Throughout history—with the exception of the great Olmsted, of course—it seems that landscape architects seldom find their way into the design spotlight. Lurking in the shadows of a project’s sources, the portion of folks determined enough to look hard may be able to find the LA firm responsible for the work. But chances are pretty good that if that same project is covered by the media—whether featured in a magazine, highlighted on a TV show, or written about on a website—the landscape architecture will be a small portion of the story. That is, if it’s mentioned at all.
With recent projects like The Highline in NYC and Millennium Park in Chicago, perhaps the field of landscape architecture is finally readying itself for the spotlight. And given the growing ‘buzzworthyness’ of things like sustainability and the popularity of public spaces in urban environments, it sure does seem like now would be a great time. I guess the question is, when the public reads about the Highline project will they read more about the landscape architecture firm James Corner Field Operations or the architecture firm Diller, Scofidio + Renfro?
But whether speaking of major projects like the Highline in NYC or something a bit more humble like the design of a private estate outside of the city, landscape architects have quite a bit of work to do before the profession is understood, much less celebrated. Let’s face it—the nature of the work still remains a bit unclear to people not in the business, as do the reasons one might hire an LA. An thinking beyond the basics, creating meaningful connections between the work of LAs and the lives of everyday people is crutial for advancement of the practice.
The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) has certainly made some effort in recent years to demystify the work of LA’s, launching sections like “Learn What Landscape Architects Do” on the their homepage. But there is a lot more that can be done here to foster true understanding and emotional connection to the work. Instead of speaking about an exciting new park project in terms of the genius management of stormwater runoff (I am certainly not discounting the importance here), how about the ASLA interviews actual residents who have been positively impacted by the design? Maybe conduct an interview with the landscape architect, offering behind-the-scenes coverage of their role on the project while uncovering their dedication to creating amazing spaces for the public to enjoy.
Perhaps before we point fingers, declaring that the work of LAs is undervalued and overshadowed by the likes of architects and designers, we should look more closely at the professional community and organizations like the ASLA. What exactly is being done to foster lasting, human connections with the very people that use the spaces they create?
Photo credit: Chicago TribunePublished in