What would be the ideal final year design studio at university?

Over a the of years, I have seen and heard about final year design studios (design subjects) and have been inspired by the design thinking and ideas presented by students. I also remember back to when I completed my final year design studio at university and then what I experienced as a landscape architect in design firms. I feel that there is a way to improve university design studios to better integrate how practices design into a university landscape architecture program design studio.

I fully support the need for students to learn how to design and the various the theory of various design theories, constructs, paradigms and going through the challenging process of design, however, there is also a place for experiencing collaborative design with other disciplines as may occur in the landscape architecture profession. Therefore, the following is the framework for an ideal design studio from the perspective of a practitioner.

A final year design studio (one or two-semester design studio) would be a culmination of everything learnt during the course (landscape design, history, culture, construction technology)  and the application of that learning into one studio which involves students from other programs (Property, Finance, Ecology, Architecture, Engineering, Interiors, etc) that would allow those students to also test, trail and experience their learning in a fully integrate multi-discipline design studio. I am sure that there are some courses in the world that undertake similar inter-discipline design studios (architecture, urban design, construction, etc) however, I feel that these are the exception not the standard approach for landscape architecture programs.

The framework for the final design studio would be to try and replicate a design project as it occurs for each profession (including the trials and tribulations). The studio would involve several different teams who would have 2-3 members from each program and they would be mentored by professionals from each discipline who would attend at regular intervals to act as advisors.

Once a site is selected and a brief and budget are formulated to allow students to explore design, but it also constrains them to a budget, physical site, local regulations and expected outcomes. This may be limiting their imagination and skills, however, having constraints (including financial ones) can often drive innovation and ideas. The course leader, tutors and industry professionals would act as the client with predetermined scenarios to provide input as the client and stakeholders. The different design teams would include a landscape architect, architect, engineers and other program disciplines and would work as one team but similar to many projects they would still work within their own university departments. The mulit-discipline teams would undertake the design studio including site analysis, interviewing stakeholders, and would work in workshops at the concept, design development and final design phases.

This idea to replicate a “real world” project may be looked down upon by many as it is not a pure design studio or testing the student’s design capabilities in line with design schools ideals, but it will allow them to experience designing a project in a collaborative environment with other allied disciplines where it requires the learning of interpersonal skills and empathy for others professionals to create a successful fully resolved design. This type of design studio will also allow students to learn how to obtain advice from other disciplines and learn about their limitations as design professionals.

I hope that this outline generates some discussion in design schools, practices and the broader design community. Feel free to contact me via email me damian@worldlandscapearchitect.com to discuss the ideal final year design studio.

 

How can we better promote landscape architecture?

In a recent WLA reader survey, the most common answer to the question What is your biggest problem you face working as a landscape architect? was a lack a recognition of landscape architecture by the allied professionals and clients. What is the solution to our lack of recognition? How do we let people know what landscape architects do and the value that we bring?

Landscape architects are often conflicted as they seek to create better places often thinking of the profession as a vocation and therefore wish to be humble achievers in the background rather than our colleagues in other professions who seek the limelight, we often don’t promote our role and also not acknowledged by architects or clients as was recently highlighted by a New York Times feature piece about the Chicago Riverwalk  which didn’t mention the role of the Sasaki – the landscape architect for the project. We need to as a profession need to lose the notion that we are in a vocation and that landscape architecture is a profession like so many others that in an ever-increasing world of noise needs to grow a stronger voice to promote our work beyond that of our own profession. (if you don’t have the 5 minutes to read this article skip to the In Summary at the end)

Simplify our Language
The first step is to change and improve our use of language, landscape architects are known to not write and also when we do we use a blanket of jargon to create a sense of knowledge and academia around our work which in turn often alienates those who wish to learn more. Listen or read any recent presentation and you will find that there are peppering of jargon including public realm, tactical urbanism, spatial awareness and many others phrases that create a barrier between the profession and those who we seek to engage and acknowledgement.

A great example of using simple everyday language is the Landscape Institute’s #ChooseLandscapecampaign which discusses places, outdoors, spaces, environment, nature allowing those viewing and reading the message to quickly and easily understand what landscape architects do and the range of careers that landscape architects can choose.

Storytelling
As landscape architects, we need to improve the way we explain our designs, often we are too engrossed in analysis and explaining our response to the site that we forget to create a story about the design and what we have created a space for people and other inhabitants. This could be that we were not educated in our university courses to create stories and narratives but more to justify our designs. We need to become better storytellers through written and visual media, whether it be a display board, presentation or video.

Read the full article 

Should landscape architects have minimum fees?

This blog post caused some interesting discussion but less about the topic and more about the act of discussing minimum fees. Depending on the which country you are located and the legal frameworks and legislation around fees it is advised that you seek legal advice prior to undertaking any discussion public or private. My preferred alternative is for the profession to concentrate on promoting landscape architecture and the value you bring clients, the public.

Excerpt from the blog post

Providing a minimum fee scale may provide some comfort that we are “all playing on a level playing field” but it may only work for short period of time as eventually some landscape architects will charge less than the minimum due to a lack of work or working for smaller profit margins due to smaller firm size or outsourcing work. This would lead to landscape architecture or government organisations having to enforce the minimum fee regulations which in turn would create administration and costs that many organisations are not willing to bear. The alternative is for organisations and firms to work towards promoting the profession and the value it brings rather than policing the infighting over minimum fees. We all need to get more involved in providing more education and promotion to the public and clients about the value of landscape architecture and in turn, this will enable us to charge fees that are commiserable with the services we provide.

DISCLAIMER: This post is for educational purposes only. The content is intended only to provide a summary and general overview on matters of interest. It’s not intended to be comprehensive, nor to constitute advice. You should always obtain legal or other professional advice, appropriate to your own circumstances, before acting or relying on any of that content. This advice is general in nature.

Read the full article at my landscape architecture blog – World Landscape Architecture

Landscape architects leading projects

Over the past decade, we have seen landscape architects moving out of shadows and increasingly leading projects from residential developments, placemaking, urban design and climate change initiatives including Resilient by Design projects or reimagining a city precinct or leading a conservation and tourism plan. The profession of landscape architecture has increased in profile and also influence in designing cities and places.

The shift from being hired last to being hired first is great for the profession, however, we need to harness the energy of this shift to improve the profession and also increase our influence on shaping the built environment. There are numerous changes and movements occurring including smart cities, increasing urban density, water shortages, social inequality, climate change that we need to voice our opinions to ensure that the cities are changing for the better.

Read the full article over at my landscape architecture blog – World Landscape Architecture

Creating a BIM Project Plan or a BIM Execution Plan

BIM (Building Information Modelling) gives designers the ability to share data-rich designs in a 2D or 3D format with clients, consultants, contractors, facilities managers and more. The recent trend of government mandating BIM to be used on projects, this has occurred in the UK, Germany, France, Spain, UAE, Singapore and possibly Australia to improve efficiency, productivity and reduce waste. This trend of mandating BIM usage combined with market forces pushing for BIM, it seems that landscape architects will be increasingly be required to use BIM to deliver projects.

When starting a project we often create project plans, task plans, and responsibilities and often we will also determine the workflow in terms of software and how design outcomes will be represented. A BIM project is no different requiring a BIM Project Plan (also known as BIM Management Plan or BIM Execution Plan) that sets out various parameters including project team, deadlines, etc but there are also other management and technical parameters that need to be defined…..

Read the full post at World Landscape Architecture

 

Why do I write simply?

Over the 10 years of the WLA blog and this blog, I have written many op-eds and posts that people have commented and appreciated. One comment I often receive is that my writing could be at a higher level or more complex. However, I have consciously made the effort to write more simply.

I believe that most professions do themselves a disservice by writing long complex articles laden with jargon and even more so by academics. The general public and allied professionals often have little understanding of what it professions do and by using jargon you increase the gap for them to learn about your profession.

Many people who read WLA and this blog are not native English speakers or readers and often use translators to gain a full understanding of content. By writing in a complex or verbose manner you increase the chance that the translation is either a total misinterpreted or a mix of their language with a mix of English words. I know this from spending time living in China and also being married to a Chinese national who uses translators on a daily basis.

These are the main two reasons that I write more simply, I hope to make the general public have a greater understanding of landscape architecture and that those who aren’t native English readers can have a full understanding of my posts.

What are the stages of a Landscape Architecture project?

Landscape architecture design projects differ in scale and complexity, however they are separated into various stages to allow for ease of management. Due to the variation in project types the staging of landscape architecture projects requires a flexible approach to project management. The project stages often follow a similar pattern however, they may be shortened or not undertaken due to various factors including scale, complexity, client requirements, budget and so on.

I hope to assist those interested in landscape architecture by providing general information about the stages of design projects. The stage names and terminology may differ from country to country and region to region but there is a common process of managing a project through stages.

Before, the landscape architect gets to the exciting part of designing the project there are few stages that often occur prior to putting pen to paper. The client has contacted you and agree to provide a fee or proposal for landscape architecture services.

Read the more of my post at World Landscape Architecture

Free yourself by hiring a manager

For landscape architecture business owners there is often a point when the that they realise that they are stretched too thin and not serving your clients as well as you could or you’re just not enjoying running the business and miss spending time on design or with the team or client. This is due to the fact that running a business requires a lot of overtime in administration of the business whether it is finances, insurances, hiring, labour laws, marketing.

Hiring a manager is the best thing you can do for your business whether it is full time or part time and a general manager or someone to do accounts and HR. It allows you as the owner to concentrate on working with clients and being creative which is why you most likely setup your business.

There are a few different types of manager or assistance you can hire.

  • General Manager (Office/Studio/Business Manager) helps run the business and takes care of the operation side of the business.
  • Bookkeeper/Accounts helps run the accounts, payroll and some HR functions.
  • Business Development/Marketing Manager – depending on the job description they assist in driving new business for you. It maybe getting a new type of customer or a new area but they will bring in the work. You will still have to do the operations side.

Who you hire as your manager is up to you, some will hire someone from inside the industry and others will hire a manager with no ties to the industry.
However, I have one piece of advice if you hire from a manager from the landscape industry, let them manage and don’t make them design or run projects.

Running a business is hard work requiring management skills to keep track of invoicing, payables, insurances, etc and hiring someone to do that and run projects creates a business that slowly grows or when a downturn comes is not ready because the manager was too busy on projects. I have seen some job ads for Landscape Architecture Business Managers that have a job description that is a wish list of business skills and design skills, the person who gets hired for this position end up being pulled in too many directions.

The best thing you can do for your business is to hire a manager to take over the tasks that you don’t enjoy or those that you have the weakest skills leaving you to enjoy creating and designing.

Too many landscape architects can’t see the value of non-billable staff, but often managers are the ones who free you to create and enjoy designing, which is worth far more than the salary you pay your manager.