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Twelve alternative careers for landscape architects 

(An adapted version of an article by Tom Turner published in Landscape Design in 1997) Conceptual clarification  Landscape Developer. Landscape Planner. Greenway Initiator. Landscape Assessor. Landscape-Architect. Garden Designer. Landscape Contractor. Designer-Builder. Product Design/Manufacture. Salesperson. Landscape Artist. Tourism Planner

There are some wonderful jobs in landscape architecture - and some dull jobs. The disillusioned say ‘Its hard to find work; if you do find it, you may not be paid; if you are paid, you'll be sued for negligence’. Yet  the prospects for the art of landscape design are utterly stupendous. The dust jacket of the Jellicoes’ Landscape of man rightly proclaims:

The world is moving into a phase when landscape design may well be recognised as the most comprehensive of the arts. Man creates around him an environment that is a projection into nature of his abstract ideas. It is only in the present century that the collective landscape has emerged as a social necessity. We are promoting a landscape art on a scale never conceived of in history.

So how can we move from the ridiculous to the sublime? I see two requirements: we should be clear in our minds about the nature of the art that we profess and we should open our minds to the many ways in which the art may be practised. In both cases, action must come from within. It is inaccurate and altogether fruitless to lay the blame for our predicament on unimaginative clients, an uncomprehending public or the rapacious practitioners of related professions.

Conceptual clarification re landscape careers

Co-operation between the Landscape Institute and the British Association of Landscape Industries (BALI) has been a conceptual calamity, even where it has been a practical success. BALI members are concerned with ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ ‘landscaping’. They subscribe to a conventional wisdom which sees patches of ‘landscape’ surrounding buildings. LI members prepare drawings. BALI members implement their schemes. Sometimes, good places result from this method; often the results are dreadful. But of this I am sure: the day will never dawn when projects of this type are seen as ‘the most comprehensive of the arts’.

A conceptual framework for the art we profess should be built around our single treasure: the word landscape. In modern English, its predominant meaning is geographical: ‘the end product of topographic evolution’. We have to use the word with care. It carries many layers of history within itself. In Old English, and cognate languages, a landscape was a region. In the seventeenth century landscape became a painters’ term, used to describe a view of an ideal place. In the eighteenth century landscape became a designers’ term. It was only the nineteenth century which saw its adoption by geographers. When used in our profession’s title, it carries all these connotations. We consider regions; we look with the eyes of painters; we prepare designs; we aim for a geographer’s comprehension of landscape evolution.

‘Landscape design’ may be defined as ‘the art of making good outdoor space by whatever means are to hand’. Good health is the goal of the medical profession. Good landscape is the goal of the landscape profession. ‘Landscape architect’, like physician, is a technical term used by those who are qualified members of a professional body which upholds standards and promotes the profession. When used by designers, the word landscape has a positive evaluative connotation: a landscape is a good place. Often, it will be a composition of buildings, paths, water, landform and vegetation. Trying to make good places without planning one or other of these elements is like trying to complete a picture with green paint after someone has disposed the other hues. Actually, one can produce good paintings without any green paint.

Study helps one to make good landscapes. Both theoretical and practical subjects should be learned. One needs to know what to do and how to do it; about the characteristics which make places good; about how to guide the processes which generate form; about how to communicate proposals. Doctors learn about the body in order to make people healthy; landscape professionals learn about the landscape in order to practice the art of making it better. A broad education can lead to many fields of employment. In today’s jargon, there should be a high content of transferable skills: in assessment, analysis, creative writing and drawing, problem solving, costing, communication and information technology. Few other educational routes offer a comparable balance between the arts, the sciences and the practicalities. Outside the landscape field, possession of these skills may lead to a successful life in business, administration or the arts. Within the landscape arena there are many opportunities, besides the preparation of plans and specifications for BALI members.

In some parts of urban and rural Britain, the landscape is superb. I think first of Central Edinburgh and of some Lake District valleys. But everywhere else, I can scarcely move without seeing the most enormous scope for landscape improvement. In some towns, I think the entire professional membership of the LI could be usefully employed for a century. Many people outside the landscape profession have a similar opinion of current environmental quality. They would go to the doctor about a health problem but they do not think of going to a landscape architect about an environmental design problem. This leads me to conclude that we cannot only sit in consulting rooms waiting for clients to arrive. We need to do many things, to make work for ourselves and the profession. 

Landscape careers

Above all, we need a central involvement with the process of land management and land development. Some of us should become politicians - and serve the public on local planning and development committees. Others should obtain dual qualifications. Professional institutes are rather better at promoting themselves than explaining the benefits of joining two professions. Just as English is the world’s favourite second language, landscape architecture should be the environmental professions’ favourite second qualification. Some landscape-related opportunities involve a willingness to engage with the risks and rewards of running an avowedly commercial enterprise. Let us consider twelve alternative landscape careers.

Landscape Developer Jobs

A course in estate management can lead to membership of the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors and to a career as a property developer. One learns about the law of property, valuation, development economics and related subjects. But one does not learn how to look at an area of land and weigh, as Lancelot Brown used to say, its capabilities. Which parts of a large site should be used for which types of building? Which areas should be set aside for nature conservation? How should sites be owned and managed? How should the vast urban expansion which is creating Edge Cities all over the world be guided and managed? Large developments require landscape design vision combined with the financial imagination of a surveyor. It is not hard for a member of either profession to find a suitable post-graduate course. Financially, and in terms of personal satisfaction, the rewards can be immense.

Landscape Planner Jobs

A badly planned site can be aesthetically successful, and well-built, without coming into the category of ‘good landscape’. Such is the fate of most new urban squares. Because of their ill-chosen location, small splurges of paving and planting lie neglected and unloved. Cycle tracks can be well sign-posted and well-constructed, but scarcely used because of their dreadful planning. At a larger scale, buildings are designed in eccentric styles unrelated to their context. The most unsuitable agricultural fields are set aside for woodland planting. Forest design has improved but forest planning remains pitiful. Projects like the 1980s Garden Festivals the Greenwich Millennium Exhibition are launched without a proper development period or a realistic after-use plan. All these problems require skill in landscape design to be combined with skill in planning. There is much to be said for being a professional member of the Landscape Institute and the Royal Town Planning Institute. The American Institute of Planners was an offshoot of the American Society of Landscape Architects. Close alliances between landscape and planning should be re-built. This could do much to enhance the public popularity of both professions. Many landscape architects already specialize in forestry. There is also great need for landscape planners to specialize in landscape planning for agriculture, rivers, minerals, park planning, reservoirs, rivers, transport, urbanisation and other land uses. The twentieth century sciences showed the great achievements which are possible as a result of specialisation. Landscape architects should follow these paths.

Greenway Initiator Jobs

The landscape profession was founded in private gardens and entered the public arena to lay out municipal parks. It then changed into a profession which applied skill in aesthetics and horticulture to every kind of development project. This was not in itself a bad idea but its successes were few. The next step is to refocus the profession’s activity on a number of core activities, one of which should most certainly be greenways. A greenway may be defined as ‘a route, for people, animals, water, or whatever, which is good from an environmental point of view’. Cities should consider preparing greenway strategies instead of open space strategies. Individual landscape designers with a zest for leadership should initiate greenway projects. Community developments are very rewarding. The Landscape Institute intends to publish a policy statement on greenways. The first steps in planning a new greenway are: identify a project, hold a public meeting, form a committee, prepare an outline plan, apply for funds.

Landscape Assessor

Environmental Assessment is the generic term but make no mistake: it is the impact of development projects on the landscape which is of most concern to the general public. Very often, landscape architects are the best qualified professionals to co-ordinate a team of specialist assessors. Someone has to inter-relate visual, ecological, air, water, traffic and other impacts. Landscape architects are also well able to prepare what are currently known as ‘mitigation proposals’. I would prefer them to be known as Environmental Impact Design (EID) proposals. Landscape Assessors should also be members of the Institute of Environmental Assessment and, if possible, the RTPI.

Landscape-Architecture Jobs

There is much to be said for holding dual qualifications in architecture and landscape. This is because the design and detail of the space around buildings needs to be integrated with the architecture. Furthermore, buildings with vegetated roofs could become the norm. At some point in the future, the availability of usable indoor accommodation will be dictated by roofscape design. Perhaps the public parks of tomorrow will be at rooftop level with sun, air, quiet and ready accessibility. Who will design these spaces: architects? landscape designers? or people with dual qualifications?

Garden Designer Jobs

A garden is a lovesome thing - everyone knows that. When the Institute of Landscape Architects was formed, many garden designers joined the Institute and then left. They were informed that it was sordid to take a profit on plants and materials. Garden design became separated from landscape design. This was unfortunate. Gardens enjoy great popularity and publicity. Garden design is one of the fine arts. One can learn a little about it at short courses and evening classes. To become expert one requires a full design education (BA Hons and Diploma/MA). This can lead to design work or to employment as manager of a famous garden.

Landscape Contractor Jobs

Landscape architects used to be educated with the expectation of being gentlemen, rather than players. Having taste, manners, honour, and hands unsullied by trade they would ‘supervise’ the work of menials. This led to many of the menials becoming much wealthier than their supervising officers. The menials then became project managers and learned to supervise their erstwhile supervisors, as when contractors commission architects to work up a quick scheme for building project, with a less-than-1% fee replacing their former 7-15% fees. Contracting can be an exciting and profitable career.

Designer-Builder Jobs

Design-build enjoys little popularity amongst designers. They see it as a way of cutting standards and saving money on specifications. Part of the trouble is that the process is too often led by builders who may lack both technical skill and aesthetic judgement. Instead, design-build should be led by designers who understand costing and construction techniques. Generally, it is easier for a designer to learn about building than for a contractor to learn about design. I would like to see people with design judgement re-assuming their leadership of the construction industry. They should offer clients the right product in the right place at the right price. One could begin a career in design-build by distributing leaflets to homeowners or advertising in local news media.

Product Design/Manufacture Careers

The manufacture of what are called landscape products is an interesting and important activity. Just look at the barren acres which have been despoiled with ghastly concrete blocks in garish colours. To my eye, only a very few block products are aesthetically successful. I think the reason for this is that the products were not designed by people with an understanding of how to make good landscapes. Similar points could be made about outdoor seats, lights and other products. Too often, they are designed to attract attention to themselves. Instead, they should be conceived as components of a wider landscape. One could begin a career in manufacturing by making a few items and selling them at a local show or through a garden centre.

Salesperson Jobs

With so many dreadful products available, ranging from the tacky to the trashy to the whacky, there is scope for designers to become involved in marketing, to the trade or to the public. One needs a keen sense of quality, materials, design and price. Such a career could start by purchasing some products and selling from a stand at a local agricultural or garden show. There is absolutely no substitute for direct experience of selling to the public. If trained designers ran garden centres we might see a vast improvement in the standard of UK garden design.

Landscape Artist Careers

Successful artists have a great life. Unsuccessful artists starve in garrets. In-between artists do some teaching, which is a joy, and produce their own work in their own time. There is much to be said for the artist’s life. Many entrants to landscape courses join because they liked art at school. The higher education they receive is useful. Just as a painter needs to know about stretching canvas and mixing paint, the land artist needs to know about drawing contours, stabilising slopes and mixing seeds. It is an art with dramatic potential, notwithstanding the propensity for public art projects to deposit a ‘turd in the plaza’. But in order to receive commissions as an artist, one has to describe oneself as an artist. The percent-for-art movement is resulting in more money being available for this type of commission. The artist is not a special type of person; every person is a special type of artist. One can begin by producing a work of art and exhibiting it in a gallery or exhibition.

Tourism Planning Jobs

Tourism is said to be the largest industry in the world and visiting fine landscape is one of the most significant holiday attractions. There are many aspects of the business in which landscape design judgement is required. What is fine landscape? How can neglected landscapes be made interesting? How can the crowds which converge on a few places be more evenly dispersed? Can green tourism be made a reality? Where should new holiday resorts be located? How can the coastal zone be developed for sustainable tourism? The English Tourist Board publishes an Education and Training Directory which lists tourism-related courses and opportunities.

‘Landscape architecture’ is a professional title. It is now protected by a royal charter in the UK. It is recognised by the International Labour Organization and it is used throughout the world. But I am pessimistic of it ever being understood by the public, which limits its potential in the market for professional services. Holders of the title should ‘take a landskip’ of the broad avenues, sunlit uplands and treasure-filled valleys in which their hard-won skills can be deployed. Twelve are outlined above. There are more.

When travelling around, I see immense scope for creative landscape planning and design: channelized rivers need to be reclaimed; forests require landscape design; many parks need re-design; a green transport network should be established; the art of housing layout can be revived; cities need greenways; settlements of every type could be more sustainable; coasts need plans; the landscape of agriculture requires expert consideration; streets could be humanised; traffic calming could become an aspect of urban landscape design; sites must be found for new settlements and imaginative plans prepared. Yet many landscape architects complain of not being able to find rewarding work. Instead of applying for standard jobs, they should create alternative jobs.

Reviews

  • 6 months by Ben Holmes 5 / 5

    Is this a serious article? There was nothing helpful about this at all. When I think of alternative careers for landscape architects. I think of things such as Environment Engineer, Planning, Botany....etc.

    Think bigger not smaller, all 12 of these are going backwards in life.
  • about 4 years by Emily 5 / 5

    I have just finished my PG Diploma in Landscape Architecture, and I am particularly interested in agroforestry, agriculture planning, and maximising yields while encouraging biodiversity. How can I move into this area?
  • over 4 years by Tom 5 / 5

    There are a number of courses in garden design, run by private organizations, which teach a good deal in a short time. But to practice garden design at a full professional level it is best to do a BA or MA university course in garden design. This is because one needs a design education, technical knowledge (eg in construction and planting) and a good background in the theory and history of garden design.
  • over 4 years by meenu 5 / 5

    i am looking for alternative career in the field of garden designing,but i haven't done any course from any reputed institutions.
    garden designing is my hobby & i want to convert my hobby into my work. so is there any career without doing any courses.

    plz help
  • over 5 years by rajelyas 5 / 5

    The Health & Wellness Industry is the fastest growing industry and anyone looking for alternative career should take a firm step in this direction.

    Raj
    recruitment agency

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