What’s Your Major: Landscape Architecture

When Julianne Reynolds was in high school, she drew elaborate doodles in physics and played with her calculator during art class.


“I knew I needed (a major) that was both artistic and logical,” said Reynolds, junior in FAA. “I had always loved architecture. I fell in love with Frank Lloyd Wright around second grade.”

After coming to the University, Reynolds began taking architecture classes. What really interested her though, was landscape architecture, which marries the concepts of ecology, sustainability and design. It underscores the synchronism between humans and the natural world.

“We apply theoretical and technical thought processes to the built environment,” said Carol Emmerling, assistant head of the department of landscape architecture. “(As a landscape architect) you are also creating something that is either beautiful or engaging and what people would call sustainable — a minimal impact on air, water quality, erosion, things like that.”

The University’s landscape architecture department, founded in 1907, is one of the oldest in the country.

The major offers bachelor’s, master’s and Ph.D. programs. There are also two minors: landscape studies for undergraduates and heritage studies for graduate students.

“Lectures, seminars and studios span a wide range of topics, including digital drawing, technology, engineering, ecology, cultural heritage, health, history and design,” said Stephen Sears, assistant professor of landscape architecture.

There are about 80 undergraduate students, about 40 master’s students and eight Ph.D. students in the landscape architecture department.

“The primary focus in coursework is on the design studio,” Emmerling said. “Our students design everything from a small courtyard garden ... all the way up to thinking about environmental planning for an entire watershed.”

Landscape architecture is one of the University’s smaller majors, so LA majors have their own little niche in such a large body of students.

“The (department) is really small, which is really nice because everyone knows you. For something that’s so design-centered, it’s nice to have a chance for feedback at least three times a week in your studio,” Reynolds said. “So all your professors know you — they know your style.”

After graduating with a BLA or an MLA, landscape architecture specialists can choose to apply to the Landscape Architecture Licensure Examination. This is an extensive assessment of several components of the field. Licensed LA students have a much wider scope of job opportunities than nonlicensed individuals.

“The landscape architecture program at U of I is a four-year, accredited program. Usually, (different schools’ LA programs) are five-year accredited,” Emmerling said. “So it means that after you graduate ... you can become certified, versus if it’s not accredited, you have to have your master’s before becoming certified.”

After graduation, landscape architects can hold a variety of jobs, depending on their specialization and their interests.

“A majority of graduates find jobs in design firms around the world,” Sears said in an email. “But experience in the landscape architecture program also equips students for alternative paths, working for museums, nonprofits, careers in academia or, in one case, a submarine manufacturer.”

The department of landscape architecture’s sponsored Sasaki Day will take place May 1. The event is named after Hideo Sasaki, a 1946 landscape architecture graduate who greatly influenced the environmental planning of the University campus. He aided the design of all four campus quads, the Arboretum and Allerton Park.

On Sasaki Day, graduate landscape architecture students will display their thesis projects in the Temple Hoyne Buell Hall gallery. There will be presentations throughout the day and at night.

Overall, the discipline of landscape architecture encompasses a variety of different concepts and subject areas. However, this field has a strong focus in the environment and humans’ coexistence within it.

“Every time you touch the land, you make an impact on it,” Reynolds said. “So we really try to learn in ways that are ... going to grow and help the community economically and socially.”

Reema can be contacted at abiakar2@dailyillini.com.