Defining Landscape Architecture: An Interview with Tim Waterman

Tim Waterman studied landscape architecture in the US at the University of Idaho and went on to become of Master of Landscape Architecture at the Rhode Island School of Design. He now lives and works in London and lectures in landscape architecture and urbanism at the Writtle School of Design. With his new book,The Fundamentals of Landscape Architecture, he hopes to illuminate, “the meaning of the profession,” to the general public, young students looking for a career path, and professionals from other disciplines. This might be the perfect gift for those people that continually fail to understand what it is a landscape architect really does. (No more questions about pruning roses or mowing lawns!) In this interview, Tim and I traded a few emails to talk about his new book.

AS: Can you tell me a little background?
TW: The Fundamentals of Landscape Architecture, came about because of a clear need for a concise introduction to landscape architecture. While there is no dearth of marvelous books about landscape, for a long time there has been nothing that has been comprehensive and aimed at a general market. Landscape architects spend much time complaining that the profession remains undefined, and hopefully the book sheds some light on the meaning of the profession.

The book is aimed at a number of different audiences. First of all at people who are interested in exploring career options, either young people just finishing school, or older people considering a career upgrade. I have tried to avoid any condescending tone, so that it may also be useful to professionals from other disciplines who are seeking to find out more about landscape architecture. It is also a suitable text for students of landscape architecture in their first and second years, and useful to landscape architecture firms who are interesting in educating their clients about the range of services they might provide. Finally, I have tried very much to engage an international readership, using projects as case studies from all over the world.

The book is organised in six chapters:
1. History and ideas – a quick overview of history and theory from Stonehenge and Skara Brae all the way to the present.

2. Site and context – understanding site inventory and analysis

3. Inhabiting the landscape – the basics of designing for sites

4. Representation – how LAs use drawing and modelling to explore concepts and communicate ideas

5. The Anatomy of a Project – a summation of the design process

6. Careers – different landscape career paths

AS: How long did it take to research?
TW: The book was written over the course of a very feverish year – I signed the contract in January of 2008 and the book was for sale in bookstores by the June of 2009.

AS: What was your motivation for writing this book?
TW: I have been very keen to promote landscape architecture as it is, of course, absolutely clear that the profession can provide good answers to many of the most urgent issues of our time, from climate change to water management to the coming food crisis. We need to attract the very best and brightest to the profession. The next generation will be landscape architecture superheroes.

AS: How will the profession benefit from the book?
TW: By presenting the profession with simplicity, clarity and enthusiasm.

AS: What has the greatest reward been so far?
TW: A very esteemed former colleague and friend wrote to me upon reading the book that she had a better understanding of the profession, despite having worked within it with distinction for years. She said, ” . . . at last I can work out what we are actually supposed to be doing!”

Look for my upcoming book review on The Fundamentals of Landscape Architecture. Tim has another book on Urban Design due out in October. You can pre-order the book here.

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