What is the difference between Landscape Architecture and Landscape Design?

Landscape Architecture for Landscape Architects Forums GENERAL DISCUSSION What is the difference between Landscape Architecture and Landscape Design?

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    Andrew Spiering

    I think this discussion is going great! It has been unfolding exactly how I’d hoped. I would like to bring up one point to continue to stir the pot… (and forgive me if someone has already mentioned this)

    There are some principals of Landscape Architecture firms that are the lead designer yet they are not licensed. This was the case where I worked right after college. One principal did the design and the other stamped the construction documents.

    The same is the case, dare I say, for Walter Hood. From what I can tell, he is not a licensed landscape architect in California (double check the list of names in the attached pdf file for me) yet everyone knows him as one. His impressive resume includes award winning public spaces like Splash Pad Park, DeYoung Museum, and the Oakland Waterfront. The mayor of Oakland even proclaimed a “Walter Hood Day” for his “Pioneering Achievements in Urban Landscape Design.” He practices landscape architecture and is an award winning designer, but he still doesn’t have a piece of paper that says he is a licensed landscape architect. Is he a landscape architect or is he a landscape designer?

    Andrew Garulay, RLA

    I personally know more people with landscape architecture degrees who are not licensed than who are (not recent graduates, either). Most of them are functioning as any licensed landscape architect (title act state). The reason for many of them not to be registered is that they were either in business already when they got degreed (like that word?) or went into business before interning. No internship, no seating for the exam. None of them seem to have any concern about the title. They do what they do, love what they do, and don’t care what you call them or what you call yourself.

    Also, I know of some people who are good designers and have joined A$LA and tag “ASLA” after their names without being licensed and everyone thinks they are. I admit that I resent that both because I invested what it took and the others did not, and because A$LA allows the use of the suffix if they pay for the professional membership.

    There are blurred lines in every direction and we probably worry about it a lot more than we should.

    Keven Graham

    The lines are blurred and yet there are landscape designers doing very good work and yes some are using titles incorrectly. We now only have a very few states that are not practice act states and how and what we do will be legally dictated. There are many exemptions that allow designers and many others to continue doing work. I can not speak for others or other states, but as someone who was on a legislative committee and work on state license effort, I can say our goal was not in excluding those doing good work, but rather focusing on opening doors for those with certain qualification (RLA) to do more work and serve as prime on certain types of projects. With professional credentials we can do more in some states and it does put us on a plane (not going to say level) as architects and engineers and others. I prefer to look at my RLA as something to be proud of and allows me to rise to a higher level in competing for work and to be seen with authority or respect.

    I am glad to see ASLA working hard to educate the value of licensed LA’s and positioning our profession and the profession of choice. I can say I have seen ASLA’s dedication to licensure, its value and benefits.

    Rico Flor

    Hello Jessie.

    In our country, the profession is regulated (yeah, the license thing). If your agricultural engineer boss who finished ecology and horticulture happens to have secured his/her license to practice through the LArch Licensure exam, then he/she has every right to bear the title. Do note that one cannot take said exam if he/she did not complete the requisite hours in landscape architecture education and years of practice under a registered landscape architect or a registered firm. The other way to do it would be to graduate with a landscape architecture degree (several schools besides the University of the Philippines are offering the course nowadays). If he/she had not have the benefit of passing the Licensure Exam, then the Professional Regulation Commission and the Board of Landscape Architects would be among the first to demand him/her not to use the title. Indeed , this has happened.

    Without this legalese, then it’ll almost just be akin to “My kung fu is better than your kung fu!”

    Further thoughts: I agree with several here who say that landscape architects think in broader, deeper terms, and larger scale ranges (from regional to pocket gardens). The education, the necessary training and experience, plus the ethics “burdened upon you” when you’re fit to bear the title do make a difference. What gives me this “privilege” to speak so? I fall among those non-landscape architecture program graduates who took the necessary chops (education and training) to be an eligible licensed practitioner. I’ve observed the practice outside and inside and there is a palpable difference in the thought process. Interestingly, I’m still learning…and I get to respect the title’s responsibility the more I learn… Familiarity in planting design alone does not make one think like a landscape architect. Nor, in a similar circumstance, expertise in site grading and engineering.

    Kinda, like Jacky Chan. He had a paradigm shift courtesy of the Drunken Master.


    Mike G

    Education seems to be the foundation for licensure and thus title within this discussion. Does it matter in formal educational settings whether or not you are instructed by licensed individuals? Is this something ASLA weighs in during accreditation review? I don’t know what the general ratio of LAs to LDs is in most institutions. If I were to take a guess I would assume LDs far outweigh LAs. Now what about percentage of licensed practitioners within firms? I would assume a similar ratio? I think this matters because the profession of landscape architecture needs landscape designers, but the profession of landscape design does not need landscape architects.

    Andrew Garulay, RLA

    Landscape design is not a Profession. It is an occupation or a task. Landscape Architecture is an established Profession.

    Eric Gilbey

    Andrew G, You seem to have some good points made but this comment of Landscape Design being a “task or occupation”, while Landscape Architecture is a “profession” is a bit offending. I know thousands would tell you that they practice landscape design and do so for a livelihood and and many actually have a more professional practice than do some landscape architects, who at the time being are drafting to bring in income.
    To all…As a registered landscape architect, I’m frustrated that my designation as such is only to prove I am proven to be minimally competent by my state to practice landscape architecture, but in this designation is no opportunity to prove that I’m a good landscape architect and do good design. Yes, awards become an opportunity for peer review, but within APLD, there exists an opportunity to be peer reviewed for a certified status, that then allows me to be recognized as a good designer…one who makes good design decisions, beyond protecting the health, safety, and welfare of the users of my designed spaces. I am preparing a portfolio now to apply for this certification, so that I can feel recognized for my abilities in both.
    I am an advocate for landscape architects maintaining their rights to practice among those wishing to squeeze us out, by their legislative language, and just like this, I would be an advocate for landscape designers maintaining their rights to practice where some landscape architects (hopefully unintentionally) exclude landscape designers from work they have been doing for centuries. Water budgets, invasive plant management, irrigation design, are all areas where landscape architects do not always get educated, trained and examined enough to ensure the license is adequate to be considered an expert, where as many landscape designers who seek these specializations could, and should, be considered immensely valuable professionals to participate in this practice without the state’s laws dismissing them, because landscape architects think their practice is the only one “broad” enough to include this practice. Think of it this way…how many landscape architecture firms opt to hand off stormwater design to civil engineer firms, because they feel uncomfortable standing behind a “stamped” stormwater management plan in a 100 or 500 year storm…yet we certainly want the right to do this for the firms that do feel they have the expertise to do it.

    Andrew Garulay, RLA

    We all get caught up in words. I’m not sure if that is good or bad.

    I’m a guy who started with a shovel in my hand, spent time behind a lot of 48″ walk behinds, worked as a designer in “low end” projects (pretty sure I’m the only one documented to have done so on the planet), got my BLA at 35, I’ve done design/build//working supervisor as a landscape architect, design/sales, worked as a civil site planner who happened to be a licensed LA, sat as chairman on a planning and zoning board, worked as a design only LA, and many things in between and on the way. My point is not that my resume is good, but that I have been many of the people that LAs and others have certain opinions of. One thing that I learned along the way is that it really does not matter all that much what you call yourself or what others call you. It does not matter that much what the average person at a cocktail party thinks that an LA or LD does. I really don’t care what you call me (except gardener, that bugs me for some reason). I respect all of those positions that I worked in. I understand what opinions they carry because I have carried them or worked closely with people that expressed them openly as peers.

    What does matter is identifying your own skill sets, finding the opportunities where you can use them, and demonstrating to those who control those opportunities that you can contribute in enough in a meaningful way so that they value your participation enough to pay for it. There are many ways to do that with or without degrees, licenses, or titles and sometimes having them may make it easier to get your foot in the door while other times it does not.. Waiting for your credentials to do it for you is a very poor choice of action.

    Landscape architecture is a licensed profession. Landscape design is not. That is all that I meant. I designed landscapes before I became a landscape architect and afterward. All of the abilities that I had when I was an LD did not evaporate when I became an LA, so one thing that really irks me is when people say LDs do this and LAs do something else. No one sucked out my previous abilities upon graduation or passing LARE.

    I find it almost embarrassing how we as a group seem to be so obsessed with vanity and what other people think about us. We are often like the kid in school who wants everyone one to see him as being accomplished because he wears the jacket of a distant football team that won the Super Bowl.

    Being offended is a self induced condition. I find it extremely hard to believe that anyone can be offended because someone states a fact that landscape architecture is a recognized profession (I capitalized the “p” above to emphasize the definition of professional) and that because there is no such designation for landscape design it leaves it as a task (the act of designing a landscape) or an occupation (vocation of designing landscapes). This is a factual statement not meant to be derogatory at all. I’m the last one to kick down people in humble or less celebrated phases of our industry given that I have extremely humble roots in it.

    Eli Paddle

    As a landscape architect who teaches both landscape design and landscape architecture, I can say its not an easy task to differentiate between the two. Scale is usually the biggest difference…generally LA’s work on larger scale sites at a coarser level of detail whereas LD’s generally work on smaller sites at a much more resolved level of detail. These are generalizations and there is a great deal of overlap in actual practice. Ultimately the only true point of definition is a legal one in that a landscape designer cannot define themselves as a landscape architect where a name act applies.

    Wes Arola, RLA

    Very well put!

    Jason T. Radice

    I think one of the major points I have as an LA, is that we so often get confused by not only the public, but our allied professions as to our capabilities. LA’s do sooooo much more than LD. There is always the ‘cocktail party’ situation when someones asks what you do, and they ask you to help with their yard. As you could tell by some of the responses, many of us get offended by the pigeon-holing into just landscape design. It gets old.

    Landscape design is one of the minor aspects of my practice, which is more of an planner/architect/engineer than an ornamental horticulturist. I’ve been waging this war for years, and am trying to get LA’s into places they usually aren’t (into architects offices, actually working in direct conjunction with the architects as peers, not just last minute consultant). The practice of holistic design is becoming critical with the advent of LEED, and it just makes sense for LAs to be at the forefront. LAs need to grab back some of the ground they have lost in the last 50 years, such as planning and actual “landscape architecture”. Why leave it to the engineers to layout the site, and have us plop the same 5 trees on it when they are done. 35% of my time involves correcting engineering plans. I even end up engineering things the civils can’t seem to comprehend. Its frightening when they can’t grade a sidewalk properly. Architects need us to catch errors and ensure code compliance (ADA, IBC), because once its outside the doors, they have no clue. Even working with third party LAs, to convey the concept, check the plans, and correct them when needed (you’d be surprised how often I do that, too) LAs can be in charge, have an impact on the total project. I’ve done it (albeit from within an architect and developer offices). I’m trying to get it more widespread. It’s the image that we just do landscape design with a license that makes it difficult to get the credibility to regain what LAs traditionally used to do, to gain the respect of the allied professions to allow us to take on these expanded roles.

    Don’t read this the wrong way. I’m not putting down landscape designers. I started at a greenhouse, moved onto mowing, and ended up laboring at a botanic garden before I got my LA degree. And there are designers that are waaaay better at it than I am, that are not licensed. The nature of my work dictates a limited palette. I conceed that. There will always be room in the profession for landscape design, it’s just that the LA profession has so much more it can offer.

    Andrew Garulay, RLA

    There are LDs who know about sight lines in parking lots and those who don’t – the same can be said for LAs, although after years of school, internship, and practice there is a much greater chance that they do consider that..

    That is one example, but you can substitute countless other things besides plant pallet that the comparison works on. You can’t say “all LAs consider this or that”, but you can say that after all that direct and specific education and experience they damn well ought to know.

    You can’t say that all LDs do not understand this or that. But the difficulty is there is no criteria by which any specific skill set can be reasonably assumed to be possessed by someone just because they design landscapes.

    That is a difference that is hard to argue with as far as I can tell.

    George Boone

    I think landscape architecture involves the grading and technicalities more than landscape design. Landscape design also deals with these, but with not as much emphasis.

    Patty Lundeen Hume

    What is the difference? Licensure. I have an MLA. I am a LEED AP. I have 10 years professional work experience. But I am not a licensed Landscape Architect so legally I always refer to myself as a Landscape Designer.

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