What is Landscape Architecture?

I am the newest member of the team at Land and Heritage Ltd.  When I was asked to write an article for our regular blog spot, I was a bit stumped – I’ve not been here that long, and having relocated to Cornwall from the East Midlands, I am still finding my feet in the South-West.  So I’ve gone back to basics – my remit for the business is to expand the services offered to include Landscape Architecture, so for the benefit of past, present and future clients I will pose the simple question: 

What is Landscape Architecture – indeed what is a Landscape Architect?

Actually, I find my profession difficult to describe succinctly, and having done quite a bit of research, I don’t think that I’m alone in this.  The issue is that Landscape Architecture covers a really broad scope of activities and also overlaps with a number of other disciplines such as engineering, ecology, environmental sciences, architecture, conservation, planning, land management and art.

Personally, I like the definition given by the Department of Landscape Architecture at The University of Sheffield: ‘Landscape architecture is about creating, managing and conserving memorable places for people to live in, work in and visit. It requires a flair for creativity; an ability to combine diverse knowledge to produce imaginative yet workable solutions, and a passion for improving environmental quality and people´s lives.’

My first introduction to the profession was as a 15 year old, when my careers advisor at school was frankly stumped by my subject choices for A Level – what career path do you recommend to someone who is determined to study Art & Art History, Geography and Social Biology (with evolution)?  Eventually, after unsuccessfully trying to persuade me to drop the Art and do Chemistry instead, she suggested a profession called Landscape Architecture and recommended that I look it up in the library to see what I could discover about it. And having looked it up and read about it, (try here if you are interested) I realised that Landscape Architecture was a profession that would suit my own skills and interests very well indeed.

To become a landscape architect in the UK you will need an undergraduate and postgraduate degree recognised by the Landscape Institute.  The profession suits people who are both creative and who have an interest and appreciation of science as well as a passion for the natural environment.  I graduated from the Department of Landscape Architecture at The University of Sheffield with a BSc (Hons) in Landscape Design and Plant Science in 1990 and completed my Diploma in Landscape Architecture there in 1992.  Not all landscape architects choose the science route, and accredited courses reflect all aspects of the profession – landscape and urban design, historic landscapes, environmental conservation, landscape management, planning, conservation and ecology and more, because ultimately landscape professionals are as varied as the landscapes that they work with.  Landscape professionals also need a mix of practical skills, an understanding of people and society, and the essential ability to combine these diverse skills and to communicate effectively to a wide range of audiences.

Landscape visual impact assessment is important for large or sensitive developments

It is an inherently multi-and interdisciplinary profession, which is what makes it so satisfying as a practitioner.  I have worked in teams alongside civil engineers , architects, ecologists, arboriculturalists, archaeologists, planners, horticulturalists and countryside managers, and my experience is that a fully integrated, multi-disciplinary approach produces more successful outcomes.  It is encouraging to see that the landscape profession is increasingly taking the lead in development projects, for example in the master planning stage of new housing, meaning that landscape-led approach is now accepted practice.

Leading with the landscape means carefully designing any development around existing physical features, ideally to enhance them, and so that you are creating a landscape that works for the location, the ecosystem and the people who will live there and use the spaces.  Projects are likely to be more successful, and often more cost effective, when we take the time to understand the existing and natural environments in which they are located  – the soils and geology, the water courses and drainage, the plants and animals and their habitats – as well as their cultural and historical context and local landscape character.

So, an answer to my original question might be that Landscape Architects protect, enhance and create environments, resulting in improvements to environmental quality, health and wellbeing.

Amanda Urmson