Podcast Episode #29 A Career in Landscape Architecture, with Naomi Blashki

Episode 27

In this episode, Leah speaks with Naomi Blashki about her successful career as a Landscape Architect and her broad experience working in a range of different landscape architecture environments including; residential. commercial and local government / public spaces. 

In this episode, Leah and Naomi discussed the following:

  • How Naomi chose this career pathway and her course
  • What content is covered in a Landscape Architecture course and the expected workload
  • The different pathways available to landscape architecture graduates
  • A typical day in the life of a landscape architect
  • The expected challenges faced by landscape architects in their daily work
  • Naomi’s personal career highlights
  • What Naomi has learnt about herself since running her own landscape architecture business, Ginkgo Paradise
  • Naomi’s advice for a young person considering a career in landscape architecture

Industry associations mentioned in this podcast include:

Australian Institute of Landscape Architects – https://www.aila.org.au

Australian Institute of Landscape Designers and Managers  – https://www.aildm.com.au

If you would like to connect with Naomi or see her inspiring work, then you can find her at the following links:

LinkedIn – https://www.linkedin.com/in/naomi-blashki/
Ginkgo Paradise – http://ginkgoparadise.com.au


Leah Lambart 0:02
Welcome to the Relaunch Your Career Podcast. I’m your host, Leah Lambart, career and interview coach and founder of Relaunch Me, where we help you find the work that you were meant to do.

Hello, everyone, and welcome to the Relaunch Your Career podcast. I just wanted to say thank you to everyone who has emailed me with feedback on some of our recent episodes. It’s just been great to hear your feedback, and great to know that people are also finding these episodes useful. So if you do have any questions or ideas for new episodes, that will save me coming up with them. I’d love to hear from you. And you can email me directly at leah@relaunchme.com.au.

In today’s episode, I’ve invited the very talented Naomi Blashki to talk about her career in landscape architecture. In my career coaching session, I found that many people really are unaware of this career, or they don’t really understand what this career involves. So I’ve asked Naomi to join me today to enlighten us. Welcome to the podcast Naomi

Naomi Blashki 1:14
Thanks Leah. Nice to be with you.

Leah Lambart 1:16
So Naomi, if you’ve listened to some of these episodes, you’ll know that we like to start at the beginning. Can you tell us how you came to choose landscape architecture as a career in the first place?

Naomi Blashki 1:29
Yes, as a young adult, I was really interested in environmental issues and design and landscape architecture was the natural union of those passions.

Leah Lambart 1:41
And so what did you know about this career when you chose it? Had you done lots of research?

Naomi Blashki 1:48
I didn’t know any landscape architects when I began looking into courses and in the year 2000, when I was in year 12, sustainability wasn’t a common phrase. It actually was barely used. But I understood that this was a growing industry, and I really wanted to be a part of it. Now environmental issues and design obviously couldn’t be more important to the way we live and use our recreational spaces. In terms of research, and at the time, there were two unique courses available in Melbourne. I was drawn to the four year Bachelor of Landscape Architecture course at the University of Melbourne. It had some great social science and engineering subjects and there are now more courses available in Melbourne.

As well as landscape architects, there are some industry leading landscape designers in our city who often begin studying diplomas in horticulture, also garden design. The main difference in those courses to landscape architecture is that horticulture often is focused on plant knowledge and designing with plants. Garden design is a one year diploma where you learn about plants and graphics and design principles, and also client management. Whereas Landscape Architecture courses include design history, and some science subjects and construction engineering subjects and also you always do a design studio where you apply everything that you’ve learned each semester.

Leah Lambart 3:24
So I know from speaking with some students studying both architecture and landscape architecture that this course involves quite a high workload. What sort of comments could you make about the course in terms of the content and the workload and the intensity of the course?

Naomi Blashki 3:43
Yeah, it’s certainly intensive. I remember getting up at 5:30 in the morning and jumping on the train and getting the best computer in the computer lab, and just sort of sitting there all day. So certainly a commitment. But I think a lot of design courses are that way and they’re very labour intensive. The design studios require a big time involvement but I guess they’ve also got all of these supportive subjects in terms of social sciences, engineering subjects where you learn about plans and history subjects, which really gave me this very well rounded, professional grounding when you graduate. It gave me a really good footing in terms of an academic understanding of the industry.

Leah Lambart 4:48
Wow, I didn’t I didn’t realize it was such a broad course. What sort of science subjects did you study?

Naomi Blashki 4:54
Well, you really need to understand a lot about soils and a little bit about construction and you need to understand about water,and a little bit about surveying. So as a landscape architect, you draw a lot from different industries and you need to know a little bit about all of these industries that you’re going to be engaging with. There are often consultants that you draw into your projects, and although you don’t need to know everything, you need to know enough to engage with all of these professionals. So this is what you’re tapping into in the course.

Leah Lambart 5:36
Right, so you finished your four year degree at Melbourne Uni and I assume there were a number of different pathways that you could have pursued after completing his study. Can you tell us about what your options were on completion of your degree?

Naomi Blashki 5:52
Yes, after studying, I was very keen to get to work with regards to the career pathway that I chose. I opted to move into private practice, which is a commercial company. I got a job with a mid-sized firm that specialises in Environmental Design and I worked there in a graduate role for two years. I worked on masterplans, and waterway improvement projects across Victoria, which I loved. Another route is the government sector working in state or local government, where both employ landscape architects. Another option is to do further study. So a lot of landscape architects do postgraduate degrees in urban design, architecture, planning, or construction management and that can be a real benefit later in your career. So those are some of the pathway options, but you can alo start your own business or you could do you could go into teaching. Yeah, there’s lots of pathway options.

Leah Lambart 7:03
And so quite a few of your colleagues went on and did postgrad study straight from finishing the Bachelor?

Naomi Blashki 7:09
It’s interesting, I started studying with 30 in my course, but yet only 4 graduated from my original course. Wwe definitely fragmented off into lots of different pathways. So it takes people a long time to do the course it is really intensive. It took me five years. So yeah, actually back then there was a high dropout rate, I must say. I think it’s changed now. Like the Melbourne Uni system changed completely from when I started in 2001. They then introduced the Melbourne model, which is different. Yeah, but people do go straight into additional study. But to be honest, a lot of people do need a break from that type of course and get into the workforce.

Leah Lambart 8:05
And would you say that it helps to have some drawing skills if you’re going to study Landscape Architecture?

Naomi Blashki 8:12
Yes. So I personally didn’t have drawing skills. I hadn’t done any formal art or anything like that during high school. The school that I went to wasn’t particularly design focused, it was more of an academic type school. But yeah, it definitely helps because those first design subjects you’re thrown in, and it would definitely be of benefit to have some graphic skills to begin with. But I picked them up along the way. And yeah, in the industry, you’re drawing every day. But I always say that I can draw to communicate ideas. And that’s what you need to be able to do. You’re just constantly drawing to explain to your clients what your intention of design is. and designers can draw to beautiful illustrative effect. I’m not personally one of those designers, but it’s never held me back. I just draw to communicate.

Leah Lambart 9:13
So you sketch the drawing to communicate the idea, but then a lot of the drawings obviously done by computers using Computer Aided Drafting (CAD), is that correct?

Naomi Blashki 9:24
Yes. So that’s what CAD stands for and to be able to draw in the computer, you need to understand what drawing is. So yeah, to be able to facilitate designing digitally, you need to understand how drawing is done.

Leah Lambart 9:45
In terms of those programs, when I look at jobs on Seek in architecture, I see AutoCAD, I see Revit, ArchiCAD and others. What sort of software do you use in landscape architecture? And what are the most common types of software that are used currently?

Naomi Blashki 10:04
I guess the most traditional program is AutoCAD and that’s the program that I was taught at uni. But I feel like I studied a long time ago, that was the only one that we were taught. We were also taught SketchUp, which was the 3d modelling program. And I mean, now, they would be taught a whole raft of other digital platforms. But yeah, different offices use different platforms. But I guess once you have a foundation of digital understanding, you can oscillate between different programs, you get very quick at digital understanding and it just becomes the way you think. I mean, I’m in my mid to late 30s and I’m not that that young, but you just spend so much time on computers as a landscape architect that it just becomes very much what you do. And I guess that’s one misconception with landscape architecture. People think you’re on site all day, working with your hands. And it’s not quite like that. You spend a lot of time on the phone, in meetings, and on a computer.

Leah Lambart 11:32
Yeah, I think that is a misconception. I think a lot of people when I talk about landscape architecture, they think you’re going to be working outdoors. And often, they’re people who would like to work outdoors, and they select that as something they would like to do and then are a little bit disappointed when I tell them it’s actually an office job.

Naomi Blashki 11:51
It’s very similar to architecture. There are times spent in meetings and outdoors mapping things out but yeah, it is, it is very computer based.

Leah Lambart 12:02
So what percentage of your week would you say would would have been indoors versus outdoors? Just to give us an idea.

Naomi Blashki 12:12
It just depends on what’s happening. The meetings can be long, there are days where you can easily spend two hours on site, you know, standing in the sun. It just depends. If you’re spending time documenting packages you can spend all week at the computer. But it also depends what level I guess you are. If you’re at sort of my level, which is that sort of senior or associate level, you do spend more time in meetings talking on the phone. Whereas if you’re more of a junior level, you’ll spend most of your time documenting and doing sort of designing work, which is more computer based work.

Leah Lambart 13:00
That makes perfect sense. Something I probably should have asked you at the beginning. Can you explain what a landscape architect actually does? Because, again, that can be quite confusing, with people getting confused between landscape architecture, landscape design and landscape gardening.

Naomi Blashki 13:19
Yeah, it’s the classic party question. So people say to me, “oh, what do you do?’ and I say ” I’m a landscape architect”. They look at me a bit blankly. But look, it really is the description of the two phrases. So a landscape architect, put simply, is the design of outdoor spaces, and I guess the projects could extend in scale from gardens to parks, schools, coastal frontiers, freeways, and any other outdoor space. Landscape architecture is the design of all of the elements in those spaces and supporting the ecologies in those environments. So it’s a very important job. And it’s sort of never been in people’s awareness, more than in 2020.

Leah Lambart 14:06
Yeah, that’s right. You have now worked in a number of different areas. So you’ve worked in residential, commercial and you’ve also done some work in public spaces. Can you tell us a little bit about these different working environments?

Naomi Blashki 14:26
Yes, so the main differenceis the scale of the projects that you work on. So a residential garden for a new home would take say six months to complete, or it could take a couple of years. I worked on one house that took five years to complete. And it’s just a difference in programming factors. In residential, it normally begins with a design based on a client brief and budget which then gets approved and costed and then moves on to construction, which is a loose guide. Whereas public work has the complexity of stakeholder groups, such as community and cultural groups or councils, and government agencies who typically get engaged to complete a design phase. And then that becomes consultation phases with those stakeholder groups, which gets worked into your program and those stakeholder group discussions can be really interesting because you’re engaging with different sectors of the community and their input is really critical in understanding a site and the needs of the future users. But also, it can be really challenging balancing the competing priorities and attitudes of those groups. So yeah, they can take form in meetings, big open days, petitions and community sessions where you have to advertise for those sorts of things. Things can get quite complicated when you’re making big changes to public spaces. So it’s a really dynamic industry where every site’s completely different and it challenges you in new ways for each project

Leah Lambart 16:25
When you’re working on that type of project. Naomi, would the landscape architects be potentially out talking with the community listening to concerns. Is that right?

Naomi Blashki 16:36
Yes. So the landscape architect will often act on behalf of the Council. And we’ll run those community consultation sessions. Then they’ll gather all of the data and the feedback, and they’ll present it back to the council and they’ll collate all of the feedback, and they’ll prioritize everything. They’ll say that this is important and this is less important and then that will all get fed back into the concept design for the new work.

Leah Lambart 17:07
So you can also go to TAFE, and do a Diploma in Landscape Design. Are you able to explain the difference in the type of work that a landscape designer would do versus a landscape architect,

Naomi Blashki 17:24
it’s tricky to differentiate the types, I think a landscape designer could bid for certain jobs, it’s hard to know what may be suitable or unsuitable. So definitely gardens and small parks and things would definitely be able to go for that things like large schools, or universities or big parks, I think would only be open to landscape architects.

Leah Lambart 17:54
Yeah, so it sort of maybe might depend on the budget?

Naomi Blashki 17:59
It could be budget driven, or might be the amount of consultation, then when you add in things like different ecologies. So there’s something called water sensitive urban design, where you’re looking at reducing urban runoff and working with ecologists and, and sensitive ecosystems and drawing in different consultants. And I don’t think that sort of level of complexity would be suitable for a landscape designer. But I’m also not an expert of what differentiates the work for a landscape designer and a landscape architect. But there are bodies like the Australian Institute of Landscape Architects, and there’s also a similar body for landscape designers. So they might be able to differentiate where the line is.

Leah Lambart 19:01
That is fantastic advice. I always go back to the industry websites when I am a little bit stuck with understanding a career and you know, what the accredited courses are, etc. So that’s really good advice.

So I was going to ask you what a typical day or week looks like for a landscape architect, but it sounds like that would very much vary on the environment you’re working in and the type of project. Did you want to elaborate a little bit on that?

Naomi Blashki 19:33
Yes. So I guess I’ve sort of talked a little bit about it, but often the day will start with a site visit. So the site visits always start at seven o’clock so they’re always ready for you by nine o’clock. On site, you’re often inspecting things like materials that may have been delivered, checking plants or a piping design or talking through wall heights or anything else that may have cropped up. And then you could head back to the office, writing up everything that you’ve discussed on site and emailing it out to anyone who was on site. So you’ve always got to cover everything in writing, and then spending some time on the computer drawing up things like some new designs. You spend lots of time on the phone talking to clients and contractors and suppliers. And that’s about a typical day, the days just fly. All the days fly I find. And yeah, that’s about a typical day.

Leah Lambart 20:43
It sounds really broad in terms of, you know, the client contact, there’s organizational skills and I assume there’s always time pressures as well. Are there specific skills and personality attributes that you think helps to do this line of work?

Naomi Blashki 21:00
Yeah, look, I think it helps to be an all rounder, like you need to be a detailed person, which I think all design professions lend to that skill. But also, you need to be good at problem solving. There’s just constantly issues that come up in construction. So you need to deal with things as theycrop up, you’ve got to move through them. You have to be good with people, because you’re dealing with teams of people all the time. Yeah, it’s it’s a general suite of skills that the construction industry has – ability to move through problems, high attention to detail, people skills, but also it’s definitely a passion industry. So being passionate about the industry, I think definitely helps.

Leah Lambart 21:49
It definitely sounds like you need a broad range of skills there. What are the typical challenges that landscape architects face, not necessarily, that you face personally, but just what are the typical types of challenges that you face in this career?

Naomi Blashki 22:04
I guess it’s well known that there’s a lot of risks in construction. So you often need to design to anticipate potential risks and document your drawings in a really detailed way to mitigate that risk. And also, that being said, like I said, things crop up in construction, and there’s often human error. So good communication is key. And also showing some compassion with a fair disposition helps. Often on site, things get very stuck. And it’s a bit of a blame game. So yeah, it’s good to be able to move through things and try and work to a resolution. But also, you need to be tough, because it’s a tough game and where decisions are made very quickly with big financial consequences.

Leah Lambart 22:58
Yeah, so you need a fairly thick skin.

Naomi Blashki 23:01
Yeah, definitely.

Leah Lambart 23:03
What would you say have been the highlights for you personally in your career?

Naomi Blashki 23:08
Every project is different, and you’re just constantly learning. And that’s actually the greatest thing about the job. It’s witnessing your capacity to learn, and develop as a designer and a professional. And I think that’s really fulfilling, just seeing that personal growth.

Leah Lambart 23:27
You have been running your own business for seven years, and I’ve seen some of your work on your website, which is just absolutely stunning. What have you learned most about yourself running your own business during the last seven years?

Naomi Blashki 23:40
Having my own business has definitely shone a light on some of my strengths and weaknesses, which I won’t go into here. But if you have to become really self reliant, and resilient without the infrastructure of a complex support team to draw on. It’s also been a great opportunity to collaborate with really good architects and contractors and suppliers and I guess they become your support team. And I’ve also been able to establish more meaningful relationships with my clients, which has been really wonderful.

Leah Lambart 24:20
So what advice would you give to a young person considering a career in landscape architecture?

Naomi Blashki 24:29
I’d say, the course is really challenging, and it will take a lot of persistence. But the rewards are really worth it. And yeah, like I said, the industry is really dynamic, and it’s really filled with lots of passionate people- people really wanting to do something good in the world. This is what has driven me and has been the basis for my professional development. And in time, you’ll have opportunities to work on projects that enhance the way we enjoy open space and that can sustain our environments for generations to come, which is pretty special.

Leah Lambart 25:20
Well, I know from speaking with you that you are very passionate about your industry, and I think one of the most important things, whatever career you choose, is choosing something that you are genuinely interested in. And I think you know, more importantly, when you have to go and do that intensity of study you really do have to love it.

Naomi Blashki 25:46
Yeah, you gotta keep your eye on the prize.

Leah Lambart 25:53
I’ve learned a lot just from chatting with you today. So thank you so much. I will put your details in the show notes so that people can find you if they’re looking for more information. But look, thank you again. It’s been great to have you on the podcast and I wish you all the best with your career going forward.

Naomi Blashki 26:12
Thanks so much, Leah. Happy to spread the word