Landscape architects are the masterminds behind beautiful public spaces such as parks and historic sites. If that sounds like a promising line of work, today’s post is for you. Read on to learn about working conditions, salary, job outlook, and how to become a landscape architect.
What Do Landscape Architects Do?
Landscape architects design outdoor spaces such as parks, college campuses, community gardens, cemeteries, commercial centers, green roofs, historic sites, and the yards of private homes.
Legally, landscape architecture is not the same as landscape design. Landscape architecture is a licensed profession regulated by state governments, whereas landscape design is not. Landscape designers can do many things that landscape architects do, such as taking charge of the installation details for soil, amendments, mulches, edging, gravel, and plants. They usually work on smaller residential projects and are not permitted to do any wall building, earth-moving construction, or electrical work.
Landscape architects handle more advanced work such as solving elevation problems, designing outdoor structures, planning irrigation and drainage systems, and advising on where to place service lines. Their work often includes:
- Meeting with clients to understand the scope and aim of a project
- Working with building architects and advising on entries, driveways, and more
- Designing the layout of proposed land features and structures around existing features
- Planning the locations of walkways, roads, buildings, flower beds, shrubs, and trees
- Preparing site plans, specifications, and cost estimates
- Analyzing environmental reports on climate, land conditions, and more
- Using computer-aided design and drafting software
- Selecting and ordering necessary landscaping materials
- Inspecting each project’s progress to ensure that it adheres to plans
There are about twenty thousand landscape architects in the United States, and ten percent of them are self-employed. Over half of all landscape architects work for architectural and engineering services and over fifteen percent work for waste management and remediation services. About eight percent work for the government, and two percent work for construction companies.
Landscape architects spend most of their working hours indoors. They visit sites to assess them in the beginning and to monitor a project’s progress once it’s underway, but they spend the majority of their time in the office. Their days mostly consist of meeting with clients, managing workers, drafting designs, creating models, and estimating the costs of various projects.
How to Become a Landscape Architect
Most landscape architects have at least a Bachelor’s of Landscape Architecture. This degree is a requirement in some states, but not all. Depending upon the state in which you wish to work, it may be possible to apprentice with a licensed landscape architect for a number of years and learn the trade that way. We’ll cover licensure in more detail below.
If you have a talent for design and love the outdoors, this may be a great field for you. Here are some important qualities for aspiring landscape architects:
- Analytical skills: You’ll need to be able to analyze locations and understand how your designs and the other architects’ building designs will impact the landscape.
- Visualization skills: You must be able to imagine how you could shape and change an outdoor space and how it would look once completed.
- Creativity: You’ll be designing gardens, parks, and other outdoor areas that should be both functional and beautiful.
- Problem-solving skills: You must be able to provide solutions to novel challenges.
- Communication skills: You’ll be working with clients, other architects, and coworkers who will help prepare drawings and models.
- Technical skills: You’ll be doing much of your work with the aid of sophisticated software.
Licensure is required to work as and call yourself a landscape architect in all fifty states in the U.S. It is illegal to provide landscape architectural services or to use the title “landscape architect” unless you are licensed in that state. Becoming a licensed landscape architect allows you to work independently. Without a license, you will need to work under the supervision of a licensed landscape architect.
In order to become a licensed landscape architect, you’ll need to take the Landscape Architect Registration Examination through The Council of Landscape Architectural Registration Boards. This computerized exam is administered three times a year over a two-week period in April, August and December. It contains four sections:
- Project and Construction Management
- Inventory and Analysis
- Grading, Drainage, and Construction Documentation
You must be eligible to take the exam, and qualifications vary by state. Some states require a degree in landscape architecture, but many do not. Let’s look at some examples.
In California, you do not need to have a degree in landscape architecture in order to qualify. The law states that “any person, over the age of 18 years, who has had six years of training and educational experience in the actual practice of landscape architectural work shall be entitled to an examination for a license to practice landscape architecture. A degree from a school of landscape architecture approved by the board shall be deemed equivalent to four years of training and educational experience in the actual practice of landscape architecture.” College education counts towards the six-year requirement, but you can qualify by working at least 1,500 hours per year for a licensed landscape architect for at least six years.
In Hawaii, you must have experience in the field before you can take the exam, and the years of experience required depends upon your level of education. If you hold bachelor’s and master’s degrees in landscape architecture, you will still need two years of experience under the supervision of a licensed landscape architect in order to apply. With just a bachelor’s degree in landscape architecture, three years of experience is required. With any other bachelor’s degree, it’s five years of experience. And you can apply without any degree if you can prove that you have at least twelve years of experience working under the supervision of a licensed landscape architect. There are no bachelor’s degree programs in this field available in the state of Hawaii.
In Florida, you must have a degree in Landscape Architecture before you can acquire a license. In addition to passing the Landscape Architect Registration Examination, you will also need to pass the Florida Plants and Materials examination. Florida also requires a minimum of one year of practical experience in the field.
Find your state here. We recommend clicking through to the official state website or regulatory agency to read the eligibility requirements there.
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There are dozens of schools offering bachelor’s degrees in Landscape Architecture. Let’s look at a few examples.
The Robert Reich School of Landscape Architecture at Louisiana State University offers one of the best bachelor’s degree programs in the country. Undergraduate tuition and fees are $11,958 each year for residents or $28,631 for non-residents. The program is designed to take five years and includes both a landscape architecture internship and a research seminar. Coursework includes:
- Physical Geography
- Views of the American Landscape
- Landscape Representation
- Landscape History
- Landscape Technology I: Land Design
- Theory and Methods of Landscape Planning
- Landscape Technology II: Grading, Drainage, and Roads
- Plant Materials
- Urban Landscape Design
- Landscape Architecture Professional Practice
California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo is one of three options in the state of California. Tuition costs about $11,000 per year for California residents or $31,000 for non-residents. In their third year, students complete an internship, and in their fourth year, they complete a research project. If students stay for a fifth year, there’s an opportunity for full-time work experience. The coursework includes:
- Principles of Design Communication
- Design Fundamentals
- Principles of Digital Communication
- History of Landscape Architecture: Ancient Civilizations through Colonial America
- Introduction to Geographic Information Systems
- History of Modern and Contemporary Landscape Architecture
- California Plants and Plant Communities
- Site Engineering Techniques and Applications
- Implementation Strategies
- Materials and Techniques of Landscape Construction
- The World of Spatial Data and Geographic Information Technology
- Cultural Landscapes: People, Places and Ethical Decisions
- Evaluating Social and Behavioral Factors for Open Space Design
Texas A&M is one of two universities in Texas that offer a bachelor’s degree in Landscape Architecture. Yearly tuition is $12,474 for residents and $39,436 for non-residents. Landscape architecture students must spend one semester away from the main campus to study abroad or complete an internship. Their stated areas of emphasis include:
- Environmental and ecological sciences
- Land art and aesthetic arrangement
- Landform arrangement and programming
- Land surveying and grading
- Advanced 2D and 3D visualization and rendering
- Hydrology and stormwater management
- Land use and spatial analytics
Texas A&M recommends that high school students study the following:
- Speech and leadership courses
- Plant identification
- Rendering and art courses
- AutoCAD or drafting courses
- Site engineering
Here is a list of Landscape Architecture degree programs by state.
How Long Does It Take to Become a Landscape Architect?
This varies from state to state, but it will probably take you at least five years of school and/or practical experience to become a landscape architect. Many states require at least six years of education and/or practical experience working under the supervision of a licensed landscape architect.
Career Outlook for Landscape Architects
The job outlook for landscape architects isn’t great. The employment of landscape architects is projected to show little or no change in the next few years. Technology continues to increase the productivity of existing landscape architects, so there’s no job growth forecasted for this profession. Even so, the Bureau of Labor Statistics expects to see about 1,500 openings per year for landscape architects as current landscape architects retire.
How Much Do Landscape Architects Make?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, landscape architects earned an average of $67,950 in 2021. This was less than standard architects, who made $80,180 that year. The lowest-earning ten percent of landscape architects earned less than $43,260, and the highest-earning ten percent earned more than $115,380.
Government-employed landscape architects generally earn higher salaries than privately employed landscape architects. Here’s a BLS breakdown of average annual wage by industry:
Architectural, engineering, and related services $75,260
Administrative and support and waste management and remediation services $58,610
According to sites like Indeed and Salary, the average salary for a landscape architect is somewhere between $70,000 and $100,000. These same sites put the salary of a landscape designer at closer to $50,000.
Working as a Landscape Architect: An Overview
If you’re passionate about your work, a career as a landscape architect can be both fulfilling and lucrative. It takes about six years to earn your place in this field, so it’s a serious commitment.
Here are some pros and cons to consider:
- Higher than average salary
- Creative, rewarding work
- Considerable investment of time and money to get started
- Earn less on average than other architects
- Relatively low salary for years invested in school and training
- Poor job market may mean that creative, fulfilling projects are hard to come by
If you’re interested in this profession, consider contacting local landscape architects to ask about the possibility of interviewing or shadowing them to learn more about this line of work.