By Russell Baker
During my undergraduate studies at Southern Illinois University (SIU), in addition to a Bachelor of Science in Architectural Studies, I also earned a Minor in Landscape Design through the Plant and Soil Science department. The coursework involved in this minor, through the Agriculture department, was not only a lot of fun, but also a great supplement to my architectural studies, as landscape design is often overlooked or only briefly touched upon. The coursework required three studio landscape design courses in addition to three related elective courses (of which there are plenty to choose from) totaling seventeen to twenty credit hours.
The first courses I took in the spring of 2007 were PLSS 328A and 328B, which were both Landscape Design studios instructed by Professor Karen Midden. Understanding the rigorous nature of our studies, Karen always made it a priority to work with architecture students' schedules, as she was also my advisor. One of these courses was conducted online through WebCT and Blackboard, on which readings, lectures, and assignments were posted. In this course, we learned about the differences between landscape architects, landscape designers, and landscape contractors, the historical development in landscape design, as well as the scope of the profession and the design processes that are used in it. The other course was an entrance level hands-on design course in which was intended to familiarize students with plants; materials; methods and processes; case studies; general layouts; plant and hard-scape symbols, representations, and labeling; plant selection; and planning and designing, both graphically and written. The final project included the landscape design of a new vacation home and a written paper explaining the use and construction of and landscape hard-scape element, such as an arbor which is a shelter of shrubs and branches or of latticework intertwined with climbing vines or flowers.
In fall of 2008, I then took three landscape courses and a lab in addition to my regular architecture courses. I completed PLSS 240 (Soil Science I and Soil Science I Lab, with Professor Wyciskalla), PLSS 428 (Landscape Design Studio II, again with Karen Midden), and PLSS 431 (Landscape Construction, with Professor Henry). Soil Science I was very similar to an intensified combination of biology, chemistry, ecology, and geology encompassing soils ranging from the microscopic level to the macroscopic level. It involved a lot of memorization, studying, and testing, but also included a field trip to a site to scientifically examine soil samples, which directly relates to the architectural field as far as foundation and site planning goes. In Landscape Design Studio II we undertook two major projects: the entire landscape design for an actual client who owned a very large, brand new lakeside, semi-local residence, and also the restoration and improvement of a local nine-hole golf course. Needless to say, this course was a lot of fun as we were actually working on real projects and were able to make several site visits; not to mention the fact that we were given free golf vouchers for the summer! The Landscape Construction course was also a lot of fun, but it was more of a physical, hands-on, labor-intensive course. We were taught how to, and actually constructed a patio with seating, retaining walls, and landscaping from scratch at the Agriculture building, in addition to an trellised resting area, and some drainage work to solve a minor flooding problem. We also learned the basics of cost estimation in landscape design and construction, which I sincerely believe is one of the few essential elements that are lacking from the architecture curriculum here at SIU.
The final course I took to complete my landscape design minor was PLSS 390, DynaScape Design, in the spring of 2008. This was the first time this landscape design software driven course had been offered, and the instructor was learning the course alongside the students. DynaScape Design is very similar to other computer aided drawing (CAD) except it is specifically tailored to landscaping elements. As an architecture student, it was already familiar territory to dive into new software, but several of the others students who weren't used to using CAD in their design practices found it a little more difficult; so Doc. Henry was appreciative of my assistance with helping both himself, and some of the other students.
Overall, and in hindsight, I'm very glad that I chose to undertake and complete a minor in Landscape Design at SIU. I feel I have gained valuable experiences, knowledge, and skills that will continuously better me as an architect and a designer. I would recommend considering a minor in landscape design to anyone who thinks they may be interested and particularly to architecture students with a love to learn. One can never learn too much and never be over-prepared, right?