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Landscape architecture major Mikaela Bernhardt working on a site design assignment
Second-year landscape architecture major Mikaela Bernhardt works on her site design assignment during the “Introduction to Spacemaking” class. (Karin Higgins/UC Davis)

Landscape Architecture Majors Learn to See the Forest and the Trees

By Robin DeRieux on January 10, 2018

Landscape architecture is so much more than designing backyards. It’s about planning communities and outdoor spaces that are more walkable, more livable, more meaningful and more sustainable.

Landscape architecture helps shape any designed open space, park or modern neighborhood. Playgrounds, botanical gardens, nature preserves, public memorials, environmental restoration projects, Central Park in New York City, the greenbelt where you cycle to the university — all were designed by landscape architects.

Planning, design and the environment

Some people are good at managing details but can’t see the forest for the trees. At UC Davis, landscape architecture majors learn to see the forest and the trees. If you’re interested in planning, design and the environment, then consider a major that will teach you to design outdoor spaces, grasp the big picture, think in three dimensions and visualize potential.

UC Davis offers the only accredited undergraduate landscape architecture program in the University of California system. When you graduate, you can work in landscape design or any field that values strong skills in design, problem-solving and communication. To become a licensed landscape architect, you’ll need to work at least a couple of years after graduation under the supervision of a licensed landscape architect and then pass the licensing exam.

Admission to the landscape architecture major

To become a landscape architecture major, you first complete lower-division preparatory coursework and General Education requirements. You can do this as a declared “pre-landscape architecture major” or as any other major at UC Davis.

You’ll take a sampling of classes in a range of technical subjects that include biology and environmental horticulture. And no, you don’t have to be able to identify every single plant species in the lower 48. All students in the major complete the same lower-division landscape architecture core classes.

In February of your second year — or February of your first year as a transfer student — you submit a portfolio application to be admitted to the major. The program has space to accept 36 students, and applicants are notified before third quarter begins.

The landscape architecture major includes 15 units of hands-on studio coursework, and  you’ll have plenty of faculty and staff support. You’ll also be in the company of your classmates, who march through the two-year curriculum with you as a group. There is a senior project, an intensive two-quarter rite of passage that students really value, maybe more after they’ve graduated. By the time you earn your degree, you will have learned how to create beautiful designs that are buildable and within budget.

Here’s a look at where some of our landscape architecture graduates are now:

Portrait of landscape architecture major Yang Zu
Yang Xu

Yang Xu ’14, landscape designer, Quadriga Landscape Architecture and Planning in Sacramento and Santa Rosa

Our projects include schools, commercial rehabilitation, urban plazas, urban streetscape, community parks, housing developments, hotels and sometimes residential design. My main duties include site visits, site analysis, preparation of schematic design, preparation of construction documentation, cost estimates, specifications and renderings.

Yanet Martinez ’07, senior landscape designer and facility planning associate, Los Angeles County Museum of Art

My interest in landscape architecture began from wanting to work on urban planning. Studying at UC Davis showed me the importance of approaching a project site in a way that is environmentally friendly and minimizes the ecological impacts. We learned to achieve this while creating spaces that are engaging and multifunctional.

Ron Cheung ’96, senior landscape architect, Department of Public Works, city of San Jose

I have a team of landscape architects and designers under me working on all spectrum of landscape architecture ranging from neighborhood parks, trails, streetscape and development review to landscape support for community centers and fire stations. This position requires constant interaction with the public, community, stakeholders, and in-house design team and consultants.

Portrait of K.C. Farrell, landscape architecture major
K.C. Farrell

K.C. Farrell ’05 (UC Davis), M.A. landscape architecture (UC Berkeley), senior designer, LandDesign (national firm)

Most graduates, myself included, believe that they will be able to enter into a firm and begin designing, but that simply won’t be the case for 99 percent of them. CAD [computer-aided design] drafting, plan revisions, detail drafting — these are the ways that most entry-level landscape designers will be asked to contribute. The experience, which is really like an apprenticeship, will teach new landscape designers about the nuance of design and construction and help them refine their skills.

Vanvisa Musigapala ’15 (UC Davis), M.A. landscape architecture (UC Berkeley), designer, MJS Landscape Architecture in Newport Beach, California

My firm does multifamily housing projects. If you want to integrate something creative as well as technical into one major, landscape architecture could be a great choice. You get to be creative with designing spaces while thinking critically about how those spaces work with human scale and location.

Portrait of Gayatri Narayan, landscape archiitecture major
Gayatri Narayan

Gayatri Narayan ’16, designer, Arterra in San Francisco and Healdsburg, California

I love where I work, and I am pursuing a landscape architect license. Ultimately, I’d like to return to graduate school for a master’s in urban planning or landscape architecture. I’d eventually like to work on public space projects, helping underrepresented people get involved in community design decisions.

Tyler Jones-Powell ’07, M.A. Architecture, California College of the Arts, senior designer/associate, Surfacedesign Inc. in San Francisco

Our projects range from private gardens to big public spaces. I am currently working on an approximately 40-acre public park in Hayward, two residences in Hawaii, the streetscape and roof gardens for a 60-story commercial/civic/residential tower in downtown Detroit, and the campus master plan for California College of the Arts in San Francisco.

To see students in action, check out the UC Davis student chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects online or on the group’s Facebook page.

Robin DeRieux is a senior writer for the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

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