What is Landscape Architecture?

I’m often hesitant to tell people that I’m a landscape architect, and it’s not because I have anything to hide – it’s due to the misconception that comes with the title. People tend to hear the word “landscape” and ignore the “architect” that follows. Reactions often range from “you should look at my yard” to “winter must be your slow season”.  I tend to cringe at most responses, but politely try to explain what I do. I think that removing the word “landscape” from the title and substituting it with something else, such as “site”, would do a lot to avoid confusion, but our professional association isn’t about to alter a name used since the 1800s. We therefore need to keep educating the public about landscape architecture – I’m attempting to do my part with this post and with my blog in general.

In the meantime, I have started to tell people that I’m a type of architect that designs outdoor spaces. I then let them know that we are called landscape architects but our work isn’t limited to planting design, and that the vast majority of us do not perform any construction or installation. I also let them know that all 50 U.S. states require licensure for landscape architects, due to our impact on the public’s health, safety, and welfare.

Landscape architecture is a very broad field. The scale of work can range from very small spaces to entire regions, and the scope of design and planning can also vary widely. Examples of landscape architectural projects can include parks/recreation sites and facilities; streetscapes and other urban spaces; green infrastructure/storm water management; office and commercial sites; academic and corporate campuses; housing developments; hotel facilities and resorts; residential properties; green roofs; landscape art and earth sculpture; hospital grounds and therapeutic gardens; historic preservation; environmental restoration; transportation corridors and facilities; and urban/regional planning.

A landscape architect’s design work often begins with analysis of an existing site, followed by the design of schematic plans for the property. We later design and produce construction drawings and specifications, which contractors will follow to build/install our designs. Our construction drawings typically include, at minimum, the layout and specification of site features (such as walkways, parking areas, structures, and athletic facilities); grading and storm drainage design; a planting plan; and construction detailing.

I find it ironic that a profession having such a large and beneficial impact on the public is so misunderstood. I hope that significant progress is made to dispel its myths before too long. It would be nice to tell people that I’m a landscape architect and typically get responses like this: “Great – What types of projects do you design?”

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14 thoughts on “What is Landscape Architecture?

  1. Karoline Klein

    Hi Alice,

    Couldn’t agree more. I have been in the field for 20 years and still have trouble to encapsulate what we do in punchy 3 lines. I end up having to give lengthy explanations. But maybe that is a good thing – our field of work is so broad – that is what makes it interesting.

    P.S. I am practicing in Australia

    Kind regards

    Karoline Klein

    Registered Landscape Architect (AILA)

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    1. Hi Karoline,

      It’s great to hear from LAs in other countries! It sounds like many of us have the same issues — trying to educate others about our complex profession. I have also spoken (via Twitter) with an LA from the U.K. who says the same thing. Thanks for your response!

      Alice

  2. Great blog Alice! I think we all feel this frustration. I have been writing a blog with the same purpose in mind. Unfortunately, too many people think landscape design and seem genuinely confused to find out that yes we do more than planting plans and yes we actually have to be educated and licensed to do it! Even many in our sister professions of architecture and engineering think that all we are capable of doing is planting plans. Thus they busily put forth bad site design as they push their way into areas for which they have no real training or experience. Keep pushing! Ignorance is a fearsome force.

  3. Hi Alice,

    I’ve been following along with your blog posts, I hope you’re enjoying it as much as your audience is. Would you be open to posting this blog on our website, permatrak.com? Our company works with LAs and civil engineers to design concrete systems for their trail, greenway, bike path or elevated platform projects. We have a good readership base of parks and rec professionals, public agencies, LAs and civil engineers, and some general contractors. We try to focus on providing educational, objective content on boardwalks and boardwalk design on our blog. Overall I think this post would be a great addition to our website. Let me know if you’re interested.

    Thanks,

    Stephen

    1. Hi Stephen,

      I would like to invite you to view my blog as well. Alice and I have both been writing on similar topics and in fact know each other. You can find explanations on this same train of thought at: http://aapockat.blogspot.com – posts 8/15/13, 5/19/13, 4/13/13, 1/4/13 and 8/17/12. It is a common bone of contention among landscape architects.

      1. Hi Alice,

        What I had in mind was to include your post directly on our page with an intro to say something along these lines…”This is a guest post from Alice Webb, RLA, ASLA, owner of EarthDesign Landscape Architecture LLC in Worcester, Massachusetts. You can read more about landscape architecture and related design topics from Alice at her Land Perspectives blog.” Then I’d like the “Land Perspectives blog” wording to this site. My reasoning for going about it this way is that if I just have a link to your blog on our site, not as many people will actually see your writing because they all won’t click the link to come to your site. From an SEO perspective, your blog would benefit from the inbound link coming from our site which is reputable and non-spammy. Let me know if you’re open to this type of format. Thanks,

        Stephen

  4. Alice, I have shared this link, every April, to correspond with National Landscape Architecture Month. I intend to do that again, this year. There continues to be a struggle in my area, where like you described, many hear the 1st word of “Landscape,” ignore “architect,” an assume I have some plants and shovels in the bed of my pick up truck. Thank you for this post, and keep spreading the good word!

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