“So, what do you do again? Something to do with gardens?” asked my Aunt politely during our last family Christmas get together.
Being on the complete opposite side of the political aisles, I was trying desperately to avoid any conversation with her about anything related to Fox News or the actual citizenship of our current sitting president.
“Yeah, kind of, Auntie. I’m a landscape architect. I do…uh…ummmm…” [pause].
The problem with being a landscape architect is that defining the profession defies the “elevator test”: if you can’t explain an idea to someone in an elevator by the time they get to their floor, the idea is too complex and will not be memorable. Considering I’ve been practicing landscape architecture for over 25 years, and I see my Aunt a couple of times a year, I think we can safely say the elevator test certainly applies to her. So, what can I tell her to keep the conversation going while avoiding any mention of Sean Hannity?
Let’s begin with how the American Society of Landscape Architects defines my profession:
“Landscape architects analyze, plan, design, manage, and nurture the built and natural environments. Landscape architects have a significant impact on communities and quality of life. They design parks, campuses, streetscapes, trails, plazas, and other projects that help define a community.“
Sure, that’s an elevator definition…if we were taking an elevator up to the moon! “Nurture the built and natural environments”? How exactly does one nurture a built environment? I am working on the clock here!
Let’s try Googling the profession and let Wikipedia help define the profession:
“Landscape architecture is the design of outdoor public areas, landmarks, and structures to achieve environmental, social-behavioral, or aesthetic outcomes.”
Sure, but there are landscape architects that design residential landscapes and gardens, not just “public areas” and “landmarks”. Hold on…landmarks? We design landmarks? Huh? I’m not sure we are getting any better! I can imagine my Aunt losing interest with every passing minute and wordy description.
What do I tell my mom, someone who always has had trouble explaining to her friends what I do?
“Mom, you know how architects design buildings? Well, I design everything outside of the building, from the roads, walkways, plants and trees. Um, except when either a civil engineer or an architect does it. Yes mom, I do think you made a good choice to send me to the university. I think my father would not have been disappointed.”
Okay, that isn’t going to do it, either.
What do we do that’s special? What do engineers and architects rely on us to do for them? We do know and understand plants. We also seem to be really good at understanding dynamic, living systems, and utilize that knowledge to create environments with a sense of design and order, complementing the buildings and structures they surround. Our work mimics and ideally enhances a natural environment. But how do you say that all before the elevator stops and the door opens?
“Landscape architects design living systems, Auntie,” I blurt out.
“Oh, that’s nice, dear! Now, did you know that Obamacare authorizes death squads that kill old people?”