What is Wrong with Landscape Architecture Today?

In this article, we take a closer look at landscape architecture today. In current times, we cannot deny that landscape architecture is indeed a growing profession. In 2011, the National Endowment for the Arts, NEC, predicted future job prospects for several artistic occupations through to 2018 within the U.S. and landscape architecture came out with one of the highest projected growth rates of 20%.

Since 1863, when Fredrick Law Olmsted adopted the title “landscape architect,” the profession has digressed into several areas of expertise from landscape planning, to management, to design, which can be further divided into areas of conservation, science, the arts, and many other applications. So much so that landscape architects have coined themselves as “Stewards of the Land”.

The accumulated development of the profession has also made landscape architecture vulnerable, for example, to the influence of popular trends and culture. It has never been a better time to now pause, take a step back, and look at the profession with a critical eye.

Landscape Architecture Today

10. Our Professional Organizations are not Doing Enough to Promote the Profession

It is time to get over the fact that landscape architecture is a relatively new or young profession. It has been about 150 years since the profession has been recognized (if you recall the mid-nineteenth century establishment of its identity).

There are now so many professional organizations that represent landscape architects nationally and worldwide, from ASLA in the U.S, LI in the U.K., AILA in Australia to IFLA Europe and IFLA World.

Yet I still find myself explaining that we do not just do garden design. Sustainable and resilient modes of thinking demand that landscape architects lead the way but as landscape “stewards,” are we having much of an impact?

Frankly, I am concerned that our respective professional organizations are not doing an effective job at getting the word out about who we are and what we do.

The vigorous and sensitive nature of our work means landscape architects are capable of being the most adaptable and least appreciated. We need a public relations campaign.

9. Landscape Architects Fail to Pursue Bigger Decision-making Roles

There may be a general inferiority complex within the profession. As Mark Hough has rightly stated in his article, landscape architects “have had a tougher time finding seats at the table alongside planners and architects when broader planning decisions are being made.”

ASLA has also questioned this statement back in 2012.

Landscape architects need to assert themselves as designers of all public infrastructures.

Working as a planner is a decision-making position but land uses can be better regulated and revived using the spatial design knowledge and skills we fundamentally possess.

8. Students are not Taught to Understand the Real Practice of the Profession

Last July, I finished four years of design education where I emerged with a B.A. and M.A. in Landscape Architecture.

Yet with my diploma in hand, I am still pondering about what it means to practice as a landscape architect.

Design school is all about selling your idea, no matter how bad it would be in reality.

Why do students in design school create marketable but unrealistic proposals when our job is to design places that ought to be built one day?

Design studio culture shuts students inside and away from intermingling with people unlike themselves. If we spent time, from much earlier stages, delving into interpreting ecological or social patterns and learned to place importance on feasibility and actual implementation of a project, we would be much better equipped to grapple the ropes of good practice.

7. Office Culture Needs to Start Reflecting the Work we do

Historically, from the likes of the French landscape architect André Le Nôtre, who designed the park of the Palace of Versailles, our industry has been about the aesthetics of projects.

It then evolved to include showing sensitivity to environments and is now touching on resiliency and the effects of personal well-being.

We are, at times, building projects for the wrong reasons; focused on “building” landscapes rather than building up people and relationships.

Office culture can certainly do better to start this discussion.

Facebook, the social media giant, is leading discussions of the digital world and they have a unique office culture to match what they are preaching.

If Facebook can do things differently, why can’t landscape architectural firms evolve and do things differently?

After all, our mindsets influence our designs, which in turn translates to our projects and are reflected on the product users.

6. Young Professionals Lack the Necessary Horticultural Knowledge

What clearly differentiates landscape architects from fellow professionals in artistic occupations is our ability to specify planting species for different purposes .

However, young professionals today often have little background knowledge on plants. The school system should also be encouraging horticultural studies as a strong basis of the learning component if one wants to practice as a landscape architect.

The implications of specifying wrong species can have a huge impact in the built environment. An example is to know the right species of trees to specify in urban landscapes.

James Urban, an American landscape architect, has even written the ASLA award-winning book “Up by Roots” to help the professionals specify the right trees in the built environment.

Every profession can serve to improve. No matter the area of improvement, Landscape Architecture is a growing field and deserves more space in colleges and more recognition in the Green Industry. We must work together to build a stronger career field for ourselves and those to follow. Click here for the full Landscape Architects Article by Win Phyo.