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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    I guess the difference to me is that I can design something but I cant really architecture something, though that thing I design could be considered architecture. Most architects are also designers, though many designers would not consider themselves architects, whether or not they design stuff.

    Otherwise, I’ve seen just as many unqualified for the other on both ends- In other words, I’ve worked with designers who are unqualified to call themselves an ‘Architect,’ while I’ve certainly also worked with many ‘Architects’ who just shouldn’t be designers.

    I’d be just as happy with calling myself a designer as calling myself Architect.

    Jean Marcucci

    There is alot of crossover in trying to differentiate between LAs and LDs.

    I do not hire a chemical engineer to make me a vodka martini, although the man I love happens to be one and he does make a mean martini. But so does John at my favorite martini bar, and he is not a ChemE.

    If my back is sore, I might go to my GP for some prescription anti-inflammatory and muscle relaxants; or I could go have a massage or a chiropractic adjustment; or I might be more careful about my posture over the computer; or I might take a yoga class. I doubt I would see a brain surgeon, however. That said, I would not see a chiropractor if an MRI revealed I had brain cancer.

    You get my point. It just depends. Often there is more than one appropriate solution. There are situations where things are best left to those who specialize and other times it doesn’t matter. At the design/build firm where I work, I frequently cost for bid projects that were designed by LAs or Engineers. (These projects are almost always public spaces.) I have seen really good, clear, concise plans that are easy to cost, wonderful to look at and are easy for our site crews to follow, and there are those speced with invasive plant materials (one firm uses the same plants in every design I have seen.) Sometimes the graphics for paving are so unclear it makes costing them a gamble. One LA firm refused to answer my questions when I called–said they were much too busy to talk to me. I have also worked with homeowners on planting components of projects where a family member did a beautiful job building a deck or terrace, while in compliance with all township codes–there are good craftsmen out there. And I have seen some nightmares on the DIY front, too.

    All this aside, I consider myself a design professional; I have put in the time and have the academics to back it up. I behave responsibly to the Earth, to my clients, to my colleagues. I would happily work side by side with a LA, an LD, a carpenter or a gardener as there is strength in diversity and give repspect to all points of view; our success would be measured on how well we satisfied the client. There will always be someone more expert than myself, and that has nothing to do with title. We all become better at what we do when we learn from each other. Each day, we all engage in “tasks” that make up our work–deadlines to meet, meetings to attend–all of that–no matter what our title. It is troubling to me that there is a sentiment that LDs are not as good as LAs. I get back to my earlier point–it just depends. John’s martini tastes just as good as Rob’s and I’m on my way to yoga class.

    Glenn Sovie

    I have to agree with Andrew.

    After having read all of these valid points in either direction, there does not need to be a clear cut line between then two designations. I don’t feel there needs to be contempt between them either but as he explained it, those are the factual differences.

    If you are confident in yourself and your abilities, and where you are in your career/profession/occupation/job/task, what does it really matter what others refer to you as? The only valid point to be upset with a certain designation is if (as Jason mentioned) it is literally holding you back; personally or the profession as a whole.

    Being a recent graduate, I haven’t yet had the “opportunity” to be looked down upon by Architects an Engineers, but from what I gather that seems to occur in some instances, which is unfortunate. Also I have been referring to myself as an “Entry Level LA.” To be PC should I be referring to myself as an “Entry Level LD?” or did I make that small meaningless transition when I got my degree?


    My first job out of school was at a medium sized design/build firm, where I my boss was a Landscape Designer; he was an older gent who never took the exam. Although I had learned basic design principles in school, I was taught very little about detailed landscape design. I didn’t understand how the various materials joined together or abutted one another. Almost all of my academic projects were “macro” or master planning in scale.

    I have found that a good portion of the Landscape Architects pay very little attention to details. No matter how large a project is, it should still be designed down to the smallest visible detail. It matters where expansion and control joints fall on a concrete plaza. And the planting plan is just as important as the layout and materials plan. These are the things a lot of us LA s miss or don’t care about. So I am thankful for my training under a good Landscape Designer. It has made me a better Landscape Architect.

    There are Landscape Designers out there who have all the knowledge, skills and abilities that a Registered Landscape Architect would have. Not all Landscape Designers are exterior decorators. From a client standpoint, it depends on the project scope and the individual working on your project as to which is best.

    I agree with the previous posts that state that the primary difference is the license and liability that goes along with it. But, having a professional license can definitely provide a person with more entrepreneurial opportunities.

    I have no problem being called Landscape Architect or Landscape Designer. As long as I can make a living doing the kind of projects that I want to do I’m good.

    Jennifer de Graaf
    Eric Gilbey

    Jennifer, I’m really glad you shared this link. I hope everyone has a chance to see this.
    As a landscape architect and landscape designer, I’m frustrated that the landscape architects of California actually let language such as this exist, virtually forcing landscape designers to only get specific about planting plans. Does it not seem a bit elitist to think that landscape designers have to be limited to conceptual in everything else. Would it really be dangerous to the practice of site design if a landscape designer actually put dimensions on a residential patio, allowing a contractor to know specifically what the designer expected? Or for a designer who wants to help a client prepare a container garden for their yard or patio know the proper size for the proposed plantings and their root zones and to make sure such containers will drain, etc.?
    In Ohio, I was a part of the ASLA Ex Comm when we sought a title and practice law to replace our title law. We spent most of our time forming the language so as not to exclude reasonable areas of overlapping practice, including that of professionals who did not have a license requirement in the state (ie landscape designers and contractors). Our legislative effort went through many rewrites to ensure the language not only met our needs as landscape architects, in specifying our rights to practice where other licensed professions already had overlap, but we also wanted it to allow for others to practice as they already had been within private projects.
    I would really hope that California’s LATC reconsider some of this language and recognize that allowing landscape designers to be more specific than “conceptual” is really okay, particularly where private/residential projects are concerned.

    samir Roy

    The point is simple. When we are ill and can not decide what medications to take, we visit a doctor who is board certified. We trust board, b/c they control standard of the medical practitioners. Simply they control all including nurse, medical assistants etc. They don’t talk such that nurses are better doctors and so forth b/c they know their boundaries and limitations.

    The problem in landscape industry is that, a person with LA degree needs to live with Landscape Designer title, (which is shared among many with no degree or just one year certificate) until pass the LARE exam, often many fail to do so and continue to be a different breed of design professional. So only a distinct separation among 4yrs degree and 2 yrs degree is needed and people with 2yrs degree could be called landscape technicians (through board certifications) and 4yrs degree holder should not able to call anything professional, maximum they could be allowed to call landscape assistant as long as they are working under RLA. Like lawyers and doctors, when they are not having license, they are out of work, no exception, no excuse.

    LARE only look for minimum competency, the schools should revamp their course work so that more people should be able to pass LARE like doctors and lawyers.


    landscape architect is more general than landscape designer, so landscape designer was part of landscape Architect. however, landscape architect means landscape designer but landscape designer is not always Landscape Architect.

    I think^^


    I really thought I knew the answer to this question but I only get more frustrated when I look at the facts. I got the degree and got the license, all the while looking forward to being a ‘professional’ with the same recognition as architects and engineers. But to my dismay it seems that in the eyes of NJ building departments landscape architects have zero authority. In most townships an architect is required to sign off on everything from simple sonotube footings to deck framing to seatwall footings. So where does that leave us as landscape architects? It tosses us right back in the pool of landscape designers who are not required to have the schooling and experience and testing. Sure I value my credentials and training, but after all that hardship to get where I am I find that I can legally only do what grandma does in her spare time.
    Sorry if this sounded like a rant but the question strikes a nerve with me. I think the ASLA needs to step it up and start fighting for the team.

    Samuel Sebastian

    Here’s what I learn…
    Theoritically, in GENERAL, landscape architecture has 3 main aspect:
    1. Landscape planning… Person: Landscape planner or landscape architect
    – This considered as the one who got the idea and concept. Many people call this as landscape architect…
    2. Landscape design… Person: Landscape designer or drafter…
    – This considered as the detail of landscape planning. Their work is so much with detail drawing and bill of quantities… They’re the one who create the posters and presentation…
    PS: number 1 & 2 could be at the same person
    3. Landscape management… Person: Landscape manager…
    – This is the different one… They work is calculating the management plan, maintaining garden/park.

    And, at practical world, landscape architecture has 4 main subject industry:
    1. Landscape planner/designer… They’re the one who give the drawing… We may call it landscape architect…
    2. Landscape contractor… Who made the drawing from landscape planner/designer become real…
    3. Landscape nursery… Who got the stock of plant…
    4. Landscape manager… Who working with the maintenance and management of landscape…

    But, as long as we working with function and aestetics, as long as we keep the earth in good shape,
    in GENERAL, we are all landscape architect.

    Rick Spalenka

    This is an interesting thread. LD or LA? We can have that discussion all day. What really matters is what puts the most food on the table unless you do designs as a hobby. Many postings stated it’s Licensure but that’s only part right. It’s also how your State recognizes Landscape Architects. I’m licensed in Virginia and Colorado. My Virginia license will put more food on the table because Virginia State law has a broader definition of what a Licensed Landscape Architect can do. I lived in Virginia when licensure first started and I’m living in Colorado when Colorado brought licensing back. OK, what did licensing change? Nothing if your drawings do not need a stamp. Some jurisdictions decided that to avoid Joe’s landscape architectural and backhoe service from designing their landscapes maybe stamping should be required. Not all jurisdictions feel that way. OK, your State has a title and practice act. What does that mean? Nothing unless your State has License Police which I’m sure they don’t. It’s when you can sell your stamp that your stamp and your title really makes a monetary difference. Oh, by the way. I know of a landscape designer who said to my face that she never met a landscape architect who met her standards. Granted, she’s a great designer but I don’t much care for people who think their s#%t don’t stink. AND then there was the time I went to a large hort conference in Baltimore and more than once exhibitors said, “You’re a landscape architect? Where’s your coat, tie and brief case?” AND one more story. I met this women who was representing Design Workshop at a County Master Plan public hearing. I intorduced myself as a fellow landscape architect and all she could say was “Oh.” I asked, “where did you go to school?” All she could say was, “Haaavaad.” Never once looking me in the eye. Meaning snobbery exists and it doesn’t help. Wow, I’ve been waiting years to tell that story.

    John Gordon

    LA’s and LD’s (before Frederick Law Olmsted coined the term, “Landscape Architect” were all Landscape Gardeners. And that includes our esteemed predecessors who were practicing architects as well as landscape designers. And before that, artists and sculptors were frequently also architects and landscape designers. So, historically, Landscape Architects are self-proclaimed ‘newbies’ in the progression of ‘Designers on the Land.’ (Norman Newton’s term)

    I’ve been a Landscape Designer for more than fifteen years, studied for several years at two different community colleges in Maryland, and recently, have taken all the first and many of the second-year LA courses (as well as an MLA-level course) at the University of Maryland. So I appreciate the distinction between LA’s and LD’s in the 21st century.

    Of course LA’s need a four-year BLA degree (for starters) and LD’s need only to hang out their shingle. But, in all fairness, LD’s who are successful are those who have a) a multitude of life experiences, b) a lot of training in the profession [yes, LD is a profession] and experience, and c) the ability to assess a site, imagine the possibilities, and plan on paper accordingly. The foregoing is, essentially, Fletcher Steele’s definition of the responsiblity of an LA!) In the University of Maryland’s LA program, there are NO courses specifically related to Residential LD. Apparently, LA’s who specialize in residential design have assimilated the principles learned in their four-year LA programs and incorporated those principles into their practice. Well and good.

    But realize, also, that there are zillions of homeowners who appreciate good design but cannot afford the luxury of a LA’s fees.’ And, I suggest, there are many LA’s who simply have no time for the ‘small potatoes.’ LD’s are (I’m guessing…) 98 1/2% residential. Are we competitors? Not really.

    I know at least one LA who is furious that state practice laws have, in some cases, prevented LD’s from doing what they know very well how to do. There is simply no reason why both professions should not practice what they do best and cease interfering with the other.



    As a Landscape Architect, I pretty much agree with you on everything you’ve said. But I have to admit that I do see Landscape Designers as competition. I personally know LDs that have and are marketing the same skills as Registered Landscape Architects. In some cases LDs are doing full construction document sets for high-end residential projects and having associate Architects stamp the documents for municipal approval. As far as I’m concerned that’s my turf.

    I am a big believer that LAs should work on projects that vary in scale. Yes I can work on 300 acre subdivisions and office parks, but I am capable of (and enjoy) designing small urban gardens. And I don’t see my services as being a “luxury” on smaller projects.

    I have no problem with LDs trying to make a living, just don’t do it for a bargain basement fee. Charge a rate that is comparable to other design professions. And I will welcome you as a fair competitor.

    Rico Flor

    Hello Rick.

    That Bostonian accent was quite a hoot!

    All three anecdotes (the LD and the LA) reinforce my theory that, without the laws..those applicable to your state…it’s a “my kung fu is better than your kung fu” thing (referring to my post a few pages above)..or whoever has “the quickest gun to draw”. Thanks to laws, issues sometimes get resolved.

    I guess in “lawless” states — which the UAE is right now — you rely on your kung fu, or your Colt 45 Peacemaker. I propose that in our world, it has always been our portfolio, may you be an LA, LD, PhD, Dip.

    The resolution of this posts sounds grim, like it should belong to the post-apocalyptic world. The more I highlight the appreciation for being trained as a professional, which included professional ethics in its training….

    I’m sure this post will not be the end of the thread, but…


    John Gordon

    Craig: I’m not a bargain basement guy. I have loads of training and more than a few years of experience. My hourly rate is based on those factors, currently $85./hour. That’s undoubtedly less than most LA’s charge. So be it. Yet I, too, have prospective clients say, “I’m not sure I can afford you.” There will always be landscape contractors who think they can design and spec material that’s in their yard, and not charge anything for their pseudo-designs. Each to his own tastes. Unfortunately (no matter how much publicity and ‘branding), LA’s and LD’s don’t have an exclusive right to design the world’s landscapes. We can only help to beautify when and where we’re invited!

    From what I read in the LAM, and, in my circle of APLD associates, neither LA’s nor LD’s are awash in clients these days. Neither my phone nor website are “ringing off the hook!”

    I hope you’re uploading professionally-taken photos of your residential work to your website or blog. That will help to steer more clients in your direection. Of course LD’s are doing the same thing.

    Bottom line … coexist!

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