At a Glance
Imagine you are sitting on a bench in a quiet downtown park, relaxing to the sound of a cascading waterfall under the shade of a leafy canopy of trees. You are a landscape architect and this urban oasis is your design. A few years ago, this area was an asphalt parking lot. Now it is a lush expanse of intricate paved pathways intersecting lawns of native grasses and stands of native trees. As the lead landscape architect on this project, you get a thrill each time you visit the completed park and see people strolling down the paths enjoying the fragrant greenery and calming effect of the park's natural space.
As a landscape architect, you coordinated both design and ecological principles when you approached this project. When preparing your proposal for the rehabilitation of the former parking lot site, you focused on elements that would make the park enjoyable for its human visitors in combination with environmental conservation and sustainability. From a design perspective, you looked at the surrounding high-rise environment and analyzed how people moved through the area.
This information dictated how and where the pathways would be laid out. Between the pathways, you wanted wide avenues for planting trees, shrubs, and grass. The choices of which species to plant were based on environmental considerations. For example, you had the soil analyzed for contaminants left over from the parking lot and chose species capable of filtering out some of those contaminants. You looked at the average amount of precipitation and sunlight the area received and chose species that wouldn't require extra watering. You also selected species that would contribute to the improvement of the area's air quality.
Once you had evaluated all the factors affecting the park's design, you prepared a detailed construction plan for the work to be done. For the next eight months, you were on-site daily supervising the building and watching the park come to life.
Duties vary significantly from job to job, but the following list includes typical job duties one might encounter as a landscape architect:
- Prepare proposals for design projects and discuss with clients their project needs and goals, as well as budget and scheduling limitations.
- Gather site information on topography, soil conditions, hydrology, servicing, natural conservation requirements, and historical data.
- Carry out site inventory and analysis, verify information, and determine existing site conditions, for example, sun and shade patterns, microclimate, slope, drainage, and buildings.
- Prepare preliminary concepts and cost estimates of options to address site conditions and client needs and goals.
- Consult on the programming and design of sites with owners, clients, users, stakeholder groups, and the general public.
- Contact regulatory agencies for necessary approvals, for example, municipal site plan control and environmental site and design approvals.
- Prepare construction document packages, including working drawings and specifications for site elements, construction cost estimates, and tender or quotation documents for contractors.
- Review bids from building contractors and manage construction contracts.
- Inspect construction work as it proceeds.
- Prepare reports for various types of studies, including recreation master plans, heritage or design guidelines, and environmental assessment.
- Write competitive proposals for clients outlining the scope of work, qualifications, experience, and quotes for services.
Landscape architects work in a variety of locations, including:
In the office:
- Doing paperwork, administering contracts, and preparing proposals and reports
- Developing plans and construction details, cost estimates, and schedules and coordinating with other disciplines
- Communicating on the phone and in meetings with clients, stakeholders, government departments, colleagues, consultants, and suppliers
- Conducting background research
In the field:
- Travelling to and conducting field inspections of sites for inventory and general conformance with construction documents
- Making presentations to stakeholders, clients, contractors, and the general public
- Responding to requests from clients
Where to Work
There are a number of places landscape architects can find employment. They include:
- Architecture firms
- Federal, provincial/territorial, and municipal government departments
- Colleges and universities
- Private consulting firms
- Construction firms
- Non-governmental organizations, for example, professional associations and environmental organizations
Education and Skills
If you are a high school student considering a career as a landscape architect, you should have strong marks or an interest in:
- Computer Science
In most cases, the minimum education requirement to work as a landscape architect is a university undergraduate degree. If you are a post-secondary student considering a career as a landscape architect, the following programs are most applicable:
- Landscape Architecture
- Environmental Design
- Environmental Planning
- Environmental Engineering
The requirements for certification for landscape architects vary among provinces. Most practitioners belong to their provincial chapter of the Canadian Society of Landscape Architects (CSLA). Ontario and British Columbia have additional licensing requirements in order to practice as a landscape architect.
In high school, I was given an interesting test and the results showed a strong interest in both arts and sciences. Sometime later, while looking through a university course calendar I noticed the course description for landscape architecture. It met all my interests and I enrolled in the program. After graduation, I had several contracts in Ontario until I spotted an advertisement for a position in the Yukon. I was familiar with the North and had the right combination of field and design skills, so I was offered the job. The work I did in Ontario prepared me for the job in the Yukon.
Overall I have been able to accumulate fifteen years of broad and relevant experiences including environment-related summer jobs and contracts undertaken while attending a university part-time. The practical knowledge gained through these positions comes in very handy in the North. The Yukon is far from many resources and suppliers. Most of the common landscape plants and many of the products developed in southern parts of the country will not withstand the often harsh conditions and severe temperatures of this region. I am learning as I go and teaching others about the value of landscape architecture in a northern community. I belong to a number of professional associations.
I have attended conferences and workshops held by many of these associations, in both Canada and the United States. Due to small numbers, Yukon is the only provincial or territorial jurisdiction in Canada without a professional landscape architectural association. This is something I am working hard to remedy. In other parts of Canada, membership in the applicable professional association is mandatory for the practice of landscape architecture. The future will bring a continued increase in the use of computer-aided design, computer-aided presentation and sophisticated information systems.
There will also be a continued increase in the use of fully multidisciplinary project teams with many of them led by a landscape architect or planner having a more holistic skill set, rather than by an architect or engineer. In our particular area for example, if oil and gas pipeline projects proceed, there may be new work in visual and cumulative impact assessment and reclamation. Opportunities for advancement vary widely depending on the size of the organization and whether the work is in the public or private sector. In the private sector, salary is most often tied to productivity, measured in billable hours.
To be productive you need basic field skills, not just book knowledge. If you can’t read a topographical map or understand an air photo you will not be able to do this job. In the North, we often must work with old or incomplete data that has to be integrated with other information to get the job done. Problem-solving is very important for this task. Unfortunately, many of these skills are not taught in university so I advise lots of hands-on experience to make yourself marketable. Typical work hours are 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Monday to Friday. Work is undertaken primarily in our office in Whitehorse, however, trips to small remote towns or villages are required periodically, as are field trips to project sites.
The major skills I use on a day-to-day basis are primarily related to problem solving and design. Public and stakeholder consultation is also a large part of my work, so facilitation, interpersonal skills, and some conflict resolution skills are very important. Fieldwork in the North is unique in that it may take place in very remote areas and involve such activities and skills as navigation by map and compass or GPS, travel by snowmobile or ATV and a willingness to travel by light plane or helicopter if necessary.
In the North, cultural awareness, sensitivity and respect are key when dealing with First Nations peoples. I think my greatest work accomplishment has been helping to further establish and legitimize the profession of landscape architecture in the Yukon. Designers and contractors have recently formed a landscape industry association, a first for the North, to raise awareness of the role of landscape in people’s lives. In addition, through my professional memberships, I am seeking to foster an active exchange of ideas across the North American Arctic, and perhaps even in a circumpolar context.