Landscape Architecture Essay

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Landscape architecture is an academic discipline and a profession whose aim is the analysis, planning, design, and management of built or nonbuilt environments in order to conserve, restore, change, or create sites according to specific human or ecological needs. Its main task is to relate the multiple elements comprising a landscape, such as topography, fauna, flora, buildings, and inhabitants with all the aesthetic and social values and uses associated with it in order to undertake specific action on sites. Landscape architecture is not a branch of architecture since it focuses not only on the design of single elements but also on the integration of diverse elements in a landscape.

Traditional landscape architecture projects include the design of gardens, parks, and grounds. During the 20th century the discipline extended to streets and transportation infrastructures, such as highways and train stations, and to larger facilities, such as monuments, hospitals, malls, and residential housing. Now landscape architects are also increasingly designing sites meant to be natural, such as wetlands, rivers, or woods.

Design concerns about the arrangement of gardens, courtyards, and even streets existed in several ancient civilizations such as Greece, Rome, and China. However, it was not until the 17th century that designing sites became a separate, specialized activity. French royal gardener Andre Le Notre, who designed the parks at the castles Versailles and Vauxle-Vicomte in France, is sometimes considered to be the precursor of landscape architecture. He was the first gardener of his kind to acquire an international reputation through his personal style.

The title of landscape architect was used for the first time in 1858 for Frederick Law Olmsted, one of the designers of Central Park in New York City. A few decades later in 1899 the American Society of Landscape Architects became the first national association created in this field. Throughout the 20th century the title was used more frequently as landscape architecture became an established profession requiring specific training and degrees.

Because landscape architecture deals not only with the design of buildings but also takes ecological functionalities into account, it is sometimes considered to be at the border between art and science. On the one hand its concern with aesthetics and well being, as well as the importance of individual creativity during the design process, makes landscape architecture a normative field. On the other hand, its concern with organizing complete sites, including biological organisms such as plants, trees, and soils, compels landscape architects to have a strong scientific background. Even when there are aesthetic considerations behind the planting of trees or the inclusion of biotopes in landscape architecture projects, proper living conditions must be maintained to retain these aesthetic values.

Landscape architects are divided when it comes to defining whether their approaches should rely on normative or scientific consideration. Different tendencies came to light in the second half of the 20th century. Increasing urbanization and the ecological consequences of industrial activity have pushed landscape architects to pay more attention to the environment. They have had to try to limit the impact of buildings or conserve portions of the environment in built areas and there has been a growing incorporation of ecological knowledge in landscape architecture projects.

Simultaneously the multiplication of environmental projects near or in urbanized areas has led environmental agencies to pay more attention to social needs and sustainability when carrying out ecosystem conservation or restoration projects. Project promoters increasingly rely on landscape architects because of their capacity to link heterogeneous elements in a landscape design and integrate the values of local residents, users, and visitors.


  1. Meg Calkins, “Strategy Use and Challenges of Ecological Design in Landscape Architecture,” Landscape and Urban Planning (v.73/1, 2005);
  2. Simon Swaffield, , Theory in Landscape Architecture, A Reader (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2002);
  3. Ian Thompson, “Sources of Values in the Environmental Design Professions: The Case of Landscape Architecture,” Ethics, Place and Environment (v.1/2, 2000).

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