What We Can Learn From “The Understory” & #SBLA Campaigns

I find myself regularly explaining “what I do for a living” to people.  The response “I’m a landscape architect” does not suffice.  Such an answer is usually followed up with one of two questions:

“What is that”?  Or (the dreaded),  “So you’re a gardener”?

“So you’re a gardener”?

The general layperson cannot be blamed. I mean, it is up to us as a profession to shout out and announce ourselves.  The current lack of knowledge and low profile of Irish landscape architecture is no one else’s fault but our own.

There are a number of factors that exacerbate this problem;

-Lack of involvement with the public

-Small number of landscape architects in Ireland

-Lack of high profile projects

-Lack of promotion of the profession by landscape architects

Dealing with the first two issues, landscape architecture is fairly cut off from the public as a profession.  For one, this is down to the poor consultation process in the Republic of Ireland.  Another is the low number of practicing landscape architects in this country.  Very few Co. Councils, even City Councils have landscape architects on staff, the few landscape architects that do work with councils, are heavily involved with communities.

Father Collins Park – An Icon of Sustainable Landscape Architecture; But How Many Irish People are Aware of This?

A lack of high profile projects is another factor.  For all the development that took place during the ‘Boom’, very few notable landscapes have been designed and built.  Aside from this, projects don’t gain as much exposure as they could; the same could be said for the profession itself.  People don’t know what a landscape architect is; they don’t know that their surrounding environment may well have been designed by a landscape architect.  A single, dedicated campaign to raise awareness of landscape architecture among the general public in Ireland is absent and desperately needed.

ASLA: The Understory Campaign

The Understory campaign is a 2 year public awareness campaign launched by the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) on 17th August 2011.  On this day, across America (and the globe in several cities), landscape architects took to the streets to engage with the public and raise awareness of the profession.

Spray chalk and a stencil = sidewalk magic

They did this through a number of ways, such as “open houses” of landscape architecture projects, public design workshops or simply handing out brochures to the public explaining the profession of landscape architecture.  Another strategy was when ASLA members went about ‘tagging’ streets, plazas, parks and squares with the words “Designed by a Landscape Architect”, with spray chalk, accompanied by a link to the Understory’s website.  The effort has been co-ordinated through the various regional chapters of ASLA and online social media, with far reaching results.

ASLA held another Understory event on April 26th 2012, which happened to coincide with World Landscape Architecture Month and also fell on Frederick Law Olmstead’s birthday.  So far the campaign has been hailed as a success, engaging landscape architecture with the public to a level not seen since the (official) emergence of the profession over 150 years ago.

Save British Landscape Architecture Campaign (#SBLA)

A campaign run by Landscape People that aims to save the future of British Landscape Architecture.  Landscape People, as a recruiting website for landscape architects, have noticed firsthand the dire conditions and lack of work opportunities for landscape architecture students and graduates.  They are now conducting the Save British Landscape Architecture campaign, aimed at employers to take on students and graduates.  They operate this campaign by approaching landscape architecture firms to place free adverts on http://www.landscapepeople.co.uk offering 2 week (unpaid) work placements for students and graduates.

Work experience in an office environment is crucial to developing a students skills

This benefits the employer and the jobseeker.  The graduate/student gains valuable experience to add to the CV and the employer gains a valuable, trained team member during busy periods with project deadlines approaching.  The 2 week time frame offers the opportunity for employers to take on several students/graduates at different times.  This gives the employer an idea of the available talent and to evaluate a potential new permanent employee.

What Can We Do?

The Understory campaign has brought landscape architecture to the streets and involved the public, educating them about the profession and its importance.  With the setup of regional chapters (South West & South East) of the ILI and with the advent of social media, a similar campaign could be conducted, especially as a fringe event to Bloom in the Phoenix Park.  This event could be co-ordinated through students on the street and with talks by industry professionals, involving the public.

The Save British Landscape Architecture Campaign offers an excellent strategy to securing work experience for students and recent graduates.  The time frame of two weeks allows for great flexibility, ensuring employers only take on students/graduates when they need them.

The solutions to our problems have been done before and worked.  Do we have the enthusiasm and determination to carry them out? 

2 responses to “What We Can Learn From “The Understory” & #SBLA Campaigns

  1. Hi there! This is my first visit to your blog! We are a collection of volunteers and starting a new project in a
    community in the same niche. Your blog provided us valuable information to
    work on. You have done a extraordinary job!

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