Drawing the line

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    Winston White

    How do we draw distinctions between landscape architecture and architecture? Architecture situated within the landscape may be man made or naturally occurring. The architecture or topography of the land is continuously changing naturally and as a result of human intervention. Are buildings designed and organised to maximize human systems not a type of landscape architecture. Architecture is always sited within landscape. There is no escaping this fact. Landscape may be sited within architecture at a micro-climatic level also. Landscape is located within the architecture of the Earth, which is located within the structure of our galaxy, and the universe. There is structure within architecture and landscape architecture. There is a particular order in both. The order is as a result of external forces, which both are subjected to.Whether natural or man made. Water cuts and dissects the landscape just as a builder creates a pattern in plaster work. If both professions are in and through each other made possible, should they be separated in word and meaning? What is to stop the architect from learning to design a landscape? What is to stop the LA from designing a building? Is it not possible for an LA to read, understand, contend with and practice architectural theory. I will contend that it is more than possible. Landscape architects will determine for themselves how far they want to go? They will determine in their own minds where the ceiling is, as will architects. If an architect or LA has no ceiling to their thinking, where can they draw the line between the two professions? how can they discern between the two.


    This piece is written from a philosophical stand point of trying to understand why it is that LA’s feel intimidated by Urban designers. I am one of them. But I am beginning more and more to believe that I can design cities if I learn it. There is nothing God-like about Urban designers. They too are mere mortals. Why can’t the design of the architecture of the landscape (Landscape architecture) not be translated into Urban design? I see no reason. 


    Is there even a distinction? Is there even a line to be drawn?

    Roland Beinert

    I think urban design is complicated enough that it should probably be done by teams composed of landscape architects, architects, planners, engineers, etc. Ultimately, we need to let go of the idea that urban design “belongs” to one profession and be willing to work together.

    I think we LA’s could help solve many urban issues that architects are unwilling or unprepared to think about. But I also think our profession needs to have a better understanding of urban areas before we take a more active part in urban design (or before we try to come up with whole new paradigms like landscape urbanism).

    The most obvious reason that architects seem to dominate urban design lately is that architects were the driving force behind new urbanism.But they are also more involved in the development of urban theory and in studying the urban environment. How many of you have even heard of the science of urban morphology, for example? Apparently, it’s dominated by architects and geographers. There are very few, if any, landscape architects are involved. Plenty of us have a basic understanding of ecology, but how many of us have looked at urban ecology? Architecture colleges seem to do a better job of teaching their students about urban areas. Here at the University of Idaho, both the urban theory and urban morphology classes are taught by an architect. I’m the only landscape architect in the urban morphology class.

    Andrew Garulay, RLA

    Urban design is not my niche in landscape architecture, but your discussion subject is great. I’m in an area that keeps big design projects out through regulation, so most projects are designed from the building out and it makes sense that they are begun by architects. I’ve also come to realize that in such an environment the building’s interior, more often than not, actually contains most of the context of the overall project. The landscape typically has supporting functions to the building and may also have additional independent uses and functions (especially residences).


     Urban design or community design, in my opinion, should be completely the opposite. Starting with buildings to design a community is the equivelent of selecting plants to start a landscape design. Buildings should support the context and flavor of the community that you are trying to build.


    All design should work from concept toward detail, general to specific, broad to narrow, macro to micro, … and within a neighborhood or community, a building is a detail, specific, narrow, and micro within the big picture.


    I don’t know that many landscape architects are trained or experienced with developing detail design of buildings, but I think that there is no question that the education and some paths of experience certainly develop an expertise in framing the activities, experiences, and requirements to design a community in which criteria for building design is established. This should occur first regardless of the professions of those establishing the criteria. An architect should be brought in to transform those conceptual buildings into detailed pieces that fit within the big picture after establishing the criteria.


    We do have to recognize that many architectural firms have worked in community design and work in a logical manner from general to specific rather than starting with buildings. Experience trumps the letters after ones name almost every time. Experienced LA firms are no different.


    This is where internship and selection of such is so important whether you are an LA or an Architect. Being an LA won’t get you this work until or unless you have experience in it. It is not a skill set that inherently is within any LA or inherently excluded from any architect.


    Our stamps are not tickets that get us work. They are support material to add onto our experiences, but in the end it is the consumer (client, developer, whatever you want to call ’em) who decides who is going to do what. We all have to design a path of experience that results in ourselves being desired to be hired to do what we want to do by those doing the hiring. There is no ticket to the front of the line.


    None of us can design anything unless we first make the sale. That is the hardest part of this business and the one that is talked about the least.

    Thomas J. Johnson


    NOT SAFE FOR WORK (F-Bombs) But may shed some light on “the line”…



    NOT SAFE FOR WORK – But may shed light on “drawing the line”…

    Thomas J. Johnson

    Apparently I’ve derailed the thread… suffice it to say that all lines are fabrications of the mind. They don’t exist outside of our collective heads. Remove humans and the lines disappear. Some lines are agreed upon in a group consensus while other lines are imposed upon others in the best interest of the imposers but the success of the imposition is dependent on the perception and belief of the imposed upon… hope that helps clarify things…



    I could not agree more. I think the line is not real and yet tangable.

    Jon Quackenbush

    Why should any well trained landscape architect feel intimidated by any profession?  Is it really intimidation that you sense or is it something else altogether?  What I mean is given the breadth of  our profession, there is very little that we specialize in, yet we are proficient in so much.  We literally are swimming in information on so many diverse areas of knowledge that it makes advocating for the profession so very difficult, especially in the presence of architects, urban designers and engineers, all of whom have very clear roles.


    The beauty of Landscape Architecture is the nebulosity, but that is also its weakness.


    Getting back to your original question, the difference between architecture and landscape architecture is quite simple to me, we live in architecture, we exist in the landscape.


    If both professions are in and through each other made possible, should they be separated in word and meaning?

    A few years ago a question like this would have been followed by a joint, a glass of red wine and a notepad that I was embarrassed to read the next day…  At this moment, I like the fact that we don’t need to be separated in word, but our profession has a gorgeous word added:  landscape.  that explodes the scope of what we do, and to me, sounds elegant and confident:  landscape architecture.


    What is to stop the architect from learning to design a landscape?  What is to stop the LA from designing a building?

    If you ask them, they may say they already know how… just ‘shrub it up’.  I’d respond by saying that anyone can design a building, all you need is a floor, four walls and roof…. since most architecture is really uninspiring, it gives me great confidence that it isn’t that hard to design a building.  For example I have designed the home that I am going to build out of shipping containers one day… all i needed was time and sketchup.

    Is it not possible for an LA to read, understand, contend with and practice architectural theory. I will contend that it is more than possible.

    It is possible.  A hobbyist can be a potent designer if they want… I have seen many gardeners whom put landscape architects to shame…

    Landscape architects will determine for themselves how far they want to go?

    Currently the economy is determining that for all of us…


    Winston White

    Thank you. This does help to understand the predicament.

    Winston White

    you are very insightful. Thank you!

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