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Policy Shaper: Interview with Mark H. Hough, FASLA

Mark H. Hough, FASLA, is University Landscape Architect at Duke University. Interview was conducted by Om Khurjekar, ASLA.

Q: Public sector versus private sector, what made you choose the public sector path when you were starting your career? Was this your first choice or did you choose this path as a result of an event or experience?

A: My first job out of graduate school was with a private firm, which I enjoyed, but I knew I wanted to at least try something different. I moved to New York in the late 1990s to work at the Central Park Conservancy which, like Duke, is not technically public practice, but closer to that than a private design office. Central Park really exposed me to the practice of landscape stewardship, which appealed to me instantly. That experience inspired me to focus my career on one landscape rather than designing on a bunch of different sites that I would never really get the opportunity to know well.

Q: How did your education or training prepare you for what you do today?

A: My job at Duke requires me to be a generalist, so pretty much everything I have learned along the way comes into play at some point. I deal with a lot of different things at various scales, from master planning down to very detailed design, and I weigh in on architecture, engineering, and maintenance issues, too. No two days are ever the same, but I spend a lot of time working on internal things like design guidelines and natural resource management, and then collaborate with outside consultants on creating new spaces. I’ve gotten good at understanding what I need to know versus what I can hire outside experts to figure out.

Q: Can you share your experiences practicing as a Landscape Architect in the public sector and working with Landscape Architects or design teams from the private sector?

A: I am very fortunate that Duke really values good design and is willing to pay for it. We work with great landscape architects and architects who bring a lot of expertise to the campus. I’m fascinated by how firms structure themselves and tackle design challenges so differently. No firm is right for every project we do, and when we perfectly match the right designer with the right project—and keep the budget intact—it makes for a great collaboration.

Q. Can you share the notable challenges you have had through your career practicing as a Landscape Architect in Public Sector?

A: I’m not sure it’s a challenge, but I have spent a lot of time and energy over the years trying to make people more aware of the value of landscape stewardship. Much of my writing, including numerous pieces for Landscape Architecture Magazine, has been devoted to the work of landscape architects who, like me, spend their careers overseeing cultural or historic landscapes.

Q: If there was one tip you wish to share with the next generation of Landscape Architects would take to heart, what is it?

A: Don’t settle. Do some research and find out what you are passionate about. That could well be working in a design office, but it may be something else. Read as much as you can find about the profession—not just about projects with pretty photos, but ideas and initiatives that challenge you, as well. That might be where your passion lies.

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