Last week I attended the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) National Conference in New Orleans along with several thousand fellow professionals from across the country. The four-day annual event is an exercise in time management and endurance, as scores of education sessions coupled with solicitations from cutting-edge product reps, reunions with classmates and colleagues, as well as a healthy dose of local flavor from the host city, can be overwhelming even under the most well-intended circumstances. However, the positive energy stemming from the gathering is contagious, and I imagine that many are basking in the afterglow of such an inspirational event. Simply put, the conference successfully entertains landscape architects of all ages, from students to those with decades of experience, and spins them in an intoxicating centrifuge of professional positivity, vision, and wisdom.
This year I had the honor to serve as a panelist for a session entitled Mid-Career Mania: A Look Behind the Curtain, along with three other practitioners. We explored topics relevant to professionals entering the midpoint of their careers and examined the associated realities, opportunities, and challenges. As candid participants, we referenced our own professional journeys throughout the session, underlying the notion that there is no one right way to go about things. I hope that our perspectives provided both insight and reassurance to those navigating similar mid-career circumstances.
The conference is inspirational by design, however, there are a few succinct points that I found especially memorable:
• Observation of human behavior is paramount in considering the design of spaces. GIS data is a significant resource, yet old-fashioned careful observation and meticulous notation of detail is absolutely critical for the creation of amazing places. Your sketch book is an invaluable tool.
• Public outreach and involvement is important. Really important. Context is everything, and the only way that you will understand is to ask the real experts– the community.
• Design is about problem solving and interaction. The tools may change, as hand drafting has given way to computer aided design, but the challenges remain, and they are outside of the studio. Get out, explore, and interface!