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Thread: Is it better to be a younger landscape architect

  1. #1

    Is it better to be a younger landscape architect

    Howdy. I work as a planner right now, and want to go back to school for a masters in landscape architecture. I am 25 right now and am looking to be in school by the time I'm 30 (I want to gain a few years more experience in planning first, maybe even move up the ladder in planning first).

    I will be 33 when I finish school with my MLA. Do landscape architecture firms look less favorably at slightly older graduates, or do they really want younger people (a.k.a. should I really be going to school next year or is it still fine to go back in a few years after I have saved enough money?)

    Thanks-

  2. #2
    I would really like to hear what experienced landscape architects/architects (not students) have to say.

    Thanks-

  3. #3
    Cyburbian
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    You're age won't be an issue - go back to school if that's what you want to do. A friend of mine just finished her MLA somewhere north of 50.

    There will be a slight disconnect between your age/experience and your capabilities. You won't have the technical skills of a project manager, but you'll have the wisdom and experience to manage projects.

    If you're willing to come in at the bottom (salary & position-wise) you'll have no problem getting a job, and you'll quickly move up the ladder. Firms should jump at the chance to hire you.

    If you want to come in as a more senior person, you'll have problems - Most firms will have a hard time paying a premium for someone who doesn't have the technical skills.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian boilerplater's avatar
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    I think its better in that there area lot more entry-level jobs available, but of course that is what you'd be going for as you start out. I've noticed that a lot of firms have a couple of older, more experiencec licensed people in management positions and then have a bunch of kids just out of school doing the grunt work. When you are younger, you may find the prospect of working late under tight deadlines to be acceptable, even exciting. As you get older and maybe have hopes of starting a family or having time for other things, it starts to look masochistic...putting oneself through self-denial in order to uphold some abstract values of landscape architecture. At one firm I worked for briefly, a guy of 27 was in the process of leaving because he felt "burnt out". If firms are burning through young people just a few years out of school, what older person would tolerate that? The stress level I've seen with some people in private firms says to me that something is really wrong. I've seen it manifest itself in nervous ticks, angry, explosive behaviour, sleeplessness, stomach ulcers, failures in personal lives. They are under too much pressure to turn a profit in many cases. You have to ask how much your health is worth. But there are also public-sector jobs where the schedules aren't as maddening.
    Adrift in a sea of beige

  5. #5
    Thank you both for your replies. To clarify, I will be in my early thirties when I am done with school (so only about a decade older than the entry level designers). I have no problem putting in the longer hours, and I am still on top of software (CAD, Photoshop, etc.). Hopefully, I can find a firm before I graduate that would take me on as an entry level landscape designer but with 6-7 years of experience as a planner/designer (and make more money in return for doing two jobs for the price of one).

    I guess my concern is how ageist firms are when it comes to hiring fresh talent, and if it is harder for slightly older workers to come on board. I have heard from a few landscape architects in my office that some firms have a bias for BLA's because they have had 5 years of school versus a 3 year MLA.

  6. #6
    Cyburbian vagaplanner's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by landscape-planner View post
    Howdy. I work as a planner right now, and want to go back to school for a masters in landscape architecture. I am 25 right now and am looking to be in school by the time I'm 30 (I want to gain a few years more experience in planning first, maybe even move up the ladder in planning first).

    I will be 33 when I finish school with my MLA. Do landscape architecture firms look less favorably at slightly older graduates, or do they really want younger people (a.k.a. should I really be going to school next year or is it still fine to go back in a few years after I have saved enough money?)

    Thanks-
    Glad to hear at least you are a planner before you become an MLA. I guess I don't see the point of getting the MLA. I don't think MLA's that become planners have the broad background that they need to see the big picture. Planning is so much more than just making things look pretty, plus if you're in the public sector, you won't be doing much design work anyway.
    ...my lifestyle determines my death style!
    - Metallica

  7. #7
    Cyburbian hilldweller's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by boilerplater View post
    I think its better in that there area lot more entry-level jobs available, but of course that is what you'd be going for as you start out. I've noticed that a lot of firms have a couple of older, more experiencec licensed people in management positions and then have a bunch of kids just out of school doing the grunt work. When you are younger, you may find the prospect of working late under tight deadlines to be acceptable, even exciting. As you get older and maybe have hopes of starting a family or having time for other things, it starts to look masochistic...putting oneself through self-denial in order to uphold some abstract values of landscape architecture. At one firm I worked for briefly, a guy of 27 was in the process of leaving because he felt "burnt out". If firms are burning through young people just a few years out of school, what older person would tolerate that? The stress level I've seen with some people in private firms says to me that something is really wrong. I've seen it manifest itself in nervous ticks, angry, explosive behaviour, sleeplessness, stomach ulcers, failures in personal lives. They are under too much pressure to turn a profit in many cases. You have to ask how much your health is worth. But there are also public-sector jobs where the schedules aren't as maddening.
    Are these "grunts" basically just doing landscape plans in AutoCAD? How is this so stressful, provided they're proficient in the computer program and can follow local landscape codes? Or is it that the firms take on way too many projects than they can handle?

  8. #8
    Cyburbian Emeritus Chet's avatar
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    Age isn't an issue. Maturity is. Skill doesn't hurt either

  9. #9
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by landscape-planner View post
    I guess my concern is how ageist firms are when it comes to hiring fresh talent, and if it is harder for slightly older workers to come on board. I have heard from a few landscape architects in my office that some firms have a bias for BLA's because they have had 5 years of school versus a 3 year MLA.
    There *is* a bias against MLA's and for BLA's - it's not ageist, though - it's skill-ist. It's really hard to get the same technical proficiency in a 3-year MLA program that you can get in a 5-year BLA program. Stereotypically, the BLA's doa better job at putting together construction plans, grading & drainage, and planting knowledge. The MLA's have a better handle on the 'big picture' issues.

    From the sounds of it, though, you've got some technical skills to start with, so I think you'll have less problems finding a job. Frankly, there are still a lot of jobs out there, and that does not appear to be changing.

  10. #10
    Quote Originally posted by hilldweller View post
    Are these "grunts" basically just doing landscape plans in AutoCAD? How is this so stressful, provided they're proficient in the computer program and can follow local landscape codes? Or is it that the firms take on way too many projects than they can handle?
    Landscape plans are a very important part of the job. However, there are a lot of other issues including grading/erosion control issues, electrical issues, hardscapes, utility recommendations, park design, streetscapes, subdivision surveying, etc.). A landscape ordinance usually focuses on woody plant material and usually only within certain required areas (parkways, bufferyards, foundation landscaping, parking lot landscaping). Designers have to reference other relevant sections of the clients' municipal codes for curb cuts, parking lot design, on-street parking, photometrics, subdivsion requirements etc. Plus the designer working in the consulting firm needs to find a balance between the demands from the developer and the requirements of the community.

    I think part of the burn out comes from sitting at a computer with a black screen for most of the work week, One of co-workers damaged his eyes due to bad lighting in his office. He's doing better now having moved to a location near a window. Using a two button mouse instead of a four-button/trackball mouse can accellerate carpal-tunnel. I have picked up a little on this doing design work on the planning side, but it's not serious.

    I do agree that sometimes there are too many projects to handle at once.

  11. #11
    Cyburbian boilerplater's avatar
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    How is this so stressful, provided they're proficient in the computer program and can follow local landscape codes? Or is it that the firms take on way too many projects than they can handle?
    If you are doing that day in and day out, just following the simple formulas that codes call for, it can get monotonous. You feel like you are just processing plans. Its not much different than working in a factory, just making the same repetitive motions. Entirely absent is any idea of "place-making" or "genius-of-place" or any of those other terms that were bandied about in landscape architecture classes. A lot of people are drawn to the profession because they want to do something creative and produce interesting, unique places. All too often the culture does not allow it and just calls for churning things out as fast as possible. There really isn't time for thinking things over, developing a variety of design solutions...I think its one of the reasons that so much out there looks so similar.
    Adrift in a sea of beige

  12. #12
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by boilerplater View post
    If you are doing that day in and day out, just following the simple formulas that codes call for, it can get monotonous. You feel like you are just processing plans. Its not much different than working in a factory, just making the same repetitive motions. Entirely absent is any idea of "place-making" or "genius-of-place" or any of those other terms that were bandied about in landscape architecture classes. A lot of people are drawn to the profession because they want to do something creative and produce interesting, unique places. All too often the culture does not allow it and just calls for churning things out as fast as possible. There really isn't time for thinking things over, developing a variety of design solutions...I think its one of the reasons that so much out there looks so similar.
    I agree with that. The landscape architects in my firm have so many timelines and budgets to juggle that it leaves little in the way for creativity. There are kickoff meetings, meetings with developers, meetings with the community, construction documents (50%, 80%, 100% CDs), construction administration, construction observation, etc. Sometimes, the only real design they can do is a budgeted for less than 4 hours, including internal review, before all the measurements have to be entered into CAD to beguin CDs.

    A park's grand opening might be 9-12 months away, but that time can go by pretty quickly. The landscape architects might have 3-4 months to put together 100% CDs. The designers also have to determine availability of plant material (which nursery will have the Malus 'red peacock' or the Multi-stem Bur oak). They also have literally hundreds of vendors to choose from for lighting, benches, playgrounds, pavers, etc., and each product will have a different look/feel, structural load, etc. There is constant communication between the landscape architect, the vendor, and the client. Clients may want to use uniblock pavers, but don't have the budget for them, so alternative pavers have to be found that are more affordable or a site plan needs to be design that show asphalt paving with pavers as accents.

    My firm is not design-build so then bids have to sent out for contractors to actually build the park and install the landscaping/lighting before the grand opening. All of these tasks go by pretty quickly, and juggling 4-5 parks, a streetscape or two, a subdivsion design, marketing material (we don't have a separate marketing department), can easily turn a design job into a factory: cranking out the plans to meet the various deadlines.

  13. #13
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    so why is anyone still a landscape architect then?

  14. #14
    Cyburbian boilerplater's avatar
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    [I agree with that. The landscape architects in my firm have so many timelines and budgets to juggle that it leaves little in the way for creativity./QUOTE]
    Nice to see there is someone out there who can empathize!
    [QUOTEso why is anyone still a landscape architect then? ]
    Well, we can't all be hedge fund managers or options traders! But seriously, sometimes projects come along that make you feel like you're actually improving a real place and not just creating a commodity to be bought, sold and eventually disposed of.
    Adrift in a sea of beige

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