“Landscape architecture combines art, ecology, engineering, and community engagement to create meaningful outdoor places.” (WA State University) If you’re creative, interested in the environment and science, and enjoy working with people, landscape architecture may be just the career for you. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, landscape architecture is the fastest growing of all the design professions, although the profession has experienced a contraction in job opportunities over the last few years as the housing market declined. Nearly a quarter of the 30,000 landscape architects working in the United States are self-employed; the average salary earned by those in this profession is over $65,000/year, with those working for the Government averaging over $85,000/year.
Landscape architecture involves the planning, design and management of both the natural and man-made environment. In addition to beautifying our environment, landscape architects must determine the best use for a site. They need to consider the environmental impact of proposed development, and make plans for both auto and pedestrian traffic. Landscape architects design such varied facilities as parks and playgrounds, college and industrial campuses, gardens and recreational areas, shopping centers, residential developments and national forests. Their work impacts all of us.
To become a landscape architect, students must learn about the ways the natural environment can be changed to better the quality of life for its users. They must first understand the land as well as its ecology. To this end, students study design, construction techniques, art, history, and natural and social sciences. Majors start with traditional techniques such as site planning and design, employing both drawing and computer graphics in studio-based courses. The students study ecological systems, learn about plants that grow in a variety of conditions, and discover the relationships between social and political institutions and the natural environment. At more advanced levels, the major includes courses in urban design, landscape technology and regional planning. As a culminating project, students may design a park or a garden, or create a site plan for a residential dwelling or sports arena.
College departments may differ greatly in their approach, so students contemplating this major should look closely at the emphasis that is placed at the colleges they are considering. Some programs focus on physical design, others on environmental issues such as sustainability and regeneration. Some do a good job of combining both design and ecology. City-based colleges are more likely to focus on urban design than are suburban campuses. Finally, some colleges offer a four-year curriculum that culminates in a Bachelor of Science in Landscape Architecture (BSLA); others offer the five-year Bachelor of Landscape Architecture (BLA), which includes more studio and lecture courses. Most states require that landscape architects be licensed, a process that includes the completion of the professional degree and the passing of a national licensing exam. Some states also require completion of a period of supervised practice be-fore the landscape architect becomes licensed.
Landscape architects may be employed in a variety of settings including public, private, and academic institutions. Many are self-employed and have their own businesses, or work as consultants. Those interested in private employment may find jobs in engineering, architectural and planning organizations. Governmental agencies such as the U.S. Forest Service, the National Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and state and local governments provide many graduates with opportunities for employment. Those landscape architects who hold Masters degrees may go on to teach and conduct research at colleges and universities.
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