Posts tagged wlam2016

OrangeBloss_wbI once read an article where someone had said that landscape architecture could be the greatest of the art forms because it is capable of engaging all five of the human senses. I would add that landscape architecture can also evoke another powerful human sense – that of memory. I often hear stories from people about how the scent of a particular flower, the visual-tactile space created by a certain tree canopy, or the taste of a certain vegetable from the garden can powerfully transport them to another place or time.

During my first studio class in the MLA program at UW (University of Washington, Seattle), the first assignment I was given was to describe a personally meaningful landscape. Most students described a favorite backyard – a beloved parents’ or grandparents’ yard where they felt safe, where memories of made-up games with siblings or cousins and celebratory picnics with family happened. My description was of the deafening, terrifying edge of Niagara Falls in upstate New York.

I was born in the City of Niagara Falls and my family frequently traveled to the city when I was a young child to visit family and friends. We always visited the city’s namesake natural feature. The pathways and security railing allowed people to get close enough to the thunderous roar of the waterfall so that you could feel the ground vibrate as the enormous amount of water rushed over the falls, falling down almost 200 feet. I readily recall that powerful landscape experience. This memory connects me not only to that specific place, but also to other memories of extended  – and now dwindling –  family and history experiences of the area.


As a landscape architect I strive to make meaningful places for entry, connection, rest, enjoyment, and recreation. My goal is to create places that are useful and beautiful, places that evoke memories too…hopefully sans the terror of a powerful waterfall.


Creative Commons photo via Wikipedia.

1. If someone asks you for a plant recommendation, you’ll offer the plant’s Latin name rather than its common name: “What you want is an Echinocactus Grusonii, also known as golden barrel cactus.”

2. When you and your colleagues walk along the street or plaza during lunch time, the conversation will inevitably steer toward discussion about the paving materials and score lines under your feet.

3. Whichever city you travel to, you’ll search for the best landscape projects first. If you’re in NYC, you’re off to Central Park. In Chicago? You’ll head toward Millennium Park. In Seattle, it is Gas Works Park. But anywhere in Copenhagen is worth investigating!

4. Wherever you are, you’re scanning the landscape elements everywhere and taking mental notes of details most people skip over:
“Have you checked out that famous bar there?”
“Oh, I did! It is fantastic! They did a really nice job on that courtyard design, great furnishings, and plant choices!”
“Wait, what? There’s a courtyard?”

5. You are known for taking seemingly random photos, but only your colleagues know you’re snapping reference images for a current or future projects, or perhaps for a rendered model.

6. You’re impressed when someone mentions the name, “Olmsted”.

Photo via brianmaldad

Photo via brianmaldad

7. You have a collection of endless shades of green markers. And, yes, THEY ARE REALLY DIFFERENT COLORS!

8. The word “grading” has a completely different meaning to you than most people. And it does not involve a report card.

9. You’re apt to exclaim, “The plants are happy!” after every rain.

10. To a landscape architect, this is what transparent looks like:


Crafton Hills Community College. Photo: AHBE Landscape Architects

Crafton Hills Community College. Photo: AHBE Landscape Architects

I just took the Section 4, inspiring what could be considered a fairly dry – but essential – topic related to the profession of landscape architecture and Landscape Architecture Month. Part of becoming a landscape architect is this licensure process, an exam is administered by the Council of Landscape Architectural Registration Boards (CLARB) in the United States.

In California, the LARE exam is actually administered by the Landscape Architects Technical Committee, which operates under the state government’s Department of Consumer Affairs. The California Department of Consumer Affairs consists of numerous professional boards and committees.

The initial process can be a bit confusing, as one has to first complete an eligibility application with the LATC. The state then must deem an individual eligible to take the exam at a cost of $35 for the application. The candidate also has to open a council record with CLARB, and needs to renew it every year while taking the exams. The fee for the council record is $150, renewable every year.

The Landscape Architect Registration Examination (L.A.R.E.) which assesses the ability of prospective licensees to protect the public’s health, safety and welfare.

The Landscape Architect Registration Examination (L.A.R.E.) which assesses the ability of prospective licensees to protect the public’s health, safety and welfare.

After the LATC approves the eligibility application, the candidate can register for any one or all of the exams once the registration period opens. The registration period opens several months before the examination time frame which occurs three times a year in April, August, and December. There are 4 national exams and a supplemental exam in California. Section 1 (Project and Construction Management) and Section 2 (Inventory and Analysis) cost $350 each. Section 3 (Design) and Section 4 (Grading, Drainage and Construction Documentation) cost $540 each.

After passing all four exams, one must take the California Supplemental exam which costs a total of $310, which includes the application and exam fees. In total, one spends a minimum of $2,275 to become a licensed landscape architect, requiring a hefty annual fee to maintain licensure. Is it worth it? Absolutely. I believe that obtaining one’s license really solidifies an individual’s dedication to the profession and one’s competency to protect to health, safety, and the welfare of people and the environment.

I find that to be successful in passing the exams, one must understand not only the content that you’re being tested on, but also how to study and how to take the exams. For those who are interested, there is a lot of study material and tips from your fellow coworkers, books, and websites that you can reference. Feel free to ask me any time!

Creative Commons photo by Adam Allegro

Creative Commons photo by Adam Allegro

I came to landscape architecture later in my life, yet, in retrospect I can see that the roots of my journey to this profession stretch back far into my life.

As a young girl growing up in Southern California, summer vacation meant two things to me: spending time with my friends at the beach, and exploring nearby expanses of undeveloped land on horseback. Fields of native grass under the shade of oak trees offered plenty of opportunities to canter our ponies and lounge on boulders where we dreamed of the life ahead of us. The invariably startled local wildlife – red-tail hawks, deer, and rattlesnakes – were common and filled our days with the adventure of discovery and the excitement of endless potential, emotions common in youth. I understand now that these early experiences laid the groundwork for my lasting connection to the land as a source of both comfort and personal growth. The outdoors, in essence, as home.

Following a move east for college, I stayed on to pursue a career as a classical musician. While the New York metropolitan area has plenty of wild areas, I seldom made the time to seek them out. As I hit my mid-thirties and started taking a hard look at my musical career, I found myself once again seeking the solitude and space nature provides to ponder new career choices and grieve the passing of a dream. At this time, I was fortunate to have friends introduce me to New Jersey’s Rails-for-Trails system, a nationwide network of trails from former rail lines. Many of these repurposed rail lines once transported produce from rural farms to the states urban centers, such as Newark.

Raritan River at the Ken Lockwood Gorge Wildlife Management Area. Photo by Keith Survell.

Raritan River at the Ken Lockwood Gorge Wildlife Management Area. Creative Commons photo by Keith Survell.

On bikes, these trails quickly took us through the state’s surprisingly diverse natural and built environments: through forests and swamps, across streams and gorges, through thriving towns as well as the skeletons of defunct industrial centers. With each passing mile, I felt this ribbon of land revealed an intimate and far more accurate window of the state’s communities and resources than those commonly seen on a street or from a car. The experience of the land as a window and a link awakened an interest. Curious and intrigued, I enrolled in landscape design classes.

But it was a visit to Paley Park that brought me fully into the realm of landscape architecture. Listed consistently as among the finest urban spaces in the United States, I’m thankful that my initial introduction to this park was as an uninformed visitor.

Creative Commons Images by saitowitz

Creative Commons photo by saitowitz

Located on 53rd Street in Midtown Manhattan and fully visible from the street, within steps into the park I was immediately struck by a pervasive sense of comfort and refuge from the city’s relentless, churning energy. I noticed too that elements, common within and outside the park, were used and achieved dramatically different results: intimate (urban) oasis vs. impersonal urban experience; soothing sensory stimulation (water) vs. sensory overload; material (rough nub of granite) as evoker of earth vs. material (granite) as impersonal walking surface; small space with spacious feel vs. small space with constricted feel. After relinquishing myself to the peace and calm pervading the Park, I left with a sense of wonder at the craft used to develop this small park with such an enormous impact.

That was when I began my studies to become a landscape architect.


“Wow, interesting. So, what exactly do you do as a landscape architect?”

This is the most common question I’m asked when I meet someone outside the architectural field. I’m never really sure how to satisfyingly answer this question (and apparently I’m not alone), since our work is multidisciplinary, and touches upon so many parts of everyone’s daily life (even if they don’t know it). Explaining the entirety of our expertise can be confusing for the layman. Sometimes it is more simple to show, rather than tell: a decorative garden, the tree-lined streets following the sidewalk, a public park, or even a college campus. Since an overhead perspective is rare, most of the time the general public will only notice a small portion of a landscape architect’s vision, but landscape architecture is all around us.

So, back to the question of, “who we are and what do we do?”.

The ASLA‘s definition – as my colleague Gary Lai noted – states our profession of 22,500 professionals in the United States has “a significant impact on communities and quality of life”, and that as a whole, “Landscape architecture services in the U.S. are valued at $2.3 billion per year, according to the National Endowment for the Arts.” 

The latest data, which cover up to 2012, show landscape architecture services accounted for 14 percent of total architectural services. Residential design is the largest market sector. Most of that work consists of single-family homes, but also includes multi-family and retirement communities.

Back when I was in college I never expected I would have such trouble explaining  what I was studying so hard to become, but maybe that is because what I do is not just one thing, but many.