Knowlton Landscape Architecture Co-Op Program: Professional Experience by Design

Just two years in, the co-op program has prepared many Knowlton students for professional life.

Knowlton Landscape Architecture Co-Op Program: Professional Experience by Design

Five months after joining the New York office of Snøhetta, Daniel Ibba is working on a campus design project that has just finished its schematic design phase. From concept design to 3D modeling and spatial detailing, he has been responsible for the design of two specific areas of the project: the entry stairs and one of the plaza spaces. When Ibba started at the Oslo-based design firm in August 2022, he was already familiar with the project: in fact, he picked up right where he left off at the end of his co-op experience at Snøhetta.

Established in 2020, the Knowlton Landscape Architecture Co-Op Program provides junior and senior landscape architecture students the opportunity to gain valuable professional work experience before graduation and allows firms to connect with advanced undergraduate students. Co-op participation runs from January through April with the option to continue through the summer to early August.

“My co-op experience at Snøhetta fully integrated me into the workflow and environment of the firm,” said Ibba, who graduated from Knowlton in May 2022. “I was involved with all aspects of my project, including graphics, concept design, documentation, 3D modeling, physical modeling, and even presenting my work internally and externally. In this way, the co-op made me more confident in my ability to transition from a student to a full-time employee.”

Now completing her senior year in the landscape architecture program, Sophie Flinner had a similarly immersive experience at Spackman Mossop Michaels during the spring 2022 semester. When she started her program at the award-winning landscape architecture and urban design in New Orleans, Flinner worked on construction documentation, rendering, researching city codes, finding data for GIS, and design charrettes with the New Orleans community.

“There were opportunities where the principals of the firm would allow me to do planting plans or other designs with limited help from others,” said Flinner. “It allowed me to build confidence in myself since they had confidence in me.”

Planting Plans for the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans
 Preliminary planting plans for the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans

Flinner’s planting plans focused on flora valuable to butterfly and bird species at the Audubon Zoo, which required her to research the plants, arrange and rearrange them in drawings, and then draw them in on AutoCAD. “The designer I worked with, Joie Chan (MLA ’17), sat down with me and showed me how to start a planting plan since I had never done one this large before,” said Flinner. “She also gave me tips on how to make it effective and present it to the principals. It was a big learning opportunity, and I appreciate Joie for all her help.”

Ben Biedenbach
Knowlton Co-Op Program participant Ben Biedenbach in San Francisco

Senior landscape architecture student Ben Biedenbach traveled to San Rafael, California for his co-op experience with VITA Planning and Landscape Architecture. Alongside work on projects for a planned community in Hawaii and a golf course in Portugal, Biedenbach gained insights into the complex integration of communication and resources necessary for a firm to operate internationally.

Comfort Station plan for a golf course
Preliminary comfort station plan for a golf course 

“VITA has clients all over the world, so it was interesting to compare that workflow and engagement with the experiences I have had at a firm that does more local projects,” said Biedenbach. “Balancing time zones, language barriers, cultural differences, and technological barriers felt like a lot at first, but it became normal eventually.”

Tessa Pickering, now in her final undergraduate year in landscape architecture, stayed closer to home for her co-op experience, working at the Columbus office of EDGE, a landscape architecture and planning firm founded by Heisman Trophy winner and Ohio State University landscape architecture graduate Eddie George (BSLA ’01). While she worked on a variety of projects that included a multi-family community amenity corridor, Pickering highlighted the initial conceptual designs she created for a private PK-12 outdoor learning/nature play space.

“Designing was exciting on its own but meeting with the school board and other construction teams was a highlight as well, and it was nice to have involvement in a project that took place outside of the office,” said Pickering, who has recently accepted an offer for a full-time position at EDGE post-graduation.

Design for a new play space at a PK-12 school in Central Ohio
Preliminary design for a new play space at a PK–12 school in Central Ohio 

Along with working in highly collaborative environments with designers and planners, a common experience for these recent co-op students was observing how an actual project develops to its completion.

“You will never know what it is like to work in a firm until you are in one,” said Flinner. “It was interesting to see how collaborative the work was, and I got to see the other designers’ workflow.”

“I was also shown the workflow of a smaller firm that values collaboration; seeing the final product of a project that multiple employees touched and did different work on was really cool to see in the end,” added Biedenbach.

“My experience showed me that every project works at its own pace but follows the same steps to get there,” reflected Pickering. “I realized how long it takes to solidify a design and how that is only the first step. Then there are the construction documents and meetings upon meetings, and then often a nice change to the budget to make you go back to the design and rethink things.”

For students interested in the co-op program, applications are due in early October, followed by interviews and co-op acceptance offers in November. The program requires a minimum of 20 hours per week and participants are paid a competitive rate. Students also receive studio credit for their co-op participation.

The Knowlton Landscape Co-Op Program is supported by the Cowles Family Landscape Architecture Co-Op Support Fund. That fund supports the co-op program by funding travel expenses, room and board, and other expenses for third-year students participating in the co-op program.