Landscape architecture is the design of outdoor and public spaces to achieve environmental, socio-behavioral, and/or aesthetic outcomes. It involves the systematic investigation of existing social, ecological, and geological conditions and processes in the landscape, and the design of interventions that will produce the desired outcome. The scope of the profession includes: urban design; site planning; town or urban planning; environmental restoration; parks and recreation planning; visual resource management; green infrastructure planning and provision; and private estate and residence landscape master planning and design; all at varying scales of design, planning and management. A practitioner in the profession of landscape architecture is called a landscape architect.
History of landscape architecture
For the period before 1800, the history of landscape gardening (later called landscape architecture) is largely that of master planning and garden design for manor houses, palaces and royal properties, religious complexes, and centers of government. An example is the extensive work by André Le Nôtre at Vaux-le-Vicomte and for King Louis XIV of France at the Palace of Versailles. The first person to write of “making” a landscape was Joseph Addison in 1712. 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. During the latter nineteenth century, the term “landscape architect” became used by professional people who designed landscapes. This use of “landscape architect” became established after Frederick Law Olmsted and Beatrix Farrand with others founded the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) in 1899, and with the 1949 founding of the International Federation of Landscape Architects (IFLA).
Through the 19th century, urban planning became a more important need. The combination of the tradition of landscape gardening and emerging city planning that gave Landscape Architecture its unique focus to serve these needs. In the second half of the century, Frederick Law Olmsted completed a series of parks which continue to have a huge influence on the practices of Landscape Architecture today. Among these were Central Park in New York City, Prospect Park in Brooklyn, New York and Boston’s Emerald Necklace park system. Jens Jensen designed sophisticated and naturalistic urban and regional parks for Chicago, Illinois, and private estates for the Ford family including Fair Lane and Gaukler Point. One of the original ten founding members of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), and the only woman, was Beatrix Farrand. She was design consultant for over a dozen universities including: Princeton in Princeton, New Jersey; Yale in New Haven, Connecticut; and the Arnold Arboretum for Harvard in Boston, Massachusetts. Her numerous private estate projects include the landmark Dumbarton Oaks in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, D.C.
Landscape architecture continues to develop as a design discipline, and responded to the various movements in architecture and design through the 20th century. Thomas Church was a mid-century landscape architect significant in the profession. His book “Gardens Are For People,” and numerous campus master planning and residential design projects influenced environmental design in California, and so the country. Roberto Burle Marx in Brazil combined the International style and native Brazilian plants and culture for a new aesthetic. Innovation continues today solving challenging problems with contemporary design solutions for master planning, landscapes, and gardens. Two examples of current practice are Martha Schwartz based in Cambridge, Massachusetts and London, and by the Dutch design group (West 8) based in Rotterdam, the Netherlands.
Ian McHarg is considered an important influence on the modern Landscape Architecture profession and land planning in particular. With his book “Design with Nature”, he popularized a system of analyzing the layers of a site in order to compile a complete understanding of the qualitative attributes of a place. This system became the foundation of today’s Geographic Information Systems (GIS). McHarg would give every qualitative aspect of the site a layer, such as the history, hydrology, topography, vegetation, etc. GIS software is ubiquitously used in the landscape architecture profession today to analyze materials in and on the Earth’s surface and is similarly used by Urban Planners, Geographers, Forestry and Natural Resources professionals, etc. Other internationally recognized practitioners include Alain de Rogaine in Paris, Yuishi Kogazawa in Kyoto and Camille Kelly in Sydney.
Landscape architecture is a multi-disciplinary field, incorporating aspects of: botany, horticulture, the fine arts, architecture, industrial design, geology and the earth sciences, environmental psychology, and ecology. The activities of a landscape architect can range from the creation of public parks and parkways to site planning for campuses and corporate office parks, 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, suburban and rural, and with “hard” (built) and “soft” (planted) materials, while integrating ecological sustainability. The most valuable contribution can be made at the first stage of a project to generate ideas with technical understanding and creative flair for the design, organization, and use of spaces. The landscape architect can conceive the overall concept and prepare the master plan, from which detailed design drawings and technical specifications are prepared. They can also review proposals to authorize and supervise contracts for the construction work. Other skills include preparing design impact assessments, conducting environmental assessments and audits, and serving as an expert witness at inquiries on land use issues. They can also support and prepare applications for capital and revenue funding grants.
In some states, provinces, municipalities, and jurisdictions, such as Ontario, Canada and Santa Barbara, California, all designs for public space must be reviewed and approved by licensed landscape architects.
The breadth of the professional task that landscape architects collaborate on is very broad, but some examples of project types include:
- The planning, form, scale and siting of new developments
- Civil design and public infrastructure
- Sustainable development
- Stormwater management including rain gardens, green roofs, groundwater recharge, and treatment wetlands
- Campus and site design for public institutions and government facilities
- Parks, botanical gardens, arboretums, greenways, and nature preserves
- Recreation facilities; ie: playgrounds, golf courses, theme parks and sports facilities
- Housing areas, industrial parks and commercial developments
- Estate and residence landscape master planning and design
- Highways, transportation structures, bridges, and transit corridors
- Urban design, town and city squares, waterfronts, pedestrian schemes, and parking lots
- Large to small urban renewal planning and design
- Natural park, tourist destination, and recreating historical landscapes, and historic garden appraisal and conservation studies
- Reservoirs, dams, power stations, reclamation of extractive industry applications or major industrial projects and mitigation
- Environmental assessment and landscape assessment, planning advice and land management proposals.
- Coastal and offshore developments and mitigation
- Ecological Design any aspect of design that minimizes environmentally destructive impacts by integrating itself with natural processes and sustainability