What can an LA do that an architect cannot, and vice versa?

Landscape Architecture for Landscape Architects Forums GENERAL DISCUSSION What can an LA do that an architect cannot, and vice versa?

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    Benjamin Payne

    I’ll be attending undergraduate college next school year, where I’ll get a taste for different design areas such as landscape architecture, architecture, and regional planning. Before I start class, I’d like to see what people in the field of LA have to say about precisely what distinguishes their profession from other related ones. Is an LA essentially an architect geared toward the built environment of the outdoors? Landscape architecture sounds very neat and rather useful to me. I just want to make sure such an education and degree can be leveraged after school. Thanks.

    Frank Varro

    The long and short of it is: Architects design buildings, Landscape architects design everywhere people are not inside a building (including placing those buildings in theory), Planners design regulations to ensure the multiple designs (buildings and non-buildings) work together to create a functional neighborhood, city, or region.

    There is some bleed through between these areas, as some large scale LA jobs are very similar to planning, and LAs will try to do some basic architecture, and architects will often try to “shrub stuff up” (Stereotypically this means putting a few foundation plantings in that will not distract from their building, and not contribute in any way to the site).

    In the end, if you want to sit and do CAD or sketch or use trace, Architecture, LA, and Interior design are similar, just with different focuses and different strengths and weaknesses.  Planning is less design, and more legal and stats.

    Where are you headed in fall?


    The difference depends on what scale you’re working at or what issue you are trying to solve. Anybody can do curb appeal or design a cool paving pattern for a plaza. However, once you start getting into larger scale projects such as large parks or are dealing with animal habitats, you need the expertise of a landscape architect.

    The 1st year of my undergrad was all about design. In fact, us landscape arch students were in the same design classes as the architect undergrads. The last 3 years however, dove deeper into the functional/preformance side of landscape architecture and trying to understand issues that can’t be solved with just aesthetics alone (or putting a building on the ground).

    Benjamin Payne

    Iowa State. The first year’s curriculum is centered around foundational studios, before students apply to a program following that first year. It’s excellent for me because I’ll get a real taste for what field I wish to study before I commit.

    mark foster

    Architect vs. Landscape architect

    flat surfaces vs. slopes

    forms (buildings) creating space vs. space creating forms

    drainage above the head (roofs) vs. drainage at the feet

    lighting fixtures vs. natural light

    central heating and cooling vs. 4 seasons

    static components (furniture) vs. growing ones (plants)

    ceiling height measured in feet/meters vs. miles

    I’m sure there are more…..

    Andrew Garulay, RLA

    The biggest difference is that landscape architects have to adapt to a lot more variables beyond our own control where an architect is, more often than not, able to adjust his variables to suit his needs.


    We’ve got to meet grade at the property line, water has to run down hill, plants have to live in the environment that we are working with, … wetlands, winds, architects changing the buildings, existing views, vehicular circulation, ….


    Architects can often change the context of the building to suit their needs. They need a bigger bathroom, they bump a wall out. …… and we re-design the patio that just shrunk to make the house bigger, the engineer has to move the septic system, then we have to move the pool, but it is too close to the lot line, so we make it narrower, …..


    The ability to adapt is essential to be an LA, so rigid control freaks are not very comfortable as LAs. Architects are more often of the control freak personality because it is a trait that suits the profession and is beneficial to their clients as well.



    Frank Varro

    I was there for my first semester of LA undergrad, its a good, competitive program, and I think it’ll be a great place for someone who wants to explore the different fields a bit before locking themselves in (My friend got his Arch degree from ISU as well).  The only trick is you won’t do much real design in that first year, so you’re going to have to really try to get everything you can out of the Arch/LA history courses, as well as the graphics studios.

    Good Luck, and go Cyclones!

    Alan Ray, RLA

    architects design indoor spaces,

    landscape architects design outdoor spaces.

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