What does a landscape design career really involve? Plotr asked HS2 Landscape Design Manager Christoph how he shaped his own career. Get ready for some useful tips!
How to become an HS2 landscape architect
Tell us about your job...
As a Landscape Design Manager at HS2, my main responsibility is to develop the designs for the landscape around HS2 and integrate the visual elements of all the outdoor spaces along the route. It is a bit like interior design, but for the landscape!
"The design of landscape areas is not just about where the trees go – it’s about the complex relationship between people and place."
We are aiming to create a positive lasting legacy through landscape design at HS2, as well as giving wider social, environmental and economic benefits. For example, if we develop new open space for people in a city centre near one of our new stations, we expect that this will increase the wellbeing of people using that space, and encourage businesses to open cafés or restaurants close by.
Landscape design is at the heart of the project – it’s the glue for design across the whole programme, combining design work across other areas like engineering, architecture, ecology, noise and sound, heritage, agriculture and others...
The design of external areas is not just about where the trees go – it’s about the complex relationship between people and place. It is about the interaction of the natural and cultural elements of our environment, and how they are understood and experienced by people.
My day to day work includes:
- Making sure the landscape design of HS2 is in line with the HS2 Design Vision. This is essentially a manual for the Landscape Architects, Engineers and other design teams, so they can make sure all aspects of the HS2 programme will fit together to create a coherent design.
- Managing and directing landscape consultants, who help me in developing drawings, specifications, policy documents and other design related tasks.
- Working closely with colleagues to coordinate the emerging design.
- Coaching and influencing colleagues from across the organisation to ensure landscape design issues are a key consideration when making key decisions about the project. My typical hours are 9:00 – 18:30. I’m mostly office-based, but on some days I travel to places along the line of route, like Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester.
What are the best bits about your job?
Developing a design vision and seeing it through to completion. It is hugely rewarding to go through the individual design stages, with new challenges and issues arising each day. No day is the same. Once the project is built, it will be exciting to watch people engaging with the newly formed landscape!
Being part of a team of highly qualified professionals. There are experts for every aspect of the project within the company. People are welcoming and happy to answer questions and help to resolve issues. It’s also exciting travelling to different parts of the country.
Developing a better future for generations to come. This includes the opportunity to educate people, change the lives of people for the better and respond to global issues like climate change. Communities along the route are just as important as passengers travelling on the railway. Landscape is a very complex subject, that requires me to talk to individuals, visit places and understand the relevant social, environmental and economic issues. My job helps me challenge myself and use the skills that I have, with the aim of making other people’s lives better.
What top 3 skills or qualities are important in this job?
- Being creative while still having an excellent technical understanding.
- Good social skills – I have to talk to people from all walks of life to gauge how they interact with their local landscape.
- Perseverance and a positive attitude!
What did you want to be when you were younger?
A Veterinary Surgeon – so very different to where I ended up!
How did you get into landscape design?
I grew up in the countryside and spent most of my free time outside. My father and grandfather asked me to help them in the garden, where they showed me not only how to look after plants and vegetables but also how to plan and build things for the garden, like structures and patios. My passion for the landscape developed from there.
What training or courses did you do to get to where you are today?
I worked as a landscape contractor for two and a half years, which gave me my ‘on the ground’ experience. Then I worked in a tree nursery for half a year.
I studied Landscape Architecture for four years at the University of Applied Science in Munich (Germany), and earned a Dipl.-Ing. Landscape Architecture (FH). Then I did a Master’s in Landscape Architecture at the University of Sheffield.
A few years after graduating from university, I became a chartered member of the Landscape Institute. I’ve also completed a project management course, to become a qualified project manager.
What advice would you give to anyone looking to become a landscape designer?
My advice is to research Landscape Architecture on the internet, talk to universities and also to speak to a couple of Landscape Architects and find out more about the profession. Some consultants or practices might even let you go in and do some work shadowing for a day or two to give you a better understanding of the job.
Tell us something we didn't know about landscape design. Surprise us!
"My job is about understanding how people engage with the spaces around them..."
I think that most people would assume that I am picking which trees to plant along the new route. But actually, I don’t spend very much time specifying plants or designing soft landscape areas – and neither do most other Landscape Architects in the UK. My job is more about understanding how people engage with the spaces around them, and creating innovative solutions that help HS2 to carry out its design vision!
Show and tell! What would you share with people to inspire them about what you do?
I’m inspired by a lot of the historic parks, gardens and public spaces in the UK. My favourite spaces are:
- RHS Wisley Garden
- London 2012 Olympic Park
- Kings Cross Development
- Birmingham East Side Park
Any job hunting tips to share?
- Present yourself well. Dress smartly, and think about your body language in an interview.
- Make sure your CV or job application isn’t more than two pages of A4. Most recruiting teams will not have time to read every single detail about you, so just keep it to the most relevant things.
- Understand the job description. It’s a good idea to work through the job description before going into an interview, and think of examples you can use to show the interviewer you are competent in each area.
- Tailor your CV to the role. Your CV should focus on different areas of your experience and knowledge with each new job you apply for.
- Make most of your skills and experience. A week’s work experience will give you more job skills than you think – for example, teamwork, timekeeping, managing a workload and prioritising tasks, and communication.
More about careers with HS2
Are you interested in creating real change? Using technology to put the passenger in control? More than just a railway, HS2 is about unlocking potential, and making better connections between people and places. It’s about finding new skills, growing new industries, and starting thousands of people on a rewarding career. This takes ideas, and it takes creativity. If you want to help build the country’s biggest mega project, and get Britain moving in all the right directions, HS2 could have the career for you.