Don't Forget Your Hat

Ahhhh, the great outdoors! Being who we are and what we do, most landscape architects appreciate being drawn away from our desks to the outdoor work environment that we all, deep down, prefer.

What hat are YOU wearing this work day?

So let’s go outside! And when we do venture out, always remember to grab a hat. You just never know when you might need one.

Understandably, this is sound, practical, outdoor-adventuring advice, not foreign or enlightening to any of us these days.

Sure, the hat needs to have a wide brim, provide a sun-blocking amenity of sorts, give a snug fit so as not to lift off your noggin in a stiff breeze, and most certainly communicate an air of style and respect that is appropriate for the consummate professional (or fashionista) we strive to be.

Such advice might also relate well in our professional life.

Regardless of an outdoor or indoor office, we all wear some kind of hat to work. We’ve all been at the table, communicating our true expertise as part of an owner's design team, when informally our opinions are requested regarding matters of architecture, engineering, surveying, contracting, construction, business, etc.

More times than not it is a relevant coordination question in the grand scheme of design. We do, after all, have a professional responsibility to compliment our work with others (and hopefully their work with ours), as well as be economically minded in our solutions.

So when asked, "Whaddaya think?" know you are about to pick a hat to wear. Choose it carefully. While you're checking for the wide brim, sunblock lining, great fit, and general good looks of the hat, realize your choice might require a selection from an assorted closet inventory if you're not careful.

Landscape architecture is unique in its professional role. Whether we want to or not, we deal with living, vibrant objects in both the horticultural and humanist worlds of ever-changing reality.

We can effectively bridge design gaps between architecture and engineering. Through words and actions, we mediate the attitude and philosophical extremes between our allied professionals, differences that sometimes perpetuate throughout the course of a relationship.

We find ourselves exercising in the nurture, console, appease, annoy, judge, agree, disagree, decide, win, lose, compromise, react, and create game by simply being asked to try on a hat.

The same is true when other design professionals are asked the "Whaddaya think?" question.

Is it right? If asked by a client or business colleague, should we boldly don the hat belonging to another professional? Or is it a professional ethics issue that dictates a tactful deferral in our response?

Perhaps it is the competitive, money-squeezing mindset of today's struggling business economy that causes this varied sporting of hats at the consulting table. Or is it some personal attitude that keeps us switching hats the minute we walk into the room?

Now just a minute! What if someone swipes my hat? What if the question is posed to the engineer or architect about what I'm doing on a project...and, for crying out loud, they respond?

Why did they go and try on my hat?

Hopefully, I temper my reaction a bit and, much like the hats I choose to wear, do so with a certain style. Experience may best decide whether my hat is professional, and whether it serves in fashion or function.

Some hat styles are more universally accepted, while others are more specific to the dress of the day.

Oh yeah, there are many professionals that simply don't know hats. If they wear them, and shouldn't, we like to keep them on notice. I also know there are certain people that know hats better than most--when to wear them or not, whether they fit, and don’t hesitate telling you such--they seem to keep us on notice.

I often wonder whether that “His-Hat-On-My-Head-Happening” is getting too well-worn? I am all for the next time when coming to the table, we all foster a “Hat-In-Hand” approach for a change. Let's give that a try and see what happens.

Don't forget your hat this weekend...wear it well.

Tim May is a professional landscape architect and LEED AP for TNP in Fort Worth, Texas. He can be reached via email at or by twitter at @TMay82.