An “ah-ha” moment on Defining Landscape Architecture

Landscape Architecture for Landscape Architects Forums PROFESSIONAL PRACTICE An “ah-ha” moment on Defining Landscape Architecture

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    Andrew Garulay, RLA

    There are countless threads asking the definition of what landscape architecture is that are floating out there in cyberspace. The “redline review” thread made me realize that there is a specific definition of the profession of Landscape Architecture. And there it was hitting me between the eyes like a two by four. Clearly, the profession is defined by the Landscape Architecture Registration Exam. Like it or not, agree with it or not, it is the legal standard that either makes you a landscape architect or leaves you out.


    The exam really does not get discussed enough in terms of being the definition of landscape architecture. When it is discussed it seems to be very vague. It seems to be an after thought as a hoop you have to jump through to get licenced, but never shown in its entirety as the central basis for a curriculum or the profession itself.


    Maybe it just is not sexy enough. Emerging issues, sustainability, green roofs, social justice, ….. seem to trump discussion of the basic core of what the profession is. People are getting attracted to landscape architecture by what people are talking about to promote it. People get degrees and come out of school all geared up to be part of the profession and are faced with this exam that they feel is full of things that do not matter to them and should not be road blocks to becoming a professional.


    This is the problem with the bastardization of landscape architecture in order to make it bigger. I hope and believe that there will emerge a new profession for some of these popular issues that are important within the profession, but do not define the profession. Universities want more students, ASLA wants more members, but in the process we have a generation of people that are all geared up to save society and the planet who then are not finding an eager market for their services and then others who want to be part of designing the development of land who are almost philosophical outcasts in the education process. Something has to give because there is a divergence between the educational philosophy of landscape architecture and the opportunities in applying our craft.


    The profession is in fact defined by what it takes to be licenced and like the chicken and egg, the license is defined by the profession. It should be very clear what the profession is really all about if you use the exam as an outline of the profession. If we all did that coming in, there would be no confusion of what it is. There would be far less complaining about LARE.


    Adam McGovern

    I wish there was a like button


    From Wikipedia:

    Architecture (Latin architectura, from the Greek ἀρχιτέκτων – arkhitekton, from ἀρχι- “chief” and τέκτων “builder, carpenter”) can mean:

    The art and science of designing and erecting buildings and other physical structures.
    The practice of an architect, where architecture means to offer or render professional services in connection with the design and construction of a building, or group of buildings and the space within the site surrounding the buildings, that have as their principal purpose human occupancy or use.[1]
    A general term to describe buildings and other structures.
    A style and method of design and construction of buildings and other physical structures.

    Sure, the title ‘Landscape Architect’ by definition is one who builds landscapes. The legal definition of a ‘Landscape Architect’ is someone who passes the LARE.

    Thank God neither of these two definitions by themselves describe the practice of Landscape Architecture.

    Further, it seems pretty clear to me that there is a difference between the title, practice, and professional sphere. In my very limited experience, not all of this is accounted for in the LARE. We had a discussion at one point a while back about the relevence of Historical Perspectives on the LARE for example.

    I think we would agree that the practice and craft of design isn’t necessarily synonymous with the term ‘architecture’ and rightly so. I know plenty of Landscape Architects who are great parking lot designers, but don’t seem to have the capability to think about the ‘whys’. Both of these qualities in my definition are what comprise a ‘good landscape architect.’ Architecture without subjective reason is engineering.

    How do you test for that?

    Jason T. Radice

    The legal definition is not someone who passes the exam, as the exam is only a metric. The legal definition, which actually varies by state, is that a Landscape Architect is LICENSED to perform specific duties by said state. Yes, you do need to take the exam to get a license, but those rules set by a state. They do not specifically need to require and exam, but there is obviously some value in making that a requirement. The exam can vary, as some states have ancillary sections relating to local issues and local knowledge requirements.

    The same hold true for most professions which one practices, compared to a job which one performs. Driving requires an exam and license. Your dog generally requires a license. Contractors require licenses as well. If you want to play the game, you have to jump through the hoops…right or wrong, thats the way it is.


    Ok, so what is your point, Jason?

    Experince + education + exam in most states that I know of = license. My point is that the exam doesn’t test for the less tangible aspects of a landscape archs expertise and experience, so simply defining the practice and craft by one’s ability to earn licensure seems a little silly… though still perfectly acceptable I guess.

    I think the OP is discussing the definition (and scope) of landscape architecure, rather than question the validity of the material tested for on the LARE.

    Perhaps I could have made my original point more clear.

    Andrew Garulay, RLA

    There are all kinds of things that can accurately describe what landscape architects do. My point is that these do not define the licensed profession of landscape architecture in 46 states and a couple provinces. Only LARE defines the common criteria between all of those licensed LAs, thus it defines the root profession of landscape architecture even though many states tack on ancillary sections as mentioned. Everything else can be part of landscape architecture, but only the common criteria of licensure that gets you licensed (LARE) is the common denominator of the profession in the US. It is pretty much the only thing that can follow the phrase “All landscape architects ……”.

    Jason T. Radice

    so simply defining the practice and craft by one’s ability to earn licensure seems a little silly..

    I agree, my point was semantics…and legalese. Passing the exam does not make you a LA. Because of practice and title laws, it is a separate piece of paper (with a fee, of course) make you a LA in the eyes of government and the industry. But one needs to demonstrate their proficiency with arbitrary skill sets before being qualified to APPLY for a license. With that license, there is a legal definition of what landscape architecture is (what we can stamp). Does that mean that is ALL we can do? Stamp yes, but work wise…NO!

    I do agree with the OP that the field is HUGE, and getting bigger. There are so many specializations within the profession that you really cannot define it by the mere title ‘Landscape Architect’. I know I still have to explain “what exactly do you do here” to people, and politely decline to diagnose their dead shrubs and spotty lawn.


    I get that, but how does LARE help define the profession in other countries? Certainly, we would all agree that landscape architecture is practiced at the same level of proficiency as it is here, across the globe. What was landscape architecture before CLARB?

    I get you point and agree. If we’re only looking for a nationally (sort of) legal description of minimal competency in landscape architecure I would agree that CLARB and the LARE do a pretty good job of setting a common standard. Still, even that is arguable.

    Thomas J. Johnson

    It is true. The LARE is the purest definition of “Landscape Architect”. If you cannot satisfy the requirements of the exam, then you are not a Landscape Architect. You can be a Landscape Architect and also a painter, furnishing designer, illustrator, etc. etc. but if you have not passed the LARE then you are a painter, furnishing designer, illustrator, not a Landscape Architect.

    I know a number of people who are designers and have no desire to become a L.A. Once you are an L.A. your role can change drastically. You become more technically oriented; Does this grading work? Will these stairs work? Does this meet ADA? You have a responsibility to make sure the plan can be built and you have to put your stamp and signature on it. Along with the L.A. title comes greater financial and legal responsibility.

    Have you found that L.A.s and designers have distinctly different roles in your experience?


    I don’t necessarily think your role in the design process changes in the flip of a switch as you become a licensed ‘Landscape Architect.’ Good designers also think about constructability, but certainly with a lesser sense of responsibility. Passage of the LARE in the United States by definition makes you legally entitled and qualified to call yourself a Landscape Architect, but doesn’t necessarily define the practice and craft. Yes, you can be a Landscape Architect or you can be a painter, illustrator, or designer OR you can be both, which in my opinion is ideal.

    In my very limited experience, there is little, if any difference in craft between a designer and LA. We all do the same thing up to a given point–which is different on each project. I can design parking lots, roads, building envelopes, lots, parks, sidewalks, swales, planting, while being dimensionally accurate, but that’s only a passable job of site engineering in my opinion. A ‘good Landscape Architect/designer’ considers the subjective–basically all of which is not accounted for on the LARE by and large and all the things the end user does (correct me if I’m wrong as I’ve only skimmed study material and read anecdotal accounts). Otherwise, sure, we can say the basic legal definition of Landscape Architect in the United States is fulfillment of all the requirements for licensure.

    Remember landscape architecture is the ‘art + science,’ right? Regardless of your title. I also think there is a fundamental difference between the the TITLE, PRACTICE, and CRAFT.

    How do you define a Landscape Architect in China, France, or UAE? Do they also need to pass the LARE? The more I think about it, the more I think the original question is fundamentally flawed.

    Andrew Garulay, RLA

    You were very much a design/build landscape designer long before you went to school for LA. I’m interested to know if you feel like you have made a fundamental change in what you are thinking when you take on a project now rather than prior to school.

    I was at it quite a while before getting my degree. I think Tom was as well, if I’m not mistaken.

    Speaking for myself, it definitely changed not only what I think about, but how I think about it.

    I totally agree with you that getting licensed does not flip a switch. The license definitely does not define what we do, but as it defines the license which defines the professional standard, it is inseparable from defining the Profession of Landscape Architecture. Defining the profession is a lot easier than defining what those within it do. All you have to do is point to the test.

    Claudia Chalfa

    Great thread, and some really insightful comments!  


    Here is the problem, as I see it:  I have an art background, an environmental degree (undergraduate), a masters in landscape architecture, and many years of experience working as both landscape designer and plantsperson.  I now work in a planning office designing greenways, writing landscaping ordinances, and educating the public every day about what landscape architects actually do.  In my mind I AM a landscape architect.  But I cannot call myself one.  


    In order to call myself one, I need to move to another town, uprooting my family and leaving my home…we don’t have any licensed landscape architects in this area that I can work under until I take the exam.  Then I have to work for several years under a licensed LA, then take the test, THEN I can call myself a landscape architect.  


    Is it worth it?  For someone who, for the last 15 years has wanted to become a landscape architect, yes it is…this is exactly what I am contemplating in order to advance my career.


    But I don’t think it’s right.  I think that anyone with a BLA or MLA should be granted the title of landscape architect. Just like, when a person graduates from medical school, they are called a doctor.


    The licensure should provide you with the stamp.  Plain and simple.




    I don’t necessarily agree that ‘anyone with a BLA/MLA should be granted the right to call themselves a Landscape Architect.’


    I think a lot of us would agree that we learned far more about the practice and craft in the years after graduation than we did in the classroom.


    Personally, I feel offended if a person with no degree calls themself a Landscape Architect, though I know there is so much more to being one than what we learn in school. On the other hand, I’ve met people with decades of experience in landscape design who cannot legally call themselves an LA, though I would NOT be offended if they did.


    I do not technically have a degree. I am a few credits away still, though I would consider myself a landscape architect by trade. Legally, I would never advertise for Landscape Architecture services though. Thats the difference for me–I can grade a site, design a parking lot, site a building, plan a neighborhood, etc, etc. I am a good designer and for now I am fine with just that.

    Andrew Garulay, RLA

    If you are working in a municipality or state office, you might want to contact the licensing board. I believe that there may be a few states that allow government workers who work as landscape architects and have LA degrees to sit for the exam ….  I know this is true for some licenses here in Massachusetts, not sure about LAs.

    Stephen Quick

    Claudia makes excellent points. As a recent graduate, it is immensely frustrating to be unable to practice or earn a living with my hard-earned degree.


    In order to even apply to take the LARE, I am required by state law to work under a licensed L.A. for two years. As there are no firms hiring in my area right now, I am effectively at a standstill when it comes to licensure. I have no objection to the LARE itself. There should be standards that every L.A. must be able to demonstrate competence in.


    I do strongly object to the apprenticeship requirement, however. There are many, many other professions that require a degree and testing for licensure, but without the year or more of apprenticeship. Why not ours?





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