The necessity of including communication and presentation educational skills in Landscape Architecture Education in Africa

The Landscape architecture profession is one which utilizes principles that are deeply rooted in science and arts. The result of the training that one garners in the profession is for the purpose of being able to effectively plan, manage and research on both built and natural environments. The landscape architect is honed to be able to be creative and analytical employing a community participatory approach that factors in the culture and politics of the environment where he is to work be it on a local, regional, national and international scale. Landscape architects are ‘Environment doctors’ who work with the knowledge required to create environments which are beautiful, safe, useful and sustainable while having a concern for the environment as stewards of the natural, constructed and human resources. Landscape architecture intermingles with other professions of the built environment. Indeed there is a little bit of architecture, urban design and planning, site planning, civil engineering, project management, environmental preservation, environmental sustainability, forestry, planting design, parks and recreation planning, natural resource management, environmental impact assessment, cultural and historic preservation and so on.  Apart from this landscape architects are constantly found liaising with other non-built environment professionals.

This relationship makes it clear that one of the necessary skills a landscape architecture student needs to acquire while undergoing training is proper presentation and communication skills. Since the client base of a landscape architect is diverse, it is necessary to convey the solutions provided by the landscape architect articulately explaining his design provisions in a pellucid and yet professional manner. Studio assignment presentations, ‘jury’ are a pre-cursor to the real life presentation that the landscape architect to be will face later. It is however interesting that in some countries in Africa, in three universities where I conducted interviews, students are expected to acquire the communication and presentation skills informally. The universities are the University of Lagos, Nigeria and the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Kaduna, Nigeria, and the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and technology, Kenya. Several academics from different schools were interviewed at different times and some had similar responses even though they were separated by time and space. In the University of Lagos, the Lecturers seemed to have differing opinions based on their unique perspectives. Three Lecturers were interviewed, all the three of them are Lecturers from the Department of Architecture and who teach  the Master in Landscape Architecture students and they had these to say:

Arc.  Jerry Obiefuna, ‘‘Graphically the students are good, but the communication aspect has a need for much improvement. Especially in writing. If you read the thesis, that’s where the problem lies.  When it comes to presentation of the studio work or term papers or projects of the students, there is already a course that should address this, it is called graphic communication and design. But we focus more on the graphic design and the graphic communication is weak. At the research seminar level, practicing presentation helps to hone the communication skills especially as it relates to building confidence with communicating with an audience. As it is said, ‘ You learn to do by doing’ It is however a known fact that most students in Nigeria generally have been affected greatly because the reading culture has  waned considerably among the younger population maybe because of the new media or impatience. So all of this said, well maybe as a course, we do not need to particularly teach it, but as what it should be in the course syllabus for the Graphic Communication and Design course, it should be further emphasized. Also students should be allowed to present their work more often ( assignments, term papers, research seminars and not just studio work alone) as this may further help them.’’

Dr Tunji Adejumo had this to say: ‘‘ The students need composure, and carriage to be able to portray that they own the work. But a number of my students, I find them mentally lazy and a few of them are intellectually fraudulent. For some of them with good English background they communicate well. I disagree with the thinking that design is only about graphics. It is about thinking, understanding the philosophy and the line and the line weight. But most of the students just believe that once their graphics are mouthwatering that is all they need. A course on communication and presentation should be included maybe not as a course but as a subject or topic under the Professional practice course syllabus. (Presentation mechanism, Art of competition, How to communicate your design should be included in this syllabus.) Professional practice has to be like show business with a lot of thinking behind it.’’

Dr (Mrs) Nnezi- Uduma Olugu had this to say: ‘‘Where the students are concerned, at times their presentation and communication skills depend on the individual capabilities. Those that are serious do the best they can and it goes a long way, those who are not just gloss over it and end up doing a shoddy job of presenting and communicating. The training of landscape architecture actually is a course that builds confidence in the students. When they are taught other things, one of the things emphasized is that the way you present your work matters. The art of presentation has to do with the content and how confident you are with your work, so I do not think it needs to be taught as a separate course.’’

In the Other university, another state of the country, that offers landscape Architecture in Nigeria at a post graduate level; the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria: One lecturer was interviewed;

Arc( Mrs) Nenchi and she had this to say: ‘‘Their presentation is based on a brief given to the students and they take it stage by stage. They go from overview to site analysis to conceptual plan and so on. I do not think there needs to be a separate course that handles communication and presentation because the general course content of landscape architecture generally produces the opportunity to develop and build these skills. This is because the design itself is the idea of the student and having done it himself, he tends to find confidence in his ability to speak about his work.  A good grade in English language from undergraduate level or high school level should handle the communication aspect and the confidence from having done the work by the students own self handles the confidence part. A workshop or extra training is welcome, but I do not think it is necessary to include it in the curriculum.’’

In another country but yet within the African continent, Another Lecturer was interviewed. In Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, Arc Hosea Omole was interviewed and he had this to say, ‘‘We have ( when I say we, I mean generally as a lecturer and my other fellow colleagues, we do talk about this on our own at times) noticed there is a lapses in the ability of the students to carry on their presentation and communicate their design concepts effectively and we have actually been thinking about how to address this.  It is very important because they would need this skill in the outside world as practicing landscape architects. What we find is that the student graphically does a wonderful design and when it comes to explaining or presenting that to us we find a disconnect and at times we even wonder about the student’s ownership of the design but it is not that the student did not do the work himself but cannot express himself effectively. I think having that as a course may be a way to solve this observed problem.’’

Interestingly there seemed to be a similarity in the responses of the lecturers who were all interviewed at different times and in different geographical locations and without prior notice. The students were not left out in this interview process but generally, students from all the universities mentioned above all stated commonly that the subject of communicating and presenting their work was left to them to handle. They all attested to the fact that it was difficult initially but as times went on, they picked it up. Another set of students believed that at a master’s level, the onus should lie on the students to be able to present and communicate effectively by themselves and that an additional teaching on this would be welcome but should not be compulsory.

The Landscape Architecture profession is generally in its bud stages in some parts of  Africa. In fact, with the exception of South Africa which has been teaching Landscape Architecture for over 2 decades, Other African countries are in their infancy stages with the profession, both in academic training and  professional practice and the two countries interviewed in the course of writing this articles belong to the category of those where the profession is in its infancy stages both at an academic and professional practice level.

Landscape architecture is a science and an art. As a science, it utilizes a body of knowledge and critical scientific attributes of analytical thinking, curiosity and problem solving. As an art, it utilizes the form of artistic expression to communicate the most profound thoughts that can be blended with human appreciation on every cultural scale. It is therefore important that in the process of grooming the future or would be landscape architects of the African region, care must be taken in addressing the acquisition of the set skills for communication and presentation.The truth be told, no matter how beautiful a landscape architectural work may be, it is necessary to be able to effectively communicate this work in such a way that the professionalism of the profession as well as the simplicity of understanding the work can be effectively blended together while eliciting confidence and inspiring appreciation in the audience of the thought and effort put into the work being presented. This is a skill and can and should be learnt! Exploration of the mediums and skills of communication and   the acquisition of  basic competence in the application of these skills should be learnt.

The students should be taught how to produce clear and accurate descriptions of a landscape architectural proposal with regards to the necessary contexts be it sub urban, regional, national or urban design contexts and apply the graphic design skills and technical knowledge to present their work using the familiar technical language.A proper instruction that is not left to chance or glossed over in the training of the landscape architecture students  will result  in the ability of the students to demonstrate a clear and high-level organizational and representational skills as well as a confident  statement of their landscape architectural proposal with attention given to details. They will learn to develop confidence with graphic and verbal communication and presentation skills while demonstrating a clearly engaging communication and presentation capacity without losing command of the necessary landscape architectural representation that is clear, accurate, accountable and compelling!

Author:

Fadera Williams

Fadera Williams