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What is a landscape architect?

Residential areas. Parks. Playgrounds. Colleges. Shopping centers. Golf courses. Industrial parks.

What do these places have in common? They all look better with good landscaping.

Landscape architects design outdoor areas that are useful, but beautiful. They design landscapes that are in harmony with nature. They decide where to put flowers, shrubs, trees, walkways, and other landscape details. They work with architects, surveyors, and engineers, to find the best place to put roads and buildings. They work with environmental scientists to find the best way to conserve or restore natural resources.

Real estate developers, local governments, and many other kinds of organizations employ landscape architects. Landscape architects must first consider the purpose of a project. They analyze the natural elements of the site. These include the climate, soil, slope of the land, drainage, and vegetation. They observe where sunlight falls at different times. They look at existing buildings, roads, walkways, and utilities.

Then, landscape architects prepare a draft design. They must comply with any local, State, or Federal regulations. Computer-aided design (CAD) is an essential tool for most landscape architects. Many landscape architects use video simulation to help clients see the plans. Landscape architects also use geographic information systems (GIS) technology.

Once the design is complete they produce written reports, sketches, models, photographs, land-use studies, and cost estimates. These are submitted for the client and regulatory agencies to approve. When the plans are approved, landscape architects prepare working drawings. They outline the building methods and draw up a list of needed materials. The general contractor or a landscape contractor usually directs the actual construction.

Some landscape architects work on all kinds of projects. Others specialize in a specific area. For example, they might concentrate on residential areas, street and highway beautification, waterfront improvement, or parks and playgrounds. More and more landscape architects are working on environmental remediation projects. Historic landscape preservation and restoration is another important area.

Landscape architects who work in government do landscape design for government buildings, parks, and other public lands. They also prepare environmental impact statements. Some restore degraded land, such as mines or landfills.

Landscape architects spend most of their time in offices. There they create plans and designs, prepare models and cost estimates, and do research. They also meet with clients. When they're not in the office, they're outdoors at the places where the landscaping will be done.

Landscape architects usually work regular hours. They may work overtime to meet a project deadline. Hours of self-employed landscape architects vary.

How do you get ready to become a landscape architect?

A bachelor's or master's degree in landscape architecture is usually needed. The bachelor's degree in landscape architecture takes 4 or 5 years.

There are about 75 programs in landscape architecture accredited by the Landscape Architecture Accreditation Board of the American Society of Landscape Architects. Students study technical subjects such as surveying, landscape design and construction, landscape ecology, site design, and urban and regional planning. Other courses include history of landscape architecture, plant and soil science, geology, professional practice, and general management. Some courses address environmental issues. Whenever possible, students work on real projects, providing them with valuable hands-on experience.

Most States require landscape architects to be licensed or registered. Licensing is based on the Landscape Architect Registration Examination (L.A.R.E.), which is sponsored by the Council of Landscape Architectural Registration Boards. Some States also require passing a State exam.

In States where licensure is required, new hires may be called "apprentices" or "intern landscape architects" until they become licensed. They must be supervised by a licensed landscape architect.

Persons who wish to work in landscape architecture should love nature. They must enjoy working with their hands. Creative vision and artistic talent are desirable. Good communication skills are essential. They must know how to convey their ideas to others and to speak before groups. Strong writing skills also are valuable. Computer skills, including word processing, desktop publishing, and spreadsheets are a plus.

Many landscape architects are self-employed. Start-up costs, after buying CAD software, are fairly low. Self-discipline and business and marketing skills are important for the self-employed. Still, some may struggle while building a client base.

How much does a landscape architect make?

In 2002, the middle 50 percent of landscape architects earned of between $36,140 and $62,470. The lowest-paid 10 percent earned less than $28,730. The highest-paid 10 percent earned over $79,620.

How many jobs are there?

There were about 23,000 landscape architects in 2002. About 4 out of 10 worked for firms that provide architectural, engineering, and related services. Almost 1 of every 4 landscape architects was self-employed.

Employment of landscape architects is concentrated in urban and suburban areas. Some work in rural areas, especially those employed by the Federal Government to plan and design parks and recreation areas.

What about the future?

Employment of landscape architects is expected to grow faster than the average for all occupations through the year 2012. A growing population means there will be more residential, commercial, and other types of construction. Landscape architects will be needed to do the landscape planning for these projects.

Land costs are rising and the public is demanding more beautiful spaces. Also, there are environmental regulations, land use zoning, and water restrictions that new construction must comply with. This spurs demand for landscape architects.

However, opportunities will vary depending on local economic conditions. During a recession, real estate sales and construction slow down. Landscape architects may face layoffs.

Budget tightening in the Federal Government might restrict hiring in the U.S. Forest Service and the National Park Service. Instead, such agencies may contract out for landscape architecture services. This would provide employment in private landscape architecture firms.

Landscape architects may do more residential design work. Households are spending more on landscaping than in the past. Landscape architects can work on many different types of projects, so they may have an easier time than other design professionals finding employment when traditional construction slows down.

New graduates will face competition for jobs in the largest and best landscape architecture firms, but should face good job opportunities overall as demand increases. Internship experience, which reduces the need for on-the-job training, is preferred by many employers.

Are there other jobs like this?

Where can you find more information?

More information about landscape architects can be found in the Careers Database.

Source: Occupational Outlook Handbook -- U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics

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