Susan Hatchell, FASLA, LEED AP (MLA 1982), has held numerous leadership roles within the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), which has 48 professional chapters and 68 student chapters nationwide. But now she moves to the forefront of the 17,000-member organization as its president. We recently sat down with Hatchell in the offices of her Raleigh design firm, Susan Hatchell Landscape Architecture, PLLC, to learn how she views the landscape of the industry, its looming trends, and what ASLA will do to support its members as challenging economic times continue.
Q: What do you see as ASLA’s main function historically, and will you help take it in a new direction?
A: ASLA’s mission is “to lead, educate and participate in the careful stewardship, wise planning and artful design of our cultural and natural environments.” I think we do a really good job on that, but we need to do more to expand public awareness. ASLA made great strides in licensure and advocacy once we set it as a goal and dedicated sufficient resources toward that goal. I hope to lead the society into being prepared for an expanding and growing economy in 2012 and beyond. We need to embrace new technologies and new communication tools. We need to grow our membership, grow our member involvement, and grow public awareness about what we do.
Q: Given the difficult economy and the number of LA’s who have lost jobs over the past two years, how can ASLA help rebuild the profession to make it attractive to new students?
A: The length and depth of this recession is really harsh, and many landscape architects are out of work, on furloughs, reduced benefits and salary—it has been brutal. The U.S. Department of Labor predicted a 20 percent growth in landscape architecture between 2008 and 2018. Obviously things are not moving upward at that rate right now, but the population continues to grow, so we will get back on track eventually. We had shortages of landscape architects just a few years ago, and we will get back there again if we don’t plan for the future.
How do we do it? We need to expand public awareness about our profession, because it is not as readily understood as architecture or engineering. US News and World Report rated Landscape Architecture as one of the 50 best careers in 2010, so more people are paying attention. The Millennial Generation is very socially aware, environmentally concerned and technically competent, so I think they will find landscape architecture to be a very attractive career choice. The profession is a great marriage of design, community and the environment. We will need more students and more landscape architecture programs in the future. It is a hard sell now, given the economy.
Q: What are the trends that could make landscape architecture grow as a field?
A: Some exciting new opportunities for landscape architects will be the increased need for our services for sustainable sites work through LEED, and the new Sustainable Sites Initiative (SITES) program that is in the pilot stages now but will open doors for landscape architects when it is released in 2013. Also, the push for locally produced food will increase the opportunities for urban agriculture. We have work to do to reclaim abandoned “big box stores” and other retail spaces that flooded the market in the boom economy. As Baby Boomers age, the demand for services and facilities for retirees and seniors will increase. The population continues to grow, so demands on the landscape will, as well. I think there are some exciting opportunities for landscape architects on the horizon.
Q: Will landscape architecture get more attention in the design process moving forward? Often it has been viewed as “value added” instead of “integral.”
A: I am convinced landscape architecture is becoming more and more integral to the design process, as landscape architecture has always been about sustainability, stewardship and balance. Oil companies, coffee companies and hotel chains scramble to call themselves green, but “green” isn’t new to landscape architecture. Here in North Carolina, Senate Bill 668 has required “green” and sustainable design and construction for public work. LEED, Senate Bill 668, SITES—it seems “new” and cutting edge now, but before too long, it will become the industry standard. The green movement has made my practice more integral to the design process.
Transforming Landscape: Before photo, rendering, and after photo of Jones Hall steps at East Carolina University, a project by Hatchell’s Raleigh firm. Hatchell believes the demand for landscape architects will rebound and even grow.