LSU's Robert Reich School of Landscape Architecture Impact Felt Through Educational Efforts, Relationship with Alumni

To say that landscape architecture is a growing field would be an understatement. Landscape architecture is the design of outdoor spaces and the improvements thereon to achieve environmental, behavioral or aesthetic outcomes.

The late Robert Reich, left, began the landscape architecture program at LSU in 1944. The university's School of Landscape Architecture, which would later bear his name, has grown to become known around the world for its educational efforts and the successes of its alumni.
Photo by Jim Zietz

The practice involves research and investigation of existing social, ecological and geological conditions and processes in the landscape, and the design of interventions that will produce the desired outcome. Concepts in the field include urban planning and design, site planning, environmental restoration, development of parks and recreation, and environmentally conscious infrastructure planning and development.

Within the past 20 years, the profession of landscape architecture has seen a tremendous increase not only in visibility, but in the realm of educational as well. LSU's Robert Reich School of Landscape Architecture continues to be a leader in the industry, through its efforts in education and community involvement.

According to information from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics' Occupational Outlook Handbook for 2010-11, landscape architects held about 26,700 jobs as of 2008, which is the most recent year of employment information available. The statistics show that about 51 percent of landscape architects were employed in architectural, engineering and related services, while about 21 percent were self-employed and state and local governments employed approximately 6 percent of landscape architects.

Employment of landscape architects is expected to increase by 20 percent during the 2008–18 decade, bureau statistics show, which is much faster than the average for all occupations. Employment is forecast to grow as the planning and development of new construction, together with the continued redevelopment of existing buildings, creates more opportunities for landscape architects.

Van Cox, current interim director of the Reich School and a professor in the school for more than 35 years, said that the work of landscape architects can be seen practically everywhere.

"It's found in multiple urban spaces, housing communities and many other places where people work, play and live every day," he said. "The more we do, the more people see what we do and the more they want to have it done."

Students in the Robert Reich School of Landscape Architecture have access to experienced faculty and staff, as well as the opportunity to study and work in a varied environment such as Louisiana. Departmental trips within the U.S., as well as to other countries, also broaden Reich School students' scope of experience.
Photo by Jim Zietz

Cox said he feels that renewed interest in environmental issues as they pertain to quality of life is partially responsible for the current boom in landscape architecture.

"There was a brief spurt back in the 1970s when our enrollment went up to 276 people, and we only have maybe 200 now, at most," he said. "Back then, there was the big Earth Day movement. But as time went on, it was dropped as a fad. Now, due to the interest of not only the environmentally aware activist, but now the everyday citizen and federal government is cleaning up the environment in general, and you're seeing a renewal of interest. From our standpoint, specifically, the visual environment is certainly a primary concern."

When he was a student at LSU in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Cox said, landscape architects were beginning to become more popularly known in the realm of urban design. Now, he said, all of the major cities around the world have public spaces that are designed by landscape architects. This includes New York City's famed Central Park, which was designed by Frederick Law Olmstead, who many recognize as the founder of American landscape architecture. Now, even Baton Rouge can boast of their new "town square," created by landscape architecture alumni from the Reich School.

"Another of the real popular spaces in New York City right now is called the High Line, and that was designed by a landscape architect," Cox said. "All of the major zoos in the country these days are beginning to be done by landscape architects. Many are being done by one of our own graduates, Ace Torre, who is based out of New Orleans. He also designed the Mike the Tiger habitat here at LSU."

Cox said he feels another reason for the growth in the field has been the adaptability of landscape architects amid challenging economic times.

Earl Broussard BLA, 1972

"The economy is slacking for many other professions right now, but our profession is a broad one," he said. "We're much more flexible. We deal with all scales of environmental design from backyard patios to large-scale regional projects. Our people tend to be more attractive to potential clients and within firms because of this. People need housing, which we work on as well, but they're also much more interested in sustainable environments in recent years, especially when it comes to the quality of their home, work or recreational lives."

To keep up with the increased demand, the Reich School has continued to evolve in its approach to education. The school has been recognized at numerous levels for its quality faculty, staff and students, and continuous output of alumni who go on to hold positions in notable firms worldwide or even start their own landscape architecture practices.

DesignIntelligence, the leading journal of the design professions, recently ranked the school No. 1 and No. 2 nationally for its undergraduate and graduate programs, respectively. The school has consistently ranked among the top five programs in the country since the DesignIntelligence rankings were devised more than a decade ago. The school has ranked either first or second for their undergraduate program and second or third for their graduate program for the past five years The consistency of such high rankings is unmatched by any other undergraduate program in the U.S., and only Harvard University's program can claim such results in the graduate category.

Not only has the school itself received awards, but its students and faculty have also achieved high honors. Most recently, a group of Reich School students earned five national awards from the American Society of Landscape Architects, or ASLA, Student Award program—the most of any other university with students who submitted work. Also, former and current Reich School faculty members and alumni recently received several top ASLA awards in research and design.

The Reich School also has a long-standing tradition of internships and travel within the undergraduate experience, committing to the internship program and field studies as a required and supported part of its core undergraduate experience. Internships involve working with a registered landscape architect that serves as a professional supervisor. This provides a minimum of 32-40 hours per week of work experience, eventually totaling an equivalent of 10 to 12 weeks of full-time employment. The travel includes three required design studio trips and several other elective summer or holiday trip options.

Jeffrey Carbo BLA, 1985

Cox said that as a result of their internships, students have a stronger appreciation for the business of design, returning to their studies with enhanced skills and clarified career goals. In turn, he said, employers benefit from the work of a skilled intern, with the intern bringing valuable techniques and a refreshing outlook to the office. Many employers have hired their interns permanently upon graduation.

"The travel exposes the students to environments and cultures from all over the globe and makes them better prepared to deal with the world's changing conditions," Cox said.

Branching out

While many of the Reich School's accolades come from peers in the field, its own alumni also serve a major role in the school's continued success, Cox said.

"We have a lot of award-winning alumni spread out all over the globe," Cox said. "We also make a lot of inroads internationally through the number of international students we have. Our graduates either get out into the world and design for themselves, work for firms or become principals in their own firms. A lot of them also teach, heading departments or are teaching in major departments. We hear about their successes all the time because our alumni are very loyal in remaining in contact with us. They want us to know what they're doing. Their successes are our best form of advertisement."

Cox added that alumni also support the school through donations, internship opportunities and support of school activities or programs. These efforts help to facilitate up to 40 scholarship and financial aid opportunities.

"Our people like to give," he said. "It perpetuates the reputation of the school which, in turn, perpetuates their own reputations. It's a real 'be true to your school' kind of thing. A lot of them give regularly, more so than many other units. Design service professions aren't exactly the big moneymakers, but the people in the field care a lot about their work and enjoy what they do. While the dollar amounts may not always be so high, the number of gifts is."

Tim Orlando BLA, 1983

Jeffrey Carbo, who received his bachelor's degree from the school in 1985, is one of many alumni who believe in giving back. Currently the principal of his own Alexandria, La.-based firm, Carbo's work has been featured in such publications as Landscape Architecture, House and Garden, Better Homes and Gardens, Garden Design, Southern Accents, and Southern Living. He has received numerous design awards at both state and national levels. He is also a member of the College of Art & Design Dean's Circle and serves on the Robert Reich School of Landscape Architecture Alumni Advisory Council, the Naming Committee and the Conrad Lecture Series Committee and on the board of directors for LSU Hilltop Arboretum.

"LSU and the Reich School prepared me by giving me an extraordinary design and design theory education," said Carbo, who received the LSU College of Art & Design Distinguished Alumni Award in 2007 and was also inducted into the LSU Alumni Association's Hall of Distinction in 2011. "LSU graduates are known for having had a strong design education, with great skill in design conceptualization and execution. I believe this tradition continues today, supplemented by incredible travel opportunities to places around the world."

Kurt Culbertson, a 1976 bachelor's degree recipient, is currently chairman of the board of the nationally recognized and award-winning firm Design Workshop in Aspen. Colo., and will be a 2012 inductee in the LSU Hall of Distinction. He said that he and his fellow alumni constantly work hard to raise the funds to insure that the school can both continue as the top-ranked program in the country and improve its already impressive base.

"We work to insure that graduates have wonderful internship and employment opportunities and that students, faculty and alumni are visible and recognized nationally for their fine work," said Culbertson, who added that he is personally working to ensure that the Reich School is designated as a Center of Excellence on campus. "We also want to advance the stature of Hilltop Arboretum as an educational facility of national stature."

Tim Orlando, a 1983 bachelor's graduate currently working as an associate for Sawyer/Berson Architecture & Landscape Architecture in New York City, said he felt the Reich School provided him with all of the necessary tools to succeed in such a broad profession. Since graduating, he has continued to keep in touch with the school and provide assistance. He currently serves on the school's alumni advisory council and is a member of the College of Art & Design's Dean's Circle.

Kurt Culbertson BLA, 1976

Along with contributing financially to the school, Orlando also co-chaired the committee that created an endowment fund through the LSU College of Art & Design and the LSU Foundation for the Max Z. Conrad Lecture Series, which held its inaugural lecture on March 1.

"This lecture series was created for the Robert Reich School of Landscape Architecture in honor of Professor Max Conrad's long continued service to the Reich School, and to provide a much need fund within the school to host lectures for the students, faculty and public at large," he said.

In addition to meeting with and speaking to Reich School students while they travel to the east coast, Orlando also works to assist those who may be looking for landscape architecture jobs in the New York area.

Earl Broussard, a 1972 bachelor's degree recipient from the school, is currently a principle at TBG Partners, a firm based in Austin with offices in Dallas, Houston and San Antonio. He serves on the school's alumni advisory board and also counsels students to the school and supports the school through pledges.

"The landscape architecture program at LSU was the foundation for all my professional success," Broussard said, adding that his favorite memories of the school were from founder and landscape architecture professor Robert S. Reich teaching him about plants. "The energy and love he [Reich] had for the profession and nature was truly infectious."

Carbo said he continues to give back to the school because he wants current and future students to have the same experience that he had, while also wanting to continue the school's tradition of excellence.

"I and many other alumni want to be a resource for support and, hopefully, supplement opportunities and experiences for students," Carbo said. "Most of my firm's staff is made up of Reich School graduates. We hire student interns from LSU annually. Last year, I employed three student interns. I would tell any prospective Reich School students that they will not get a better landscape architecture education anywhere, and that their successful investment at LSU will be rewarding and will be the best value in their lifetime."

Orlando said he feels students who enroll in the Reich School will receive the best education possible to meet the current challenges in today's and tomorrow's world.

"Additionally, year after year, the school is continually ranked as one of the top schools for landscape architecture in both their undergraduate and graduate programs, so the value of a degree from LSU is highly regarded throughout the country and the world."

"It's a simple choice," Culbertson said. "You have the opportunity to attend the best undergraduate program in the country or the No. 2 ranked graduate program in a beautiful and fun location at very reasonable tuition rates. Plus, you will find a tight knit group of faculty committed to teaching and supported by a very loyal alumni base."

Knowing your roots

Cox said that the Reich School's success is a direct effect of the passion instilled by its founder, Robert S. Reich.

Reich – who came to LSU in 1941, began the landscape architecture program at LSU in 1944 and was affectionately known as "Doc" by friends and colleagues – officially retired from the school in 1983, but continued to teach as a professor emeritus for many years. While Reich passed away in July 2010 at the age of 97, Cox said, his influence in the school's activities today remains strong.

"All of the alumni can tell you about Doc's influence on them, but the newer faculty and students who didn't have that opportunity also see it," he said. "It's in our faculty who worked with him over the years. It's in our alumni and students who were able to meet him and even study under him. His imprint on this school is more than just in name. It is truly immeasurable."

Culbertson said that to prepare students for a very diverse profession with a wide variety of subject matter, Reich created a curriculum more focused on design than any program in the country. As a result, graduates have the ability to work across a broad range of project types and scales.

"This foundation has provided us all with enormous flexibility in our professional careers," he said. "Doc also instilled in us a passion for lifelong learning, which is essential in a knowledge based industry. I like to say that we are not Doc's graduates, but that we are his disciples."

Orlando said his best memories of his time at the school came after his sophomore year, when he took part in a 40-day summer abroad trip to Asia with Reich.

"I traveled with a small group of professors and students from the school, and practicing professionals," he said. "This study tour continues to be one of the most vivid events for me, and it continues to pay dividends in my professional career."

Landscape architecture is not only a program within the university, Culbertson said, but the practice is woven into the fabric of LSU itself.

"The original campus plan concept for LSU was created by the landscape architecture firm of Olmsted Brothers of Brookline, Mass., influencing the final plan by St. Louis architect Theodore Link," Culbertson said. "In the 1930s, Baton Rouge landscape architect Steele Burden began to plant the live oak trees on campus. It is important for everyone within the LSU community to realize that when they sing about 'stately oaks and broad magnolias,' they are singing about landscape architecture."

To learn more about LSU's Robert Reich School of Landscape Architecture, visit