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Landscape Architect Job Description, Career as a Landscape Architect, Salary, Employment

Definition and Nature of the Work, Education and Training Requirements, Getting the Job

Education and Training: College

Salary: Median—$53,120 per year

Employment Outlook: Very good

Definition and Nature of the Work

Architects design buildings to provide useful and attractive indoor spaces. The job of landscape architects, on the other hand, is to create useful and attractive outdoor environments. They use natural elements, such as land, trees, and shrubs, to create attractive settings for buildings, highways, and parks.

Landscape architects work on small residential projects as well as large public ones. For example, landscape architects might be asked to design a pond on a private estate. They might also design a public park. Some landscape architects work on industrial projects. They might design an attractive surrounding for a factory. They work on highways and freeways as well. There is a great deal of diversity in their profession.

More than 26 percent of landscape architects are self-employed, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Some work for private architectural firms or businesses that provide landscaping services. Others are employed by local and federal governments. These landscape architects plan landscaping for highways, parks, and public buildings. Some landscape architects work for engineering Landscape architects use natural elements, such as land, trees, and shrubs, to create attractive settings for homes, buildings, highways, and parks. (© Martha Tabor/Working Images Photographs. Reproduced by permission.) firms. Landscape architects often work with other specialists on a project. These specialists might include engineers, nursery managers, and zoning experts. Landscape architects may supervise trainees and drafters.

Landscape architects begin their job by talking with their clients about what is to be done. Then the landscape architects visit the sites. They make maps of the area and chart the positions of existing buildings and trees. They make topographic surveys. These surveys show the height of the land at various points on the site. They check such details as the makeup of the soil and its exposure to the sun and wind. They find out the value of the property and how much traffic crosses the land. They chart the placement of utility lines. With all these things in mind, landscape architects make recommendations on the proper use of land. They submit these recommendations, along with maps, photographs, reports, and sketches of what the areas should look like. Much of this work is accomplished with the use of computer-assisted design (CAD). If their clients decide to change these recommendations, the landscape architects modify the plans.

Once their plans are accepted, landscape architects make detailed drawings of the entire site. These drawings include all existing as well as new features. They show structures, buildings, shrubs, walkways, roads, and the new grading of the area. Next, landscape architects make detailed drawings of specific features of the plans, such as walks, terraces, benches, and curbs. They also indicate where trees and shrubbery are to be planted and make lists of all the plans and materials needed for the project. The working drawings and lists are submitted to contractors for bids. Once a bid is accepted, construction can begin. The landscape architects help order the materials that will be needed and, on larger projects, work closely with the other specialists involved in the project. On small projects, landscape architects may be the only ones involved in the entire project. Often, several landscape architects work together on a project.

Education and Training Requirements

A good landscape architect is knowledgeable in many areas. These areas include design, horticulture, social science, engineering, and business.

A four- or five-year college degree in landscape architecture is usually necessary to enter this field. Relevant college courses include architecture, surveying, plant ecology, landscape construction, structural design, and city planning. High school courses that are good preparation for this career include biology, history, mathematics, and mechanical drawing. Classes that improve a student's ability to communicate both orally and in writing are also useful.

Some landscape architects have gained experience by working as apprentices to experienced landscape architects. It takes six to eight years to become a landscape architect with this method. However, public agencies only hire landscape architects with college degrees. More than half the states require landscape architects to have a license. To take the licensing exam, candidates should have a college degree from an accredited school, plus an internship and/or several years of work supervised by a licensed landscape architect.

Getting the Job

The best way to get into this profession is to graduate from college and then contact landscape firms about employment. College placement offices can help. Newspaper classified ads and job banks on the Internet are other sources of job information. Many jobs are also available in government service, which require a civil service examination. Local, state, and federal civil service commissions will have information about the test and about job openings.

Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook

Trainees starting in architectural firms begin as junior drafters. After two or three years of experience they can advance to such jobs as senior drafters. Senior drafters work on projects from the beginning sketches to the final drawings. Advancement in this field depends both on ability and on how much responsibility the worker is willing to accept.

The employment outlook for landscape architects is very good. There will be stiff competition for jobs with the best companies. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that approximately twenty-five thousand people worked in this field in the United States in 2004. The number of landscape architects is expected to increase faster than the average for all occupations through the year 2014. Builders and land developers use landscape architects more and more to create pleasing surroundings for the structures they build. Environmental and historical protection of natural areas will also increase employment.

Working Conditions

Landscape architects work both indoors and outdoors. They usually work a forty-hour week, although self-employed landscape architects may work longer hours.

There are few disadvantages to working as a landscape architect. However, while gaining experience, beginning landscape architects may spend most of their time doing routine tasks. In addition, drafting work is exacting and can become tedious.

Where to Go for More Information

American Nursery and Landscape Association
1000 Vermont Ave. NW, Ste. 300
Washington, DC 20005-4914
(202) 789-2900

American Society of Landscape Architects
636 Eye St. NW
Washington, DC 20001-3736
(202) 898-2444

Earnings and Benefits

The median income for landscape architects in 2004 was $53,120 per year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Those working for the federal government earned a median salary of $74,508 per year. The benefits in this field vary widely with individual companies. Most firms offer health plans, paid vacations, and holidays. Landscape architects who are self-employed have to provide their own health and life insurance.

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