Jul 01 2020, by Fleetwood Urban

Study Meets Reality

University remains the most common pathway into the Industry for landscape architects and urban designers. But how big is the leap from ‘student’ to ‘professional’ in 2020? To find out we recently sat down with Kar Kheng Gan, a graduate landscape architect with TCL in Adelaide.

FWD>THINKING: Thanks for your time, Kar. Can we start with a little background about your studies and your journey to working with Taylor Cullity Lethlean (TCL) in Adelaide?

KAR KHENG GAN: I studied a double degree of Architecture and Landscape Architecture at the University of Adelaide. After I graduated in 2017 it took me roughly six months to find a job in the industry, that’s when I started working here at TCL.

FWD>THINKING: How did you find the job seeking process?

KAR KHENG GAN:  It was quite stressful at the start of 2017, mostly because I wasn’t sure if I was going to do architecture or landscape. At the time, it was proving quite difficult to get a job in the architecture industry, especially in Adelaide, and I was ready to pack up all my belongings and move to Melbourne. Fortunately, I was the recipient of the 2016 TCL Award and it just so happened they were looking for a graduate around the same time. I was actually presenting my final project in their offices one day, then went straight in for an interview – and started working the day after! I was quite lucky.

FWD>THINKING: What is your current role at TCL?

KAR KHENG GAN: I’ve been with TCL for almost three years now. I’m a graduate landscape architect and will hopefully become registered at the end of the year. Fingers crossed.

FWD>THINKING: How have you found the jump from ‘student’ to ‘landscape architect’?

KAR KHENG GAN: It’s been very different because (prior to joining TCL) I didn’t have any previous experience or even an internship in the landscape industry. Everything was technically very new to me, and that’s still the case with a lot of different experiences and scenarios. Thankfully TCL has helped a lot on my transition from being a student to a young professional. I’ve really appreciated the different opportunities I’ve been given and their guidance along the way. Things have been broken down into smaller steps and given to me in smaller pieces, rather than “there you go, sort it out!” kind of opportunities. That’s really helped.

FWD>THINKING: Do you feel you were well prepared for what lay ahead on leaving Uni?

KAR KHENG GAN: I don’t think you will ever be ‘that’ prepared because the industry is always changing and evolving. For me personally, it’s a journey of learning and application. It’s about understanding the expectations, ethics and etiquette on the scheme of things – how things need to be done – and acknowledging the things I don’t know and also knowing where and how to seek help or clarification when that happens. If that’s the case, yes, I think I’ve been pretty well prepared.

FWD>THINKING: Knowing what you know now, what were some of the best things about your University experience?

KAR KHENG GAN: For me, it was having different courses, lecturers and tutors each with their own agendas and approaches to the ‘journey of design’. That really broadened my perspective and helped me to be more open-minded. Most of the time I found I was having serious discussions (hopefully not arguments!) with different lecturers about different things. It was kind of a filter, working out what I like and what I don’t like; things that I will take along in my career versus leave behind. At a broader level, this process has led me to believe that we are not, technically, problem solvers as there will always be someone who has a better idea. Rather we’re problem identifiers, and then bring in different people to collaborate.

FWD>THINKING: What things could perhaps have been done better to help you with that professional transition?

KAR KHENG GAN: Mostly my experience was good, but maybe they could consider consolidating the courses. Each semester we’d typically have a design studio, a technical course and a plant course, and we might have to go through the same process for the three courses, but just that different focus. I think it might be good, certainly in the final year, to have a consolidated course that covers the three aspects together. Also, I’ve always admired universities in the US and Europe where their FYP (final year project) is a one-year program, instead of just a semester here in Australia.

FWD>THINKING: Any final thoughts about your experiences so far as an emerging landscape architect?

KAR KHENG GAN: I must say I feel very lucky. I’ve found the landscape architecture community to be very friendly and forgiving. Most people are willing to lend a helping hand in various forms, which I appreciate a lot.

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