Best Careers 2009: Landscape Architect

By Marty Nemko

Posted: December 11, 2008

. Yes, you might end up creating palatial backyards for rich people, but you might also help design restored wetlands, mountain resorts, urban plazas, and zoos. A landscape architect must have talent for both the aesthetic and the functional, the art and the science—you're creating an ecosystem that must thrive over time. Indeed, sustainability has increasingly become a high priority among many landscape designers and clients. One of the latest innovations includes green roofs, which are plants set in a layer of compost over a moisture-proof barrier.

Since it costs little to open up shop, 20 percent of landscape architects are self-employed. Those who are less entrepreneurial work for firms or for the government. One thorn: Landscape architecture projects are subject to an ever growing thicket of government regulations. To be content in this career, it helps if you're an avid environmentalist and can tolerate the often labyrinthine approvals process. And if the stress builds, you can always seek a moment of peace in one of your landscape projects.

A Day in the Life. You've started a new assignment: designing the landscape for a school district's administration center. You've already met with the developer, project architect, civil engineer, hydrologist, and government regulators. Today, you're considering the site's sun patterns, land slopes, and soil characteristics. You read the results of a questionnaire you gave to the site's future users, trying to figure out what would make their experience most pleasant and efficient. Then, using a computer-design program, you sketch out a first draft of the site's land grading, building placement, walkways, and roadways, along with decorative features such as plantings and a fountain. Next, you head out to the work site for a walk-through, documenting your stroll with a camcorder. You get excited as you set up a meeting to present your draft plan to the client. If only you didn't have to spend two days writing a sheaf of land use and environmental documents for the government.

Smart Specialty

Ecosystem restoration. Governments and nonprofit groups are restoring increasing amounts of land to their primitive states. This trend will very likely accelerate in the new administration and Congress, and with environmentalism ever growing.

China. While the U.S economic slowdown is inhibiting demand for landscape architects, the situation is better in China. Yes, it will require significant additional training in China to acquire knowledge of its priorities, to learn Chinese business practices, and to develop the necessary relationships, but it could be a smart long-term decision.

Learn more about working in China: an interview with famed Chinese landscape architect Jie Hu

Salary Data

Median (with eight years in the field): $62,000

25th to 75th percentile (with eight or more years of experience): $53,100-$77,100

(Data provided by


Typically, you can land a job with just a bachelor's degree and a one-year internship. If you already have an undergraduate degree in a field other than landscape architecture, the way in is a three-year master's program.

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