As a landscape architect, I often find myself explaining what it is I do exactly. Generally confused with a landscaper, gardener, or arborist, it seems that many outside of the design profession have yet to discover the true meaning and purpose of a landscape architect, and the special training that they go through that differs from associated professions, and the benefits that their services can provide.
This article aims at defining Landscape Architecture, which has long been a topic for debate amongst the profession. Though constantly evolving, I feel the description below generally well defines where it stands today.
Landscape architecture is the art, planning, design, management, preservation and rehabilitation of the land and the design of human-made constructs. The scope of the profession includes architectural design, site planning, housing estate development, environmental restoration, town or urban planning, urban design, parks and recreation planning, regional planning, and historic preservation. A practitioner in the field of landscape architecture is called a landscape architect.
Landscape architecture is a multi-disciplinary field, including within its fold geography, mathematics, science, engineering, art, horticulture, technology, social sciences, politics, history, philosophy. The activities of a landscape architect can range from the creation of public parks and parkways to site planning for corporate office buildings, from the design of residential estates to the design of civil infrastructure and the management of large wilderness areas or reclamation of degraded landscapes such as mines or landfills. Landscape architects work on all types of structures and external space - large or small, urban or rural, and with "hard"/"soft" materials, hydrology and ecological issues.
The breadth of the professional task that landscape architects collaborate on is very broad, but some examples of project types include:
- Civil design and public infrastructure
- Stormwater management including rain gardens, green roofs and treatment wetlands
- Campus and site design for institutions
- Parks, botanical gardens, arboretums, greenways, and nature preserves
- Recreation facilities like golf courses, theme parks and sports facilities
- Housing areas, industrial parks and commercial developments
- Highways, transportation structures, bridges, and transit corridors
- Urban design, town and city squares, waterfronts, pedestrian schemes, and parking lots
- Large or small urban regeneration schemes
- Forest, tourist or historic landscapes, and historic garden appraisal and conservation studies
- Reservoirs, dams, power stations, reclamation of extractive industry applications or major industrial projects
- Environmental assessment and landscape assessment, planning advice and land management proposals.
- Coastal and offshore developments
The most valuable contribution is often made at the earliest stage of a project in generating ideas and bringing flair and creativity to the use of space. The landscape architect can contribute to the overall concept and prepare an initial master plan, from which detailed designs can subsequently be prepared. He or she can also let and supervise contracts for construction work, prepare design impact assessments, conduct environmental assessments or audits and act as an expert witness at inquiries on land use. He or she can also support or prepare applications for capital or revenue funding grants.
For the period before 1800 (see section on History, below) the history of landscape architecture is largely that of master planning. The first person to write of "making" a landscape was Joseph Addison in 1712. The term "landscape gardener" was invented by William Shenstone in 1754 but the first professional designer to use this term was Humphry Repton in 1794. The term "landscape architecture" was invented by Gilbert Laing Meason in 1828 and was first used as a professional title by Frederick Law Olmsted in 1863. Lancelot Brown, (also known as "Capability" Brown), who remains one of the best known "landscape gardeners" actually called himself a "place maker". During the nineteenth century, the term "landscape gardener" became applied to people who build (and sometimes design) landscapes and the term "landscape architect" became reserved for people who design (and sometimes build) landscapes. This use of "landscape architect" became established after the American Society of Landscape Architects was founded in 1899 and the International Federation of Landscape Architects (IFLA) in 1948.