ASLA Buzz: 7 Industry Trends from the Annual Meeting

Our team recently attended the annual meeting of the American Society of Landscape Architects, which was held at the Los Angeles Convention Center. We look forward to this event each year, not only to see colleagues from around the world but also to get ideas and inspiration — as well as share some of our own.

We interviewed the id created, Inc. team as well as some of our favorite landscape architects who attended and here are seven of the biggest trends talked about at ASLA. Some came as a surprise while others seemed right on point with us at id created. Let’s dig in with some of our favorites.

#1: Modular Design

Landscape architects are incorporating modular products into outdoor spaces more than ever. Not only can LAs focus on beautiful and useful design in this way, but also scalability via modularity. This gives way to a tremendous vision for spaces of all shapes and sizes.

To meet this growing demand, manufacturers like Metalco are embracing the idea on multiple levels. Rather than designers being limited to design-build modularity, we are now seeing standard modular pieces that create custom outcomes in both playgrounds and outdoor furnishings.

The benefit is that you get a much higher quality and design at a much lower cost compared to a completely customized piece. It’s easy to plug and play and there’s no surprise about what you’re going to get on installation day.

#2: Community Enhancement

Despite people being practically locked to their smartphones all day (and perhaps because of this), ASLA participants noted the increased emphasis on providing a true community experience in their designs.

Rather than solely focusing on aesthetics, public spaces, in particular, should create an atmosphere that leads to better social interactions. Landscape architects have the opportunity to provide places for people to gather, with family, friends and with their community.

#3: Historic Preservation

We all know that sustainability is a given in any type of design these days. It’s not an added bonus your client hopes for — it’s an expectation.

And it’s now gone one step further with the prevalence of reusing materials not just to decrease the environmental impact, but also to tell a story. One of our favorite examples comes from Brooklyn Bridge Park. Before the park was created, three warehouses stood on the site. They were built in the 1840s and used to store perishable items on the Brooklyn waterfront.

Rather than doing a total demo job, the city decided to salvage more than one million board feet of yellow pine to use within the new park. Reclaimed wood specialists oversaw the design of countless benches, picnic tables, chairs, and boardwalks.

Was it cheaper than building those pieces out of new materials? Absolutely not. But it helps to encapsulate a piece of the city’s identity so that visitors can feel connected to their past. So landscape architects must now also become storytellers and help create a sense of identity within the communities we work.

#4: Interdisciplinary Design

Landscape architecture is no longer a linear process, but instead a circular one that is more collaborative in nature. Industry professionals are better involving other stakeholders such as contractors, building owners, civil and structural engineers, lighting designers, interior designers, and building architects.

In this arrangement, everyone works together to review and be mindful of the holistic process.

Having an interdisciplinary approach to any design allows you to integrate new perspectives and really help change the culture of the industry.

#5: Emerging Professionals

We noticed a lot of students and young professionals attending this year’s ASLA meeting. That comes as no surprise as there continues to be a steady demand for landscape architect services. In fact, the BLS predicts a 6% growth in job outlook between 2016 and 2026.

Plus, the landscape architecture field directly intersects with the values of the Millennial generation. They generally prefer walkable urban centers and strive to create meaningful connections within their local communities. So it seems only natural that so many would flock to a career in the industry.

#6: Lifecycle Management

Another theme at ASLA this year was lifecycle management. This process not only allows you to maximize client satisfaction on existing projects but also helps to inform and influence the design of future projects.

Community input is a great way to gain support, especially if you’re working in a high visibility public space. It’s also essential to perform the right data collection and discuss programming of spaces as part of the design process. Additionally, a post-mortem evaluation can add value by measuring the level of success from each stakeholder’s perspective. Moving forward, you can use those takeaways to improve the next project.

#7: Business Growth

Because landscape architecture is such a creative field, it can be easy to ignore the business basics required to operate a successful firm. But that’s changing, as evident by a jam-packed business session at ASLA. The cat’s out of the bag: landscape architects are paying increasing attention to the structure of their business models.

And it’s not just about getting more clients. It’s about defining your business values and determining what risks you’re willing to take to support that vision and grow your career. It’s not easy, but it’s something all of us should do to truly challenge ourselves to be innovative and forward-thinking in this ever-changing field.

Did you attend ASLA’s annual meeting this year? We’d love to hear your thoughts on your favorite topics and trends.