Landscape Counseling and Planning

SIC 0781

Companies in this industry

Industry report:

This classification includes establishments engaged in landscape planning and landscape architectural and counseling services.

The service industry of landscape counseling and planning is primarily composed of private landscape architecture firms and self-employed landscape architects, although the federal government also hires landscape architects for projects similar to those done by private firms. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, roughly 21 percent of the 26,700 landscape architects in 2008 were self-employed, a rate nearly three times that of other industries; about 51 percent were employed by engineering, architectural, and related firms; and 6 percent worked for state and local governments.

Landscape architects working in this industry are responsible for the design and implementation of land use for areas such as parkways, golf courses, parks, shopping malls, and the areas surrounding private homes and businesses. They plan the location of buildings, roads, and walkways; arrange flowers, shrubs, and trees; and design streets to maximize pedestrian access and safety. Landscape architects are hired by a wide variety of groups including real estate developers, municipalities, private citizens, and private businesses.

Often working in conjunction with architects and engineers, landscape architects combine engineering, horticultural, and design skills to create satisfying and efficient environments. They also work to prevent or solve environmental problems due to construction. Once given a particular assignment, a landscape planner conducts detailed analyses of the existing soil composition, vegetation, water drainage, and slope of the land. Next, initial drawings outlining plans for the site are submitted to the client. If the plans are accepted, the landscape architect makes a formal proposal that may include written reports, sketches, models, photographs, land use studies, and cost analyses. Most landscape architecture firms also supervise contractors during the installation of their plan. Commonly, the landscape architecture firm is present at the opening of the site and available for assistance or consultation through the first six months of existence. Landscape design and build services were the second-largest segment of the lawn and garden industry in 2003, accounting for 25.8 percent of industry revenues.

As an art form, landscape architecture can be traced back to the ancient world. The Renaissance enthusiasm for open space, including ornate villas and outdoor piazzas, influenced the chateaux and urban garden movement in seventeenth century France, which produced such masterpieces as Andre le Notre's gardens at Versailles. In eighteenth century England, landscape planners such as Lancelot "Capability" Brown emphasized naturalistic rather than geometric forms, notably in Brown's remodeling of the grounds of Blenheim Palace. Sir Humphrey Repton, however, reintroduced formal motifs in such public spaces as Victoria Park in London in 1845 and Birkenhead Park in Liverpool in 1847. These projects greatly influenced the development of landscape planning in the United States and Canada. In the 1850s, the title "landscape architect" was first used by Frederick Law Olmsted, who worked with Calvert Vaux to design New York's Central Park, one of the first urban renewal projects in the country. An advocate of public space as a means of making cities more livable, Olmsted also designed the grounds of the U.S. Capitol in the 1879s and was instrumental in developing numerous public parks around the country.

In 1899 the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) was formed by Olmsted's followers. By the turn of the twenty-first century, the ASLA had approximately 12,000 members. Though the profession grew slowly during the first half of the twentieth century, with landscape architects earning modest salaries, the profession experienced significant growth during the 1980s and 1990s. By 2009, 67 universities and colleges in the United States offered accredited baccalaureate and post-graduate programs in landscape architecture, and commissions for landscaping outnumbered the professionals available to execute them.

For many years, the design work involved in landscape planning was done by hand at drawing boards, but in the first decade of the twenty-first century, an increasing number of landscape architects used computer aided design (CAD) systems to assist them in creating designs. Advances in global positioning systems and computerized Geographic Information Systems (GIS) benefited landscape architects who worked on large-scale projects such as land planning, recreation, campuses, and greenways. Video simulation, a technological tool that helps clients visualize a proposed site plan, was also increasingly used.

The demand for landscape counseling services has a direct correlation to economic conditions relative to private construction rates, building costs, interest rates, growth of business and industry, and government funding of parks and other outdoor facilities. Although only about a quarter of their work was residential, landscape architects experienced increased opportunities in the residential market due to its robust growth through the early years of the first decade of the 2000s. Despite a weak U.S. economy during those years, record low interest rates fueled growth in real estate. In fact, the 1.085 million homes sold in 2003 set an industry record as interest rates hovered at rates not seen since the 1950s. At the same time, prices for private residential commissions increased from a high of about a quarter of a million dollars to commissions of $500,000 or more. Remodeling was also a strong factor in landscape commissions as more homeowners and businesses became aware that landscaping can provide a 100 to 200 percent return, with property value increases between 14 and 25 percent.

A significant opportunity for landscape architects throughout the first decade of the 2000s included environmental design and public projects. Water quality issues in particular demanded the profession's specialized skills, according to some analysts, as landscape architects became major players across the nation in compliance with waste disposal procedures, water quality protection, and land preservation. In addition, landscape architects were starting to displace engineers as leaders on such projects as planned communities, transportation corridors, and urban planning. Federal initiativesmdash;such as the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Sustainable Development Challenge Grant (SDCG) Program, which provided seed money to encourage local projects that use sustainable development strategies to address serious environmental problems-- also greatly expanded opportunities for landscape architects. In addition, passage of TEA-21, which authorized federal funding for transportation projects, offered significant possibilities for landscape architects through the early years of the first decade of the 2000s. Some landscape architects even started using their skills to improve indoor environments, which further expanded the industry's already broad scope.

One of the ways the move toward more environmentally responsible construction in the early 2010s affected the landscape architectural field was related to the growing use of "green roofs." This type of roof, which the trade organization Green Roofs for Healthy Cities described as "contained green space on top of a human-made structure," involves an intricate layering of an underlying support system, topped by a growing medium (soil) covered with vegetation (grass). These roofs were first used and became popular in Europe, and by the late years of the first decade of the 2000s, designers in the United States were experimenting extensively with the form and the U.S. government was offering grants and subsidies for their installation. Green roofs, according to the ASLA, have several benefits over regular roofs, including reducing the "urban heat island effect," improving air and water quality, and controlling storm water runoff. Although green roofs are initially more expensive to install, they pay for themselves over time, says the ASLA, through reduced heating and cooling costs and the fact that they last two to three times longer than a traditional roof.

In 2006, the ASLA constructed a green roof at its headquarters in Washington, D.C., with the intent to "maximize and serve as a demonstration project for the environmental benefits of green roofs and to showcase what landscape architects contribute to this project type." By 2010, green roofs had been installed on buildings around the country, including Chicago's City Hall, Laney Hall at the University of Arkansas, and many others in both the private and the public sector. The growth in this sector of the construction industry was expected to increase the demand for landscape architectural services into the 2010s.

Industry leaders in the field of landscape architecture in 2010 included Calabasas, California-based ValleyCrest Landscape Companies, formerly known as Environmental Industries, Inc., which acquired TruGreen LandCare in 2001 to broaden its reach in the Northeast and Midwest. Founded in 1949, ValleyCrest, which designed such major projects as the Las Vegas Strip beautification project and the grounds for the Getty Center in Los Angeles, had more than 10,000 employees in 2010 and reported annual sales of more than $1.0 billion. The company was the nation's largest commercial landscaping business and specialized in landscape construction and maintenance, lawn care, and nursery work in addition to landscape consulting and planning. Smaller players in the industry included SWA Group, headquartered in Sausalito, California; Environmental Earthscapes Inc. of Tucson, Arizona; and Green Thumb Lawn and Garden, which was owned by Sunbelt Diversified Enterprises based in Miami, Florida.

Landscape architects must study engineering and graduate from an accredited program in their field. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the two undergraduate professional degrees in the field were a bachelor of landscape architecture (BLA) and a bachelor of science in landscape architecture (BSLA). A master's of landscape architecture (MLA) degree was also available to those who wanted to further their education beyond undergraduate school. After gaining some work experience through an apprenticeship or internship, landscape architects then had to pass the Landscape Architect Registration Examination (LARE) to obtain state licensing. In 2009, 49 states required landscape architects to be licensed. Thirteen states required landscape architects to pass a state examination in addition to the LARE.

Landscape architects earned annual wages of $58,960 in the late years of the first decade of the 2000s. Those employed by architectural, engineering, and related services averaged $59,610 a year. Though the majority of landscape architects remain in private firms, an increasing number are migrating to large-scale design firms that offer landscape planning as one of a range of diversified services. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment in this field was expected to grow 20 percent between 2008 and 2018, reaching 32,000 jobs by 2018, due to increased demand for services, especially those related to sustainably-designed construction projects.

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