By Liana Bugslag
Brandon Doss, a native of Memphis, Tenn., is a fifth-year landscape architecture student in the honors program. He discusses his time at the University of Arkansas and his experiences along the way. They have helped to shape his knowledge and to strengthen his abilities, and he is excited to utilize the skills he has learned as he heads out to work in the professional world upon graduation in May.
Q. When did you first become interested in landscape architecture?
A. My dad is an architect in Memphis, Tenn. (my hometown), so I have been around the profession for a long time. I first became interested when I was beginning high school. I got a job doing landscaping work with a few friends. I learned that landscape architecture was a combination of architecture and the outdoors. I decided that sounded like a lot of fun.
Q. Why did you choose to attend the U of A?
A. Both of my parents attended the U of A, and I grew up a Razorback sports fan. I also have family in Fayetteville. I guess I was just born to be a Razorback. It also helped that the Fay Jones School is one of the best in the nation.
Q. Describe one of your most interesting classes or projects.
A. I think my most interesting project was my senior design project. I did a revitalization/re-design of the Memphis waterfront. In landscape architecture, students get to choose their senior project. I think that gives students a little more incentive to be more invested and to choose something they truly enjoy.
I think my most interesting class has been my Personal Finance class. I took it as an elective, but I learned so much about life. It teaches you how to budget, a lot about taxes, investing, and other stuff. I think every student should be required to take that class.
Q. What are you working on right now? Is there a design problem you are trying to solve?
A. I am currently writing my honors thesis with professors Carl Smith, Mark Boyer and Jennifer Webb. This is a totally different problem or project compared to a studio project. This involves lots of writing and research, synthesizing information, etc. Now, research, analysis and synthesis of information happens continuously in a design problem. But some of it occurs inherently as a part of the design process; you do not think about it happening. But in writing, all of this has to be documented in writing as part of your methods or literary analysis. It cannot happen inherently. I think that is the biggest difference, and it takes some getting used to. I would not say it is harder or easier, just different.
Q. What are the essential tools or other items you have at your desk in studio? What is their importance?
A. There are a few essential items: computer with dual monitors, sketchbook, my Pentel Sign Pens, and headphones. The computer with dual monitors allows you to see two things at once. For example, looking up precedents and seeing photos of inspiring work on one monitor while taking digital notes on the other. It makes a big difference. The sketchbook is always handy for those unexpected moments of design inspiration. The Pentel Sign Pen is a fantastic pen. It is a felt tip, it can draw fat or skinny lines and it draws well on any type of paper. And the headphones are to block out any noises that distract me while trying to get work done.
Q. How do you get the energy to go to studio every day/night? What drives you?
A. I think the most important driving force is a passion for the work. I’ve always told people when they ask me a question like this that it is pretty simple. I would not do it if I didn’t love it. It’s the ability to create something, and to take an idea from inception, develop it into a physical design complete with buildings, landscaping, sub-spaces, hidden rooms, etc. To create something that people will inhabit is an amazing feeling. If I didn’t love designing and creating, the workload, long nights, lack of sleep, and sometimes lack of a social life, would definitely not be worth it.
Q. How do you handle the pressure of project deadlines?
A. Time management is the biggest key to success. I think that is one of the biggest differences between a design major and other majors. All majors are difficult in their own way, but if a student in this school cannot manage time well from day one, it becomes almost impossible to succeed.
Q. What are your thoughts on the renovations of Vol Walker Hall and the new Anderson Design Center?
A. To be totally honest, I am not a huge fan of the aesthetics of the Vol Walker Hall renovation project. I am just not a fan of the extremely modern style attached to a neo-classical building. From what I know, I think the interior spaces will be great. I am looking forward to coming back when it is completed to see how it turns out.
Q. Have you had any travel experience or internships related to your major? If so, describe them.
A. In landscape architecture, we do a summer study abroad program. It is much different than the architecture program’s semesters abroad. We spend time in Rome, Florence, Paris, the southern United Kingdom, London, and Edinburgh, Scotland. That was a fantastic six weeks of traveling across Europe. I wish we spent more time in each place, but it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I learned a lot about culture, ancient landscapes, ancient buildings, and about myself.
I have also had an internship every summer except after third year because we went to Europe. I spent time doing landscape contracting work as well as doing designing in a landscape architecture firm. The landscape contracting work was great because it gave me practical experience interpreting another designer’s work. It really helped me realize what needs to be conveyed in a drawing and how easily an idea can get lost when it isn’t properly represented. I think the in-office internship was a great learning experience as well. I worked in a small office, with only four people, so I was not simply doing grunt work or trapped in a back cubicle doing construction details. I have designed things that have been, or are in the process of being, constructed. I think small firms are great ways for students to get a more well-rounded, professional experience.
Q. What are your plans after graduation? What do you hope to do with your degree?
A. I plan to get a job as soon as possible. I would like to work in a smaller firm that does a variety of work. I want to try to figure out what type of landscape architecture I like best. I want to get licensed as soon as possible. After a few years and getting licensed, I have thought about returning to grad school to specialize in planning, sustainability, or something like that. It just depends. I definitely want to find out what I like best about the profession before I spend that much time and money specializing. Plus, I’m pretty tired of academia at this point.