession’s exponential growth, landscape architecture has become more accepted and understood by society,” CELA said on its “Academic Information System” portal. “The growing number of programs has changed not only the professional and educational fields, but also the way information is perceived and disseminated into society and among the academic community.”
One of the biggest changes in the field is the focus on sustainable and “green” planning. The role of the modern landscape architect is about far more than choosing plants and arranging outdoor areas. Experts examine land use, energy conservation, and ecological balance. Many enter into urban planning careers where they look for ways of preserving historic buildings, updating neighborhoods, and integrating energy-saving measures like rooftop gardens into city spaces.
“College-bound students are increasingly interested in sustainability issues,” Robert Franek, Vice President of Publishing at the Princeton Review, said at the release of the Princeton Review’s Spring 2011 “College Hopes and Worries” survey. This interest, paired with a growing demand for environmentally focused landscape architecture expertise, has led to a veritable explosion of landscape architecture programs across many campuses.
The landscape architecture major tends to be a bit longer than the standard four-year degree—most students take five years to complete the course and earn their certification. Most states require that budding landscape architects have a full year of work experience before entering the field as full-fledged professionals, which is usually where the extra year comes in. Schools match students with mid-semester jobs, summer internships, or on going co-op work opportunities, all of which can be completed before graduation and under the close mentorship of professors.
Most schools also incorporate a mandatory semester study-abroad program to widen students’ horizons. “Studying off-campus offers students the opportunity to experience architecture in different areas of the world, on all types of scales,” the Clemson University College of Architecture, Arts and Humanities says on its Landscape Architecture page. Seeing first-hand how other cities, cultures, and countries are using their spaces in a sustainable way can give students new perspectives, and can influence their strategies once they are in practice in their own right.