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 #ChooseLandscape campaign 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.
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.
Go where they are
As landscape architects, we often attend or present at our own industry meetings which are great for sharing knowledge but all too often we are “preaching to the converted” and offer a chance to showcase the industry, however, we need to increase the wider recognition of the profession. Instead, we should strive to present at events to increase our recognition whether it be a cities conference, design event, industry event to let architects, engineers, planners, real estate professionals and others learn about landscape architecture and the role we play and the value we provide.
Often architects, engineers, clients have regular training sessions (informal and formal) where someone from the team or a guest comes and provides some insight and learnings. As landscape architects, we can take advantage of this and offer to present on a topic and some learnings. It is important to understand the value of their time and that these sessions are not your chance to present the company profile or advertorial, but it is better to create a presentation the provides 2-4 key learnings that showcase how as landscape architects you can add value to a project.
Provide good examples or offer a meeting
We often come face to face with the lack of recognition when we go to a party or meeting just listening to the usual comments about landscape architects just adding trees to a design or changing the topic, we should instead talk about the most recent, widely publicised project and explain how a landscape architect was responsible for designing it. Or alternatively, pull out your business card or calendar and offer to have a meeting with them and their colleagues about their next project and how landscape architects could assist and add value to their project.
We often struggle with showing the public and clients the value of landscape, whether it is in dollars or in improved living and health benefits. Landscape architects are often too close to our own profession and forget to remind people of the benefits of trees, the benefits of water and green spaces as we feel that it is common knowledge, however in a world that is consistently bombarded with information, many people forget the simple facts and value that nature provides on a daily basis.
Advocate for professional recognition
Not all countries have professional landscape architecture organisations such as ASLA, Landscape Institute, SILA or legislation recognising the profession. Landscape architects and universities in these countries need to advocate for government to recognise the profession and have the ability to set up professional organisations freely.
Stop asking permission
The media world has changed immensely in the last ten years, landscape architects have access to the internet and can publish their message through websites, blogs, videos, social media. The gatekeepers of the printing press are no longer restricting you from publishing your message. You are freely able to get the message out to the world whether in short tweets or posts on Instagram. You have the power to publish and the ability to spread your message and story about your work and landscape architecture.
Start with social media
To get your message out you can learn about social media through publishing and see what works. There are many landscape architects on social media who are currently promoting landscape architecture, however, there could be many more. Platforms such as Instagram and Facebook are visual and highly suited to the publication of landscape architecture. The images do not have to be professional looking photos of finished projects, they can be a day to day life of a landscape architect or process of design, there are no set rules for social media, you can choose the message and stories you wish to tell. You may think you haven’t got the time but all it takes is the spare 2-3 minutes per day or week to consistently publish an image with an explanation or story. Joining platforms is as easy, just set up an account and starting to publish about landscape architecture (using tags such as #landarch) whether its daily or weekly, the key is to start and be consistent. Also, remember social media is social so respond to questions or statements.
Join a campaign
Joining social media campaigns to increase awareness whether it is World Landscape Architecture Month #WLAM or #ChooseLandscape or getting behind your local landscape architecture organisation, city or non-profit campaign to improve the liveability of your city or country.
Call it out
If you see an article like the New York Times article about Chicago Times be like Gina Ford and call it out on twitter or through email/phone call. Or if you don’t like publically calling out newspapers, organisations or companies then just add a retweet or repost with note or hashtag like #designedbyalandscapearchitect or #thisislandscapearchitecture.
The best way to get responses to your press releases, tweets, instagram posts is to celebrate everyone on a project. When publishing a project on your website or an industry blog request that they list the landscape architect and associated consultants and builders such as the engineers, lighting designers, etc. This not only honours their work but also shows that as a profession we collaborate with many people. It is also highly important to coordinated your press releases and social media to generate more buzz around your work.
In Summary landscape architects should do the following to increase recognition:
- Simplify your language
- Discuss the way Value
- Tell Stories
- Educate through example
- Present to other professions
- Advocate for professional recognition
- Publish when and wherever you can
- Use the power of social media
- Call out those who don’t acknowledge the roll of landscape architects
- Celebrate everyone on your project team (client, consultants, etc)
Article Written by Damian Holmes is the Founder and Editor of WLA.
He is also a registered Landscape Architect and has extensive experience as a landscape architect in Australia, Canada, and China.