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Water Act Puts Landscape Architects at Front End of Design

Because of California’s water conservation measures and new stormwater rules, landscape architects are being asked to come into the building process earlier to design more sustainable, green infrastructure, increasing the amount of work they have in San Diego.

Richard Risner

Richard Risner, president of the American Society of Landscape Architects San Diego and owner of Grounded Modern Landscape Architecture, said the changes allowed landscape architects to go from just adding shrubbery to making design decisions on a site.

“To be quite honest with you, we’ve always been at the backend of the development or at the very end of the development process, but with the mandates, people are starting to understand what we do as a profession,” Risner said. “It helps put us back into the forefront and the beginning of the project versus just adding plants at the end of the project.”

Patricia Trauth

When Patricia Trauth, principal landscape architect at Rick Engineering Co., first heard about the stormwater changes, she knew, like all the civil engineers, it would dramatically change things.

“I think it creates more of a need for our services and landscape architects are becoming more valuable both to the client and to the public as a whole,” Trauth said. “I don’t think we can really afford to get (the sustainability issue) wrong again, so to speak… Landscape architects are trained to be stewards of the land, and that’s really something that was missing for a while.”

Higher Standards

With the stormwater permit, extension of the Clean Water Act and water quality issues in San Diego, landscape architects must treat water onsite to higher standards through green infrastructure and green techniques, said Glen Schmidt, president of Schmidt Design Group, Inc., a company of landscape architects and site planners. Their landscapes can benefit water quality, he said.

All of this must be considered when a project or site plan is developed and is even more important to developers and businesses who must now make these water considerations.

Designers now must produce developments with low impact on the environment and also be cost-effective, Trauth said.

This added visibility on a project can help developers and engineers determine which products and technologies to use for irrigation and water conservation and which recyclable materials to use onsite. Landscape architects also analyze site conditions, including sun direction, soil conditions, hydrology, view corridors, edge conditions and stormwater capture and runoff. Landscape architects are finally being recognized for these services.

Risner said landscape architects can reduce the cost of the project in the long run and save money by providing onsite expertise and simplistic, environmentally friendly design. He said hiring is also increasing more as government agencies and municipalities hire landscape architects for bigger projects like park planning, capital improvements or the airport.

High-Paying Positions

California has the highest employment in landscape architecture with about 3,340 workers in 2015, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. San Diego was also one of the top-paying metropolitan areas for the occupation, with approximately 290 workers employed at an annual mean wage of $84,400 for 2015. According to the bureau, the number of local landscape architects bettered the national average in 2015.

Glen Schmidt

Schmidt attributes some of the industry growth to economic factors and the organic growth of the city. This contributed to a housing demand San Diego hasn’t kept up with.

“I think the bottom line is people are really understanding the value of design,” Schmidt said. He is also a fellow in the American Society of Landscape Architects San Diego. “San Diego’s been a sleepy city in regards to quality design, but we’re waking up and seeing some very innovative and beautiful architecture, good planning and smart growth occurring in San Diego, which is wonderful to see.”

He said that landscape architects are the generalists brought onsite with a wider, site-sensitive perspective that can prompt better results. Having a good team of consultants and designers early on results in a synergy that makes for great development, he said.

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