Landscape architects do many things. We design parks, plazas, green roofs, gardens, public art, fountains … and the list goes on. It is a broad and flexible field with professionals working across many sectors. Yet there are many myths about what we really do — how we work, what qualifications we have and what kind of work we don’t do. To dispel some of the myths about the profession, here is a breakdown of things to know about landscape architects.
What do landscape architects do? Landscape architects design and plan outdoor spaces. The landscape section sketch shown here is a great example of a landscape architect’s design process. It shows the relationship to the home and important views and begins to develop spatial orientation for the layout.
When working on residential landscape architecture, we design and plan gardens, plantings, pools, paving, stormwater management and more.
Landscape architects are licensed and trained to design landscapes, not to build them. This means that we work primarily through design drawings to collaborate with clients, architects and contractors.
We work with the big picture. Landscape architects are trained to think about landscapes as systems. The flow of water, the relationship to the greater watershed, the interplay of light and local climate effects are all critical aspects of a site’s context. The site plan here is for a residential landscape designed for a 5-acre property in Louisiana with watershed sensitivity. Landscapes do not exist in a vacuum, and it’s the landscape architect’s job to work within the site context to design places that fit the big picture.
We have technical landscape expertise that is up-to-date. In addition to drawing the pretty plans for beautiful outdoor spaces, we do the nitty-gritty stuff, like figuring out grading plans and technical details for drainage, materials, finishes and layout dimensions. The saying “the design is in the details” rings especially true for residential landscape architecture. The runnel meeting a pool of water here is a finessed design detail that works with the overall design plan. How specific materials come together, what the best practices are, what the most up-to-date techniques are and what unique solutions are best for an individual site and the client are all considerations that play into drawing technical details. We stay current on proven techniques through continuing education credits that are required by the state for our continued licensure.
Our technical expertise goes beyond merely knowing about current trends. Improved plant knowledge is a great example of the value of continuing education for landscape architects and greatly benefits clients. Through classes we receive expert advice from research horticulturalists on the ever-changing status of various plants. The horticultural world is vast, with new cultivars being developed in response to diseases every year. Landscape architects stay up-to-date on horticultural issues and use that knowledge to design landscapes.