For many people not working in the design world, landscape architecture may be a difficult profession to describe. It’s not a term they see in the spotlight often and therefore their assumptions are often woefully inadequate. We have all had someone, when hearing that we are a landscape architect, default to inquiries about designing their front yards and while that is a part of what some of us do, we all know there is so much more to the profession. In Thinking about Landscape Architecture: Principles of a Design Profession for the 21st Century, Bruce Sharky, a professor at Louisiana State University, comprehensively dissects the history and place of the landscape architecture in the modern world. His new book gives a complete overview of the discipline and might greatly serve those that are new to the profession or students who want to learn about what their future career may be like.
Admittedly, if you are already a practicing landscape designer, much of Thinking about Landscape Architecture will not be earth shattering to you - and it isn’t supposed to be. Sharky aims to “provide those new to the subject with the foundations for future study and practice.” With this targeted audience in mind, the book launches into a general, but comprehensive look at the structure of modern day practice. Questions are explored and answered such as:
How do I become a professional and why is that important?
What is a design studio like?
Why is sustainability important?
This guide paints a picture for a future career in landscape architecture as well as the realities of what may be expected of you in a modern design firm. Our profession is very different from many others and it is helpful to the uninitiated to lay out the ground rules early.
After a very brief turn at history, Thinking takes a pass at explaining the general governing concepts of design. The design process is probably the most important aspect of practice and Sharky explains the major points without getting lost in the weeds. While the text comes from a scholarly source - and reads as such - the passages are very approachable which is much appreciated given the intended audience.
Probably the most enjoyable part of the book for me was Chapter 6: Gardens, Communities, Parks, and Urban Design. This clearly shows the breadth of the field and how similar design principles and process can be applied in a wide range of projects. This range allows designers to work within a niche that they find enjoyable or perhaps to shift focuses while maintaining a core set of skills.
There is a chapter on the finer points of planting that includes considerations like seasonality, regionality, growth and survival, as well as aesthetics. Following that is a brief exploration of materials such as metals, woods, and aggregates.
The final chapters outline the process of bringing a design to fruition, sustainability principles, and then the future of the profession in general. The last of these is where I found the text to be more of general trends rather than better exploring the optimistic future of landscape architecture through a topic like landscape urbanism.
Bruce Sharky is a Fellow of the American Society of Landscape Architects and a professor at the Robert Reich School of Landscape Architecture at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. He is also a registered professional landscape architect. Other great books by Bruce include Ready, Set, Practice and Landscape Site Grading Principles, the first of which is a staple in most professional practice classes.
Benjamin Boyd is a landscape architect practicing in Baltimore, Maryland. If you would like to check out what books he is reading or reviewing currently, check out his profile on Goodreads.