Survey Shows Growing Economic Struggles for Landscape Architecture Firms – ASLA

ASLA reported

Washington, DC, February 2, 2009 — The troubled economy continues to drag on landscape architecture, as two-thirds of firms reported below average billable hours last quarter according to the latest Business Quarterly survey by the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA). In addition, less than 13 percent of firms plan to hire in the short term, down from 25 percent in the third quarter last year.

Of the 579 offices responding, 31 percent reported average or above billable hours in the fourth quarter last year and 21 percent reported average or above inquiries – down from 44 and 43 percent, respectively. When comparing the fourth quarter of 2008 to the same quarter in 2007, 66 percent reported lower billings and 75 percent reported reduced inquiries.

“Except for unique local situations, demand for landscape architecture work will continue to slow in the near term,” said Nancy Somerville, Executive Vice President and CEO of ASLA. “Increasingly, we’re seeing firms turn to overseas clients as the pipeline of domestic work slows across public and private sectors.”

The survey also asked about client demand for turf grass and lawns. Nearly one third (32 percent) of firms reported demand for alternatives to traditional lawns. The top reasons clients request alternatives include lowering upkeep time and maintenance (44 percent), saving money on utility or maintenance costs (42 percent), and reducing environmental harm (28 percent).

To address demand for lawn alternatives, nearly 6 in 10 (59 percent) respondents reported using regionally appropriate, non-invasive vegetation instead of grass expanses. Additionally, 38 percent incorporated water harvesting elements, and 36 percent used a variety of hardscapes and permeable surfaces. Ten percent used food/vegetable gardens as an alternative to a lawn.

Compared to the third quarter, your fourth quarter 2008 billable hours were:

Well above average – 3.1%

Slightly above average – 9.9%

Right where they usually are, average – 18.2%

Slightly below average – 33.7%

Well below average – 35.1%

Compared to the third quarter, your fourth quarter 2008 inquiries were:

Well above average – 0.9%

Slightly above average – 6.0%

Right where they usually are, average – 14.6%

Slightly below average – 25.3%

Well below average – 53.3%

Compared to the same quarter a year ago, your fourth quarter 2008 billable hours were:

Higher – 14.5%

About the same – 18.2%

Lower – 66.4%

Don’t know – 0.9%

Compared to the same quarter a year ago, your fourth quarter 2008 inquiries were:

Higher – 7.4%

About the same – 16.1%

Lower – 75.4%

Don’t know – 1.1%

Do you plan on hiring any employees in the first quarter 2009? (multiple answers):

Experienced landscape architect – 4.2%

Entry level landscape architect – 3.2%

Support staff – 4.4%

Intern – 3.2%

Not hiring – 87.2%

Demand for traditional turf grass or lawns in projects recently completed or currently working on:

Demand has dropped in place of alternative design elements – 32.2%

Demand remains unchanged – 66.0%

Demand has increased – 1.8%

Principle reasons clients ask for alternatives for traditional lawns (multiple answers):

Lowering upkeep time and effort – 44.4%

Saves money on utility or maintenance costs – 42.0%

Reducing environmental harm – 28.1%

Preferred an aesthetically pleasing design alternative – 13.9%

Received a government incentive such as a tax break or quicker approval – 5.4%

Other – 13.2%

Alternatives used in place of traditional lawns: (multiple answers):

Planting regionally-appropriate, non-invasive vegetation in place of grass expanses – 58.7%

Incorporating water harvesting elements, such as rain gardens – 37.8%

Increasing use of a variety of hardscapes, including permeable surfaces – 35.5%

Retaining lawn, but replacing high-maintenance grasses with hardier, native varieties – 34.3%

Introducing food/vegetable gardens – 10.3%

Incorporating more structural elements – 8.1%

About the Survey

The ASLA Business Quarterly survey asks quarterly benchmarks on key statistics including billable hours, inquiries, and hiring plans. The Q4 2008 national survey was fielded January 7 through January 21 with 579 firms responding.

About ASLA

Founded in 1899, ASLA is the national professional association for landscape architects, representing more than 18,200 members in 48 professional chapters and 68 student chapters. The Society’s mission is to lead, to educate, and to participate in the careful stewardship, wise planning, and artful design of our cultural and natural environments. Members of the Society use their “ASLA” suffix after their names to denote membership and their commitment to the highest ethical standards of the profession. Learn more about landscape architecture online at