Retaining Wall.

Where art meets science: a left-brained journey into a creative career in landscape architecture

— Haley Dugger

I came into landscape architecture through a process of elimination. I started college with a strong mindset that I was going to major in math or science, particularly biology. I had grown up fawning my abilities in the more “serious” subjects in school and rejecting anything creative. My older siblings were amazing artists and believing I never stood a chance in living up to them, I ignored any creativity I had.

Once my freshman year of college started, I took an internship in a biochemistry lab while taking courses in biology, chemistry, trigonometry and art history. By midterms, I was a blob of stress and tears. It was a good indicator that I wasn’t made to spend time alone in a windowless lab with microscopes, and that science and math weren’t fulfilling me in the way I thought they would be.

From biochemistry to art history.

With an unbelievable amount of surprise, I realized the class I loved most was art history. Everything about it was exciting! I was learning about creativity and learning the logic behind it. I switched my major before the end of the semester and spent two years exploring art history.

Soon after, I met with my professor to discuss my career plans in art history. He asked me what graduate schools I was looking at and I was dumbfounded. I was the first in my family to go to college and I had no idea what graduate school was or entailed. He quickly explained to me that with a bachelor’s degree in art history, there weren’t many job opportunities and that I would need to pursue higher education to obtain a job in the industry.

I panicked! School was already taking a toll on my perfectionist mind and I wanted to start a career. This led me to take a career aptitude test (I was desperate) which came back with a variety of careers suited for me. After the harsh reality of the small job market in art history, I narrowed the results to industries where a bachelor’s degree was suitable and the industry was growing.

A balance between art and science.

The career that stuck out immediately to me was landscape architecture. I grew up with a mother who was a construction supervisor and I had always enjoyed the outdoors. The description made it clear that this path combined math, science and creativity. I couldn’t believe this had always been an option for me! I immediately dove into the topic and changed my major without a second thought.

At first, my previous insecurities about my artistic abilities got the best of me — but the art class I was required to take for my art history major ended up being the biggest eye opener. As the class went on, my skills improved and I learned that art had principles and basics like all other subjects, and with instruction and practice, I could manage it! With art history classes and this single art class under my belt, I understood art’s importance in landscape architecture. I felt more confident that if I read about it (as usual), studied and practiced (as usual) and let go (not as usual) — I could achieve my goals and convey my ideas.

Embracing the creative side of things.

My eyes were completely opened to the wonderment of drawing and design by the end of my first semester of landscape architecture when I took my first graphics class. I learned the basics of design, color palettes and the importance of overlapping lines. I was taught the principle, “needs to convey, not copy”, meaning it did not need to be perfect as long as someone could look at our plans and understand the idea. This allowed me to enjoy the process and even get excited about hand graphics! After many graphics books, trace rolls and studios, I began to love this new side of me that was creative. I was no longer determined to stay away from creativity, but ready to embrace it.

I was enthralled by classes on graphics, construction principles and environmental practices. I continued to appreciate how many subjects go into creating great places that function properly. The variety of classes worked my left brain, right brain and constantly kept me on my toes. I had found the right path was for me! I am happy I was honest with myself about not fully enjoying my first interest in biology, accepting a career in art history wouldn’t work for me, and persisting in finding a career that satisfies all my interests and needs.

­­­­­­­­­­­­­Haley Dugger is a designer in LandDesign’s Charlotte office where she is involved in all stages of the design process. Since joining LandDesign in 2015, she has immersed herself in our collaborative culture, working alongside landscape architects and civil engineers to create better communities through landscape design. Haley’s passion for landscape architecture shows through her continued involvement with ASLA.

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