Mapping the fields of work of landscape architecture

There are still many misconceptions about what is Landscape architecture and what landscape architects actually do. Most of them are well justified, as the industry self covers a very wide field of activities, often confusing the general public. People often mix Landscape architects with gardeners, architects or ecology planners. As a professional field, it is badly branded. Landscape architecture maybe even is not one profession, but a spectrum of different fields of work. Quite often in praxis there is very little landscape-ish in what landscape architects actually do. I know for myself that at least 80% of my work could be also defined as urban design. I have built just one project which would loosely fit the category of “modifying large landscapes”. Most of the projects are public, and I have hardly done any gardens. 

Let’s try to look at the profession from far away. Let’s try to see if there is a way to organise the fields of of work of landscape architects. There are many, as mentioned before, and I arranged them along three axes: the

  1. According to the level of design
  2. According to the projects scale
  3. According to the closeness to architecture

We can project them on a chart. I have united the design-technology axis with the architecture-nature axis, as they are very similar (maybe they are even the same thing).


1. Design ←→technology

Different project demand different levels of design input on one side, and technological/botanical on the other. Some projects are pure exercises in design and have very little technological/botanical input, such as public space renovations. A renovation of a public square demands a lot of cultural (creative) input, but little technology is involved. On the other side of the spectrum are, for example, green roofs. It is a pure technological exercise with almost no design involved.

2. small ←→ large scale

Project can extend from the smallest gardens up to landscape planning plans for entire regions. I think it is self-explanatory.

3. architecture ←→natural sciences

Sometimes landscape architects have to function as architects for the exterior space – they have to collaborate in order to create a common concept for the building and its exteriors. They share the mindset, the materials, the tools, and in a sense then landscape architects function as architects. When working on more ecological-oriented projects, they collaborate with people from completely other disciplines: ecologists, botanists, etc. Architectural concepts very quickly do not play an important role anymore. The design principles change to follow the natural laws, not anymore the cultural concepts.

It is quite clear that the spectrum of work is wide. Landscape architects have to severely and constantly adjust their mindsets, depending on the type of projects they are working on. Brian Davids and Thomas Oles discuss that this broadness of the industry makes the naming of the industry, well, wrong. They see the mayor problem that the industry self has changed so much in the last decades that the, in a sense, its archaic naming simply cannot cover cover all the  new fields of work anymore. as they say:

The metaphor of landscape-as-architecture is historical, not ontological. It was made, and it can be remade or unmade to meet new demands and new realities.

Maybe it would be the time to think of abandoning the landscape prefix all together and substitute it with something different. Maybe something like ‘exterior’, ‘urban’, or ‘environmental’. Maybe we should even discuss the possibility of naming different sub-fields with different names, to say environmental architecture, urban landscaping, maybe even botanical landscape design.

how would mapping of the architecture industry look like?

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