Nearly every year for the past decade, LSU’s Robert Reich School of Landscape Architecture has been named the top program of its kind, beating out other prestigious flagships and highly-regarded schools such as Cornell University and Harvard University on the annual DesignIntelligence magazine rankings.
Most of those involved with the program say unequivocally the success of the program is due to the school’s founder, Robert Reich. His method of teaching involved intentionally pushing students to learn how to draft their own designs, says Mark Boyer, director of the school and Reich Teaching Professor, while many other schools teach students design principles by having them copy other folks’ designs.
Also, because it’s a five-year program requiring hundreds of hours in the studio, the school becomes something of a family during a student’s time on campus. Boyer says he can confidently look in the eyes of parents and assure them their child will never be a number.
“That concentration on the student has created a group of alumni that really love this program because of the way they were treated,” Boyer says. “That’s why so many come back and give back through their time, energy and money.”
As the only landscape architecture program in the state, the school can seem like a natural choice for Louisiana students looking to enter the field. But the rankings have also garnered the attention of international students—especially those from China—looking to pursue a graduate degree, although Boyer warns his students that the rankings’ worth doesn’t compare to the school’s reputation.
“What they need to understand is that the reputation of the landscape architecture program at LSU is very strong,” Boyer says. “Employers want to hire our students no matter the ranking because they know they’re getting an education, being taught how to think, how to design and being taught technical skills to be productive members of a firm.”
Besides consistently topping the charts, the school has also produced a number of successful alumni that staff design firms across the country.
For Doug Reed, a 1978 graduate and co-founder of Reed Hilderbrand in Cambridge, Massachusetts, his experience in the program defined him.
“The program helped me develop a point of view about landscape design and instilled in me a passion for the environment and it’s stayed with me,” Reed says. “It’s brought me so much satisfaction in my career. I have a huge debt of gratitude to the school.”
Even now, he often returns to Baton Rouge to visit the school while traveling to the South for work. He’s hired several LSU graduates to work in his New England office, and he serves on the school’s alumni board.
The school’s alumni have a big role in the success of the program, says Jeff Carbo, a 1985 graduate and founder of the Baton Rouge-based CARBO. Over the years, they’ve pushed to propel the school and help it maintain its stature, in spite of the cuts to higher education by the state.
It was alumni who raised millions to rename the school in Robert Reich’s honor, as well as raise the money to start several other initiatives for the school. This spring, there was a ribbon cutting for the Carbo Landscape Architecture Recruitment Center, funded by Carbo and his wife, Wendy.
Since founding his own firms in Alexandria and Baton Rouge, Carbo estimates he’s hired roughly 25 graduates from the program, simply because he knows they can think.
“Technical skills, everyone can teach those,” Carbo says. “But ideas, processes and how to think thoughtfully—no one is ever going to slow down to teach those in a work environment, and LSU really stresses those skills. You see that manifest itself in the work of LSU graduates who have completed projects across the globe.”
LSU landscape architect graduates can also be found staffing the Downtown Development District in Baton Rouge and Executive Director Davis Rhorer, a 1979 graduate, has hired landscape architects to lead many local projects that have transformed the district, such as the North Boulevard Town Square, Riverfront Plaza and City Plaza. Many times, he says, even when the firms are from out-of-state, there’s still LSU grads on staff helping design the projects.
“The program has profoundly affected the way we have shaped and molded downtown development,” Rhorer says.
The program’s students may also have a hand in the revitalization of Plank Road in north Baton Rouge. Last spring, under the direction of assistant professor Nicholas Serrano, a class of students were engaged by Build Baton Rouge to help reimagine developments for Plank Road. Serrano will also work with a few graduate students this fall for a $50,000 historic building structure survey along Plank Road, a project he expects to take a full year to complete.
“Having real world projects to work is essential to a professional program,” Serrano says, “and essential to a real world