Landscape Architecture: It's Not Just For Backyards

By: Adam McGovern, RLA, ASLA
Practice Area Supervisor - Landscape Architecture

When I was a sophomore in high school, I took a drafting class as an elective. To me, drafting felt like building with an erector set. Seeing environments come together into livable space was fascinating and intrinsically rewarding. Those elective classes, which I took through my senior year, exposed me to several built environment disciplines including Architecture, Mechanical and Structural Engineering. Unfortunately, the scope of high school classes is limited. It was not until I began school at LSU that I had even heard of Landscape Architecture.

Growing up, I always enjoyed drawing and leaned to the creative side of my brain. I knew I wanted to land somewhere in the creative space, but before I began my studies at LSU’s College of Art & Design, I could not quite decide what application of my talent was right for me. To that end, I asked for meetings with deans and faculty of all the schools within the college including Architecture, Interior Design, Art and finally, Landscape Architecture. I took the opportunity to experience each discipline by taking introductory classes. What I quickly realized is that Landscape Architecture offered the broadest and most diverse options for career paths by far. One professor gave me some excellent perspective that stuck and guided my career, “Landscape Architects can work totally on their own as residential designers working on postage stamp sized backyards or patios. Landscape Architects can work with the California Department of Transportation alongside a huge team of allied professionals planning and designing the routes of new interstate systems. Landscape Architects can also work anywhere in between those two extremes.” The agility of the discipline resonated with me and I embarked on what was then, a quasi-obscure path.

Like me at the time, I do not think many people understand the breadth of opportunity afforded to Landscape Architects. Throughout college, and thereafter, when people heard what I did for a living. By far, the most frequent follow up question was “What the heck is that?” This always led to further explanation (my elevator speech is getting pretty good), followed by: “Oh! I need you to design my backyard!” – a nod to other LA’s – amirite?

More recently however, the discipline of Landscape Architecture has broadened to much more visible status. There are a few reasons for this:

  1. Changing trends in the way our built environments are developed to embrace the increased social value on sustainability, environmental stewardship and sensitivity to climate change.
  2. More recently, with the impacts of COVID-19, working from home has impacted people’s daily patterns. People are social creatures and there is a profound and measurable increase in the usage of parks, trails and open spaces. 

To the second point, people have created new routines that include using nearby outdoor spaces to cope and destress. What we are seeing as people continue these activities even as restrictions release, points to a longer-term trend in the increased demand for these spaces.

Now when I tell people that I am a Landscape Architect, most people have some broad understanding or at least awareness, which is a welcome progression for my field to continue to attract top creative talent.

The most important thing I know I did for my career is to actively seek out the best program to fit my ability. I may not have known exactly what I wanted to do, but I liked the thought of having as many options available to me as possible. It turns out that I made a good decision. During my 16 years of practice, I have had the ability and opportunity to work on a wide variety of project types ranging from the smallest backyard design to a master planned community stretching more than 11,000 acres. Not only is the understanding growing, but the demand is growing exponentially which we can see at both the state and county level. It is a great time to build livable communities and spaces for people to gather.