christopher consultants, ltd.

A Day in the Life of a Landscape Architect

In honor of National Landscape Architecture Month we sat with Lindsay Burleigh, PLA, to find out more about what a christopher landscape architect does on a typical day. We learned that Lindsay’s days are all far from typical!

Lindsay has been with christopher for over 12 years. In addition to being a professional landscape architect, she is also an ISA Certified Arborist and Tree Risk Assessor. Around the office, Lindsay is known for her softball skills and for planning impromptu team ice skating events. Join us as we journey through a day in her life as a member of our Special Services team!

What is your background (school etc)?

I went to school at Penn State, where I got my Bachelor’s in Landscape Architecture. There are a handful of other Penn Staters at christopher, which is nice (we are!).

In addition to your Bachelor’s, you are also a Professional Landscape Architect, correct? What was that process like?

Lindsay warming up for a christopher softball game

Correct. It’s a series of 4 exams now (it was 5 when I took them). My coworker Daniel is in the process of taking them right now. In Virginia, you have to have 8 years of experience to be eligible to take the exams, including school and work, so it’s a commitment. I still remember the day I got my results. It was in 2011. I got the results during the work day and I was overcome with emotion. I called my mom, I told John [Rinaldi], I shared it with everyone. I was so relieved and excited.

I was actually a certified arborist before I took my landscape architecture exams, which didn’t require the 8 years’ experience. The hardest part of that is keeping up with your CEUs to stay current!

When did you know you wanted to become a landscape architect?

When I was in high school I worked for a landscape architect in my hometown – I’ll give him a shout out, his name is Larry Nelson – and I really enjoyed my time working with him. I did some gardening, lawn work and helped him in the greenhouse. Larry took the time to explain the “why” to me with each thing that we did, and that sparked my interest. I learned how to use nature to make things pretty and to create livable spaces and shape the way a space functions.

How did you end up at christopher?

Well after college I decided to go to Italy – not for LA work – I was an au pair and taught English. I did that for a few years and, as much fun as I was having, I finally got the feeling that I needed to start my “real life.” I came back to Pennsylvania and stayed with my mom and stepdad while I applied for jobs. A majority of the jobs were in the DC area. One morning my stepdad came in my room and said “Linds, get up – we’re going to buy you a car.” A couple hours later I was driving my car off the lot. Realizing I now had the means to get there, and I had a car payment to take care of, I got in gear and moved down to DC. I am forever grateful to my aunt who gave me room and board in Alexandria while starting the adult life.

I met with John Rinaldi, who I still work with today, and it was a good fit. He was willing to teach me AutoCad, which I didn’t know at the time. Now he jokes that I know it better than he does.

Let’s talk about your typical day. what is the first thing you do when you arrive at the office?

I’m the late shift on my team. My typical hours are 9-6. One great thing about working at christopher is the flex time. I’ve had different hours over my 12 years just depending on what works best for my commute, lifestyle, etc.

The first thing I do is get my coffee. I try to say I’m not an addict, but I like to have one cup in the morning, every morning.  Then I check in with my team. After that it’s straight to work hitting deadlines and responding to emails! I’m working on something different every day – it’s one of my favorite things about the job. Never a dull moment.

Can you give me some examples of the different types of projects you’d be working on?

Sure. For example, this week I was working on a concept layout for a mixed-use property based on Fairfax County Zoning Ordinance requirements, and a landscape as-built plan in the City of Alexandria for a different mixed-use project. I had a site visit to inventory existing trees to prepare a tree preservation plan in City of Fairfax. I attended a Board of Supervisors meeting with the land use attorney and client to support entitlement applications. I’m also working on a tree appraisal for proposed park improvements under one of our park contracts. I’m frequently out doing invasive species monitoring or construction monitoring on projects where we provide arborist services, or working on tree preservation or landscape plans. Like I said its always something different, which I like! 

How much time do you spend in the office versus meetings or in the field?

It’s a good week when I get to go out to the field at least one time. Last week I got to go out twice!

The timing all depends on what stages our projects are in – I’ll go out before construction begins, and then during construction to monitor the trees if we are the project arborist on the site, and then after everything is planted to see how it all came together.

Does it depend on the time of year as well?

Everyone asks me that question but honestly, no! Entitlement and site plan applications keep us busy all year. Spring and fall are heavier on landscape installations for sure but we aren’t bombarded during those times.

A Special Services team event

How many people are on your team?

There are 7 people on my team – that’s the largest we’ve been in my 12-year history! What I love about our team is that we are very collaborative. Everyone is very hardworking and creative, and we’ve got a great mix of different levels of experience and different areas of expertise. If I have a question or just need want to brainstorm I know someone on my team can help.

who do you interact most with on a daily basis (clients, fellow landscape architects, management)?

A big part of my job is having good relationships with the right people. On a daily basis I’m interacting with clients, contractors, christopher’s engineering staff, our survey team and local government staff.

For example, during the site evaluation of a project I might be talking to other team members like traffic, wetlands or geotechnical consultants. For a rezoning, I’m communicating with the land owner or developer and the land use attorney as well as county and city staff. Once we hit the site plan phase, our team works with the engineering staff to get construction plans completed. I’m working constantly with the survey team at the beginning of a project for boundary and topographic surveys, and at the end of a project when they do as-builts. The field crew also tags trees for us.

So I’m constantly picking up the phone or meeting with someone either internally or externally. It’s nice to have that direct access to the team and to the client on most projects.

When does your day usually end? What is the last thing you do before you leave?

I make sure everything is wrapped up for the day, especially things that are on a deadline. Before I leave I will coordinate with my coworkers to make sure they have everything from me when they get there in the morning. Usually, I’m out of the office sometime around six o-clock.

What is your typical evening like?

I don’t have a typical evening! Every night I’m doing something different. Life’s too short to watch TV.

I’m either rock climbing, doing yoga, rollerblading, going to the theater or to an improv show (I used to do improv classes but now I am just an audience member) or meeting up with friends and family to do something fun.

christopher ice skating trip

Do you have any advice for an aspiring landscape architect?

In this profession you have to kind of be a jack of all trades. All projects have challenges and some project puzzles will be the ones that you love and that you’re innately good at, and some will be ones that test you more. Keep learning – there is always more to know, and laws and regulations are always changing –social and behavioral preferences, development trends, and plant and product science… Learn as much as you can, but find your niche and focus on your strengths and your passions whenever you can, enjoy what you’re doing and be kind.

Thanks for sharing your day with us, Lindsay! Check out other interviews from our day in the life series and call christopher first for landscape architecture and arborist services!