Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Book Review: Becoming a Landscape Architect by Kellean Foster

Earlier this month I read Becoming a Landscape Architect by Kelleann Foster, RLA, ASLA.  The book is essentially a compilation of excerpts from interviews done with landscape architects and students from around the country, and provides information about job opportunities and the skills needed to succeed in the profession.  It provided me more insight into the key skills I should try to develop and emphasize as I work on getting my foot in the door at a firm, and offered motivation and inspiration through personal testimonies.

I enjoyed how Foster points to the diversity of backgrounds in the profession.  Due to my age and my current lack of experience in landscape architecture, I keep a keen eye open for instances in which an architect has overcome a non-traditional background to become successful in landscape architecture.  One such architect profiled in the book is Douglas Hoerr of Hoerr Schaudt Landscape Architects in Chicago, who "wrote a cold-call letter to the most famous gardener he had heard of in England" and gained real-world experience over eight years.  He went on to become a registered landscape architect and now partners a successful and respected firm.

Also inspiring is the fact that almost every architect questioned about the axiomatic qualities a landscape architect should possess gave essentially the same responses; creativity, artistic skill, the ability to empathize with people, personal charisma, a passion for the natural environment, and a love of learning.  For years now I have craved the opportunity to develop these exact qualities within myself, but have felt constrained by the lifestyle I obliged myself to.  My six years in the military, for instance, made me a much more effective leader but did little to promote my artistic talents.  The idea of being able to use and develop these skills as a landscape architect adds fuel to my fire as I pursue this career transition.

Does Foster's book actually lay out step-by-step avenues one should take to become a landscape architect?  No, not really, and I must confess that this is what I had hoped for when deciding to purchase the book.  The book does, however, provide a wealth of raw, first-hand information about what is important in a successful landscape architect, and allows the reader to read between the lines to interpret how he or she might go about developing these skills.  This allowance for interpretation is perhaps more valuable than a cookie cutter recipe for becoming a landscape architect, because (as expounded upon in the book) landscape architecture is anything but a cookie cutter profession.

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