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  • Writer's pictureEric McQuiston, PLA

A Profession In Search Of Itself

Updated: Dec 20, 2023

A landscape architect searching for relevance
Searching for Relevance

Drawing upon nearly three decades of education and professional practice as a landscape architect, I steadfastly believe in the transformative potential of skilled practitioners to design a world where human and natural environments coalesce in a mutually enriching symbiosis. This is not an exaggeration; the landscape architect holds a distinctive grasp of integrating the natural and built environments, surpassing all other design professions in this understanding.


However, I am genuinely concerned that our esteemed profession is at risk of rendering itself irrelevant precisely when its significance is most critical.


 

Why, you may wonder?


AIA advertisement

Several years ago, the American Institute of Architects (AIA) successfully promoted their profession through a compelling media campaign. It conveyed that a brick, initially just a lump of clay, could, in the hands of an AIA architect, be transformed into a home, a school, a business! This campaign effectively highlighted the architect's ability to shape not just physical structures but also enhance lives, communities, and society. Unfortunately, the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) has failed to undertake a similar, multi-media, initiative in promoting it's members.


All design professions exist to solve problems, ideally in a functional, aesthetically pleasing, and environmentally responsive manner. As designers, this is our primary responsibility.


Regrettably, it seems our profession, especially its leadership, has veered into becoming political advocates, emphasizing virtue signaling and social issues rather than focusing on our core mission. ASLA, in particular, appears to be drifting towards becoming a political advocacy organization, losing sight of its genuine purpose and the profession it represents.


Take, for instance, ASLA's current website. Mission areas include Green Infrastructure, which aligns with our profession, but also delve into politically charged subjects like Racial Equity and Climate Action. It's questionable whether a design profession should immerse itself so deeply in these debates.



Moreover, ASLA's emphasis on Racial Equity, including a direct and emotionally charged reference to George Floyd's tragic death (see the website) which resulted in months of civil unrest, property destruction, economic losses, and loss of life raises the question: Should a professional design organization inject itself so overtly into a polarizing, politically charged subject and clearly take a side? This could risk marginalizing the profession from many who have a different opinon on the event.


 

My advice to ASLA and fellow landscape architects:


  1. Focus on showcasing the positive impact of our profession on the world.

  2. Promote the profession and inform people on the value of landscape architecture.

  3. Foster and advance professional education, experience, and ongoing training.

  4. Humble ourselves, acknowledging that we don't know everything, and learn from others like contractors, suppliers, nurserymen and manufacturers..

  5. Stay in our lane; steer clear of social and political movements; concentrate on solving clients' problems.


Landscape architecture holds a unique position to address the challenges of integrating humanity and the environment. Let's focus on what we do best and rise above divisive social trends to make a lasting impact on the world. Our diverse education equips us to tackle the complexities of creating a better world for all. Let's embrace this opportunity to be leaders in shaping a beautiful new world, rather than succumbing to irrelevance.


I welcome your comments and criticism.


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