When you walk into a park and appreciate the tender loving care that has been put into its design, it may surprise you that it was not the gardener watering the plants who pieced together the open space spread out before you. The creative role of designing outdoor space falls on professional landscape architects, of which a landscape designer is often the first step in the career ladder.
"Landscape architects and designers design anything that is outside of the building," says Leslie Chen, council member of the Hong Kong Institute of Landscape Architects and an associate professor at the University of Hong Kong's faculty of architecture.
Paul Blazek, managing director for urban design and landscape at Aedas, says: "It's about creating the sort of environment that you create when you build a room, but in this case, you are creating outdoor rooms. It's about creating outdoor spaces and environments."
Typically, the landscape design process begins with a site survey. Landscape designers then prepare designs according to their clients' requirements and present the plans to them. If approval is given and the firm is retained to look after the construction of the project, they will supervise and monitor the progress of construction carried out by contractors.
Work can range from small-scale projects, such as the design of a backyard garden for private residences, to larger projects such as the outdoor space of residential estates, public open resting places and country parks. Chen says landscape designers earn about HK$20,000 a month. After practising professionally for two years, they can sit for a professional practical examination, and will be admitted as full members of the Hong Kong Institute of Landscape Architects if they pass. They will need to practise for one more year before they can apply to be a registered landscape architect with the Landscape Architects Registration Board in Hong Kong.
Landscape architects usually progress through careers by being promoted to senior landscape architects in charge of larger projects. In the private sector, they may then move into managerial roles. The highest ranking practising civil service landscape architect is a chief landscape architect.
Professional programmes on offer at HKU
The University of Hong Kong (HKU) provides professional training for people seeking to become landscape designers. Its faculty of architecture runs two programmes:
There is a master of landscape architecture for graduate students who have already completed undergraduate studies in a related design field.
Alternatively, the faculty last year began offering a bachelor of arts degree in landscape studies for undergraduates.
All-round skills needed
Landscape designers need to appreciate the great outdoors, and have an interest in spatial and visual design. They must be able to visualise plans three-dimensionally, and have the ability to draw proficiently on paper. They need to have an interest in ecology and plants, which they would need to use as their vocabulary for designs.
Landscape designers also tend to do more team-oriented work than regular architects, since they have to work with many others, from regular architects, to hydrologists, horticulturalists, ecologists and a variety of engineers.
They will also need to have a sense of outdoor climates and to be able to use natural climatic elements to the best advantage for their designs.