Landscape architecture is the arrangement and modification of features within a landscape, be it in an urban or rural environment and at either a large or small scale.
When defining an area of landscape, it can be described as a space with environmental, social and economic value, features and/or characters.
These can be formed and influenced by the action and interaction of natural and/or human factors, such as heritage, aesthetic, scenic, cultural and/or leisure to name a few.
…and so when defining landscape architecture, it is the design and creation of these external spaces in order to create an environmental, social, and/or aesthetic outcome.
Much like architecture itself, these aspects involve a systematic investigation into existing ecological, social, economic, and topographic conditions and constraints, that inevitably help to produce the desired outcome, set out by the client.
What is landscape architecture?
Landscape architecture is a multi-disciplinary field, that can incorporate many aspects of design, fine art, architecture, horticulture, botany, science, psychology, geography, ecology, and civil engineering, to name a few
…it can be extensive, rewarding, and considering it is a very specialist occupation, incredibly diverse.
Using the above disciplines, landscape architecture can be incorporated into a wide variety of projects, ranging from residential gardens to public squares, parks to sports grounds, housing schemes to new cities, business parks and universities…
…quite literally any external area
These can be creating new spaces and ensuring that the existing biodiversity and habitats are not lost, or regenerating and restoring existing open spaces and taking such areas as brownfield or contaminated sites and restoring them back to their former glory.
The United Kingdom’s governing landscape body ‘The Landscape institute’ (LI for shot) suggests that, ‘Landscape architecture is rooted in an understanding of how the environment works and what makes each place unique.
It is a blend of science and art, vision and thought. It is a creative profession skilled in strategic planning, delivery and management”
Here Professionals, alumni, faculty and students from Ball State University College of Architecture and Planning in Muncie, United States further explain what the profession is all about…
What is a Landscape architect?
Firstly a ‘landscape architect’ should not be confused with an ‘architect‘ the fields are often strongly related and linked together, however form two completely different disciplines and professions.
One of the most important factors that sets them apart is that the name ‘landscape architect’ is not a legally protected title, as appose to the title of architect which is under statute.
It is however monitored and regulated, and landscape architects are required to attend an accredited graduate program, gain practical experience and pass a final exam before they can call themselves a ‘landscape architect’. …More on this below
However once a license is obtained, a landscape architect will bring a wealth of knowledge in the natural sciences, environmental law and planning policy, to analyze, plan, design, manage and nurture the external (with a few exceptions) built and natural environments.
Landscape architects can have a significant impact on communities and their quality of life, and lead teams and stakeholders to create spaces that both protect and enhance our landscapes and townscapes.
Landscape architect uses
A good landscape scheme aims to protect, conserve and enhance the natural and built environments for the people that use and occupy the spaces created.
Whether this is in an urban or rural context, landscape architecture has the ability to fuse and interconnect open and closed spaces together.
It can soften areas between and surrounding buildings, provide links and routes between them, offer spaces for relaxation, meeting and recreation, provide areas for gardening, facilities for wildlife and so on.
A well-designed and maintained landscape can attract people to a site and can have a positive impact on their experience and personal wellbeing.
As Choose Landscape state, they can “turn a waste of space into somewhere people want to hang out. A place that protects the planet, instead of polluting it.”
The professional title of landscape architect
Founded in the United States in 1863 the professional title of landscape architect was first used by the designer of New York City’s Central Park, Frederick Law Olmsted.
Frederick, who became famous for his urban parks, is widely considered to be the father of American Landscape architecture, and as the term landscape architect started to gain momentum, it was then in 1899 when Frederick’s son (with others) founded the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA).
Continuing to gain traction, it spread oversees to the United Kingdom where in 1929 The Landscape Institute (LI) was founded, and later followed by the International Federation of Landscape Architects (IFLA) in 1948 founded by Sir Geoffrey Jellicoe in Cambridge.
Now located to Brussels, the IFLA currently represents 76 member associations from Africa, the Americas, Europe, Asia Pacific, and the Middle East. (More on this below)
These governing bodies adopt their own, but very similar descriptions of what is required from the profession title of ‘Landscape Architect’:
“Landscape architects work for planning consultancies, for companies in the gardening and landscape industry, for government agencies and for local governments in public works and parks departments, water authorities or nature conservation bodies.”
“They analyze, plan, design, manage, and nurture the built and natural environments. Landscape architects have a significant impact on communities and quality of life. They design parks, campuses, streetscapes, trails, plazas, and other projects that help define a community.”
“Landscape architects have an understanding of how the environment works and what makes each site and location unique. It is a blend of science and art, vision and thought. It is a creative profession skilled in strategic planning, delivery and management.”
So in summary, a person practising under the professional title should be as a person who is educated in the field of landscape architecture, and who is a chartered and recognized member of their national and/or states/county’s landscape institution.
Landscape Architect vs Garden and landscape Designer
This is a common and often confusing question, but not one that is complicated to answer if we break each element of the titles down:
A Garden design can be defined as a portion or plot of public or private ground (usually connected to a building), that commonly contains cultivated ornamental plants, vegetables, fruits, herbs and trees.
Landscape architecture as described in detail above, involves the planning, design and management of all open spaces, and aims to provide aesthetically pleasing urban and rural environments at all scales.
…and when comparing a garden to a landscape, as above, a garden is a cultivated and maintained parcel of land, whereas a landscape can be either. The key difference is that without human input (the gardener), a garden will eventually become a landscape.
So put simply, garden design has distinct and defined boundaries and uses, whereas landscape architecture is far broader with much fewer restrictions and limitations.
As a result a garden is always manmade (designed), whereas landscapes are already naturally there.
The clear differences are as follows:
- Gardens are generally associated with a building.
- Landscapes can be any area of open and un-built land.
- Gardens tend to be smaller and more focused areas of land.
- Landscape design can be at any scale, however tends to large areas that often include gardens.
- Gardens have clear and defined boundaries.
- Landscapes often don’t.
- Gardens are reliant on management and maintenance.
- Landscapes can be either.
There are also clear distinctions between the individuals using either title; a chartered landscape architect as described above in this article, will have a professional license issued to them via their countries governing body, following directed education and experience.
A garden / landscape designer can simply call themselves this without obtaining any formal educational or experience requirements.
What does a landscape architect do?
Landscape architects are expected to:
- Meet with and appraise client requirements.
- Undertaking site surveys.
- Analyze climate, soil, flora, fauna, surface and subsurface water and drainage.
- Develop and design landscape strategies.
- Prepare and present plans and working drawings.
- Consult with clients and make recommendations.
- Sequence operations to achieve the clients design brief.
- Masterplan new and existing areas.
- Work with new and refurbished structures.
- Create and resolve circulation routes.
- Identify vegetation and planting arrangements and locations.
- Specify vegetation and planting types.
- Work with new and existing water courses.
- Monitoring the realization of construction proposals to ensure compliance with plans, specifications, cost estimates and time schedules.
- Provide maintenance and monitoring reports.
- Manage drainage and stormwater run-off.
- Assess, manage and limit erosion.
- Protect, maintain and enhance natural habitats.
- Have knowledge on environmental restoration.
- Design and locate signage.
- Manage consultants.
- Undertake landscape assessments such as environmental and visual impact assessments.
Further to this, landscape design is often divided into ‘softscape’ (soft landcape) and ‘hardscape’ (hard landscape).
Soft landscaping address’s all types of plant life, from flowers to trees and shrubs to groundcover.
There specification and placement are dependent on each the species characteristics, where each type is carefully selected to take into account natural changes and transformations throughout the seasons, climates, time of year and other site conditions.
Suitability in terms of the level of maintenance should also be taken into account, as the desired level and expectations will vary between clients and locations.
Hard landscaping consists of the manmade and inorganic elements of landscaping, such as paths, outdoor furniture, walls and fences for example.
These are generally ‘hard’ and unaffected by seasons and weather patterns; however their impact, maintenance requirements and level of weathering have to be measured.
In this video, landscape architect Janice N, presents a day in life at her award-winning firm ‘The Office of Cheryl Barton’ in San Francisco, and shares the importance of creative expression and past experiences when creating eye-catching public spaces:
What type of projects do landscape architects work on?
There are a huge variety of the areas and sectors a landscape architect can specialize in, including:
- Public parks and infrastructure.
- Residential gardens.
- Sustainable development.
- Stormwater management.
- Educational facilities.
- Public institutions.
- Government facilities.
- Botanical gardens.
- Town and city planning.
- Nature reserves.
- Recreation facilities; such as golf courses, theme parks and sports facilities.
- Housing developments.
- Industrial and commercial parks.
- Highways, transportation structures and bridges.
- Urban design.
- Town and city squares.
- Natural park.
- Restoration of historical landscapes.
- Historic garden appraisal and conservation studies.
- Reservoirs and dams.
- Environmental assessment and landscape assessment.
- Planning advice and land management proposals.
- Coastal and offshore developments.
- Ecological Design.
Becoming a landscape architect
The exact requirements for obtaining a landscape architects license varies depending on which country you live and work in, and in the United States which state you reside in, as each professional body has a tailored examination and assessment process.
However globally, almost all require a graduate degree and at least 2 years of practical experience before the final examination can be taken.
Some countries require a landscape architect to carry a license, where others do not, and so it is well worth finding and checking this with your governing body (some of which are listed at the end of this article).
In Europe, North America, parts of South America, Australia, India and New Zealand, landscape architecture is a regulated profession.
To become a chartered landscape architect in the UK takes approximately 7 years. The process starts with attending an accredited course recognized by the Landscape Institute and obtaining a bachelor’s degree in Landscape Architecture.
Following this the student must enroll onto a Postgraduate Diploma in Landscape Architecture that covers the subject in far greater detail, covering elements such as planting specification, construction and urban master planning
This concludes with a full Landscape Architect title and Chartered Membership of The Landscape Institute (CMLI.)
In the United States, landscape architecture is regulated by individual state governments.
Similar to the United Kingdom however, a future landscape architect must obtain licensure through advanced and higher education followed by work experience, and concluding with the national examination called The Landscape Architect Registration Examination (L.A.R.E.).
Licensing is overseen both at the state level, with several states additionally requiring entry via their own state exam, and nationally by the Council of Landscape Architectural Registration Boards (CLARB).
To become a recognized professional landscape architect in Australia, the first requirement is to obtain a degree in landscape architecture accredited by the Australian Institute of Landscape Architects (AILA).
Then after at least two years of recognized professional practice, graduates may submit for further assessment to obtain full professional recognition by AILA.
So a very similar process, if not the same, to both the United Kingdom and United States, however each will have their own specific and relevant focuses.
There are many academic institutes that offer landscape architecture programs, and when looking for one, we recommend that you start with your relative governing body, some of which can be found in the below links section.
Similar to the architecture profession, most countries have their own professional and governing body or institution, that aim to regulate, protect and promote the practice of landscape architecture (some of which have been already been mentioned in this article).
- Globally – International Federation of Landscape Architects
- Europe – European Federation of Landscape Architects
- United States – American Society of Landscape Architects.
- United Kingdom – Landscape Institute
- Australia – Australian Institute of Landscape Architects
- Canada – Canadian Society of Landscape Architects
- Italy – Italian Association of Professional Landscape Architects
- New Zealand – The New Zealand Institute of Landscape Architects
- Republic of Ireland – The Irish Landscape Institute
- South Africa – Institute for Landscape Architecture in South Africa
These Landscape institutions uphold standards, oversee the professional qualifications and promote the landscape architecture profession.
Landscape architecture on YouTube
For further information and inspiration, there are few good landscape channels on YouTube:
The below list of websites also provide various additional landscape architecture resources of information and inspiration: