Career Insights are companion articles that have been developed to help students learn more about the careers featured in Futures Channel shows. Each one explores, in the professionals’ own words, the classes and educational pathway that best prepared them for their career as well as advice for entering that profession.
Full Name: Jennifer Guthrie
Company: Gustafson Guthrie Nichol
Job Title: Landscape Architect
1. Which college did you attend and what was your major?
I attended college at the University of Washington in Seattle where I received a Bachelor of Landscape Architecture as well as a Bachelor of Science, Architectural Studies. I also took Architectural Studies classes at University of London, London, UK.
2. What classes (high school or college) best prepared you for your current career?
High school: Geometry, algebra, art.
College: Architectural history, architectural drafting & rendering, botany & horticulture classes, urban design classes, and the design studios required for a degree in architecture and landscape architecture.
3. What inspired you to pursue your career?
Most people who end up in landscape architecture don’t take a direct path to the profession. This is likely because most people don’t know the profession exists until they are older. I was one of those.
I grew up in Southern California and spent much of my time outdoors. My family – my dad and my grandmothers – were avid gardeners and the garden was where our social lives happened. We had birthday parties, family parties, and play dates in the garden. We harvested fruit and flowers to enjoy ourselves, and to share with family and neighbors. We noticed and talked about the changing seasons – flowers blooming and new scents perfuming the air in Spring; fruit ripening in Summer; and the subtleties of leaf color in the Fall. This was simply part of my life and I didn’t realize there was a career associated with this.
I also had an artistic family. My mom painted. My grandmother collected antique rugs. My grandparents were singers and I was raised going to musicals in Los Angeles. We spent time visiting museums. My brother and sisters and I loved to draw and were encouraged to do so.
My family traveled a fair amount for fun when I grew up. We drove up and down the state of California by car often; we drove across the country one summer; and we traveled to places like Europe and Hawaii. All of these places presented wildly different landscapes, fascinating cultures, exotic scents, and interesting ways of using spaces. I was intrigued by these experiences. As an adult, I wanted to travel more to see and experience as many new environments that I could.
I went to college thinking I would major in mathematics. During my sophomore year, I spent a semester abroad studying British theater, art, and architecture. We toured historic and modern buildings and gardens, which I found absolutely mesmerizing. After traveling through Europe that summer, I was hooked and decided to enroll in an architecture class when I returned to the University of Washington that Fall.
I was accepted into the Architecture program my Junior year. I really enjoyed learning about and designing buildings in my architecture studios; however, one teacher noticed that I spent more time designing outside the buildings than inside them. He suggested that I take a course in landscape architecture. I did and finally realized that that was the career for me. Landscape Architecture combines my love of being outdoors with my background in gardening, art, travel, and architecture.
4. What do you love most about your job?
There are so many things I love about this profession. Here are a few:
Every site brings different challenges and solutions, requiring teams of intelligent people – clients, architects, engineers, lighting designers, artists, contractors, etc – to work together and come to a solution that works.
I love the combination of artistic and technical thinking required to design and build a successful landscape. You have to use both sides of your brain.
I love seeing something that you spend months or years designing and detailing actually get built. When you pour your heart and soul into developing a place, it is so rewarding to see it being used and loved by people.
5. What is your best advice to students considering pursuing a job in your field?
Talk to people that are already in the profession to see if it is the right career for you. Ask for informational interviews and ask a lot of questions about what that person does each day and each year.
If possible, take a summer job in construction before you work in a landscape architecture firm. Being able to understand how things go together in three dimensions will make you a stronger designer.