Saturday, April 13, 2013

Landscape Architects Provide More Than Yard Work!

     Landscape Architects work hard at very complex issues to provide their clients with quality design.  That design encompasses many aspects of the built site including such diverse tasks as master planning of the long term development of a site, designing and locating the various features or elements that will become the ultimate site (such as the drive or roadways, buildings, pedestrian and bike access, parking, stormwater structures, the shape of the earth and the plants that cover it), urban design, and working with municipalities and counties to obtain correct zoning and in some cases to define that zoning. We specify products to be installed on a site and design and detail items to be constructed on a site, and we help to design and plan urban communities.  Despite all that the profession encompasses, we suffer an image problem.  People simply have no idea what we do and how we can help them with their site.
     This problem might be a result of the lack of exposure and numbers that we have in the profession.  After all, there are approximately 16,000 licensed landscape architects spread out throughout the United States.  Licensed Architects number 104,000, and Civil Engineers have approximately 265,000 licensees.  Landscape Architects are simply lost in the shuffle.  This fact slapped me in the face once again this week.  Three separate things happened to really bring that to my attention.
     The first was an e-mail that I received from the North Carolina Board of Landscape Architects.  It was an official document defining the scope of the practice.  This defines the profession and the requirements to become a licensed Landscape Architect.  There has been a good deal of overlap of  three closely related professions with licensed professionals selling services that they were not necessarily trained to perform.  Architects often provide site design - even crudely delving into grading, drainage and planting - without the training and skills.  Civil Engineers are trained to do site design but not all aspects of the site plan and they tend to have a more mechanical approach to the whole design because design and artistry are lacking in their training.  By the same token, some Landscape Architects delve into building or roadway design beyond what their skills would dictate.  Then there are the landscape designers who have no training at all and who attempt to sell their services to do just about anything.  Fortunately, for sites that require a site plan to be submitted to a governing authority, they are excluded because they also have no license and carry no liability for anything that goes wrong as a result of their mistakes.  These cross-overs have become more frequent with a bad economy where people are desperate for work.
     The second reminder came in the form of requests from two women that I know from various parent organizations at my son's high school.  I am sure that they were well intentioned and attempting to show some deference to my profession.  I am equally sure that they had no idea just how insulting their queries were.  Both asked if I knew of anyone who could help them with their yard work.  One wanted a tree to be taken down and the other had shrubs to prune.  I actually did know someone and gave them a reference, but I only know that person because we happen to sing in the same community choir.  I honestly don't know of any yard maintenance people other then the usual number that any homeowner might come into contact with.
     Finally, I have had the privilege to jury entries to the Virginia ASLA awards for 2013.  There were over thirty and some of the design entries were simply amazing.  It really brought home the breath and scope of what we are doing as a profession.  I got to review designs of pedestrian malls, roof gardens and campuses as well as of farms and single family residences with amazing spaces.  I also got to see a number of intriguing site analyses and master plans.  What at first seemed as though it would be an insurmountable task became a huge blessing to me.  Bravo Virginia!  Your design work is fantastic.  It is a nearly impossible task to pick out a best from these entries.  It reminded me of just why I got into this profession and what we are capable of doing if given the chance.
     We cannot get the chance to be this creative though unless potential clients realize what we can do for them and how that differs from what closely related professions can provide.  ASLA, the American Society of Landscape Architects, provides a nice concise description of the profession; visit their website at:  You might just be very surprised to find out what we can do.  In the meantime, we as Landscape Architects need to keep plugging education and exposure.  We have a lot to overcome in order to be understood.


  1. Hi Alison,

    Thanks for sharing; I especially enjoyed this post on the topic of educating more people what it is that landscape architects actually do! If you'd like me to include some of these points as a guest post on I'd be happy to. I'd also want to include an introduction paragraph stating who you are and what you do, with a link to this blog. Let me know what you think. Thanks,


  2. Hi Steve,

    I was just looking for this piece because of national Landscape Architecture month and realized that you had left a comment. Please forgive me for not seeing it before. If the offer still stands, I would very much like to be included. Please let me know. I will look at this individual post rather than the comments that come into my blog site. that should solve the problem that happened with this comment. Have a great spring - Alison