Book Review: Landscape Architecture – A Manual of Environmental Planning and Design

For landscape architects, John Ormsbee Simonds’ book entitled, Landscape Architecture – A Manual of Environmental Planning and Design, is our bedside book. It has not been just a manual for me; it is the book of landscape architecture theory. It has been a reference in my profession since I was studying and nowadays is also a reference for teaching.

The new edition, the fifth one, coauthored by Barry W. Starke, is really attractive because it has all the essence and knowledge of John Ormsbee Simonds, enriched to incorporate sustainability – which is the basis of landscape design – and include different examples of recent built projects. Throughout the pages of this book, the texts, quotes, sketches and images of projects create a combination of visual-theory.

The contents of the book have been updated to include the actual vision of the designer and planner, and portrays in essence the way to approach landscape: from the first elements, understanding nature and the relation between humans and nature; to the elements that form and define the landscape, climate, water, land, and vegetation, as well as what is vital for landscape architects – the visual landscape, as a resource and goal.

The next part of the book explains the complexity of landscape and the different landscapes in which we intervene. It is the combination of context and human intervention that determines the character of a place and its landscape. There the book focuses on planning and management, the difference between regional and urban design, and the importance of site planning.

The last section refers to the elements incorporated in a project that are the basis for defining it: site spaces, circulation, structures, and planting.

As an epilogue, the last chapter, Perspective, is a reflection of John Ormsbee Simonds on his work and experience, his findings throughout time, and the knowledge achieved through his practice and from his projects – gaining an understanding of the work of a landscape architect.

In this era of media communication, it is important to understand that landscape architects and designers do not need recipes to develop a project. We solve the problems we encounter through creativity. This book is our reference on how to approach a project and that will guide us to achieve the best solution. It is a reference that serves as an introduction to landscape design and understanding it.

The most valuable elements of this book are the sketches – by hand  (yes by hand) – accompanying the texts to illustrate the different concepts in landscape and design, since sketching is the main tool of a designer. On some pages of the book, the sketches are less prominent in size and location than in first editions, and that I think should be corrected. The sketches are already part of my visual memory and will be for others who study the book.

It is also a book that I have been quoting, and you will also begin to do so, after you read it, learn from it, and start experiencing it. And about experience, I refer to a quote of the book: “One plans not places, spaces, or things; one plans experiences.”


Landscape Architecture: A Manual of Environmental Planning and Design

Barry W. Starke/ John Ormsbee Simonds

McGraw-Hill Professional; 5th Edition (February 6, 2013)


ISBN-10: 0071797653

ISBN-13: 978-0071797658

432 pages, Hardcover, 1.5 x 8.7 x 11.3 in

Published in Blog

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