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Merit Award
Merit Award
Merit Award

Landscape Architecture: A Diverse Profession

A Diverse Profession - What is Landscape Architecture

One of the most diversified of the design professions, landscape architects design the built environment of neighborhoods, towns and cities while also protecting and managing the natural environment.

Members of the profession have a special commitment to improving the quality of life through the best designs. In fact, the work of landscape architects surrounds us. Members of the profession are involved in the planning of such sites as office plazas, public squares, parks, zoos, housing developments and thoroughfares. The attractiveness of these designs reflects the skill of landscape architects in planning and designing the construction.

From coast to coast, in every region of the world, examples of the landscape architecture profession can be found. Many landscape architects are involved in small projects, such as developing plans for a new city park or site plans for an office building. Other members of the profession have contributed their expertise to large scale projects such as the:

Preservation of Yosemite Park and Niagara Falls
Management plan for the Alaskan Maritime National Wildlife Refuge
Design of the U.S. Capitol Grounds
Design of the Mount Royal Park in Montreal, Quebec
Development of Stanford University site
Creation of Boston's "emerald necklace" of green spaces tying city to suburbs
Plans for Baltimore's park system and Inner Harbor area
Design of "new towns" such as Columbia, Maryland, and Reston, Virginia
Landfill reclamation for Fresh Kills in New York and Dyer in Florida
Plans for Golden Gate National Recreation Area in San Francisco, California
Sursum Cordan Affordable Housing, Washington D.C. 
Design for water treatment and park facility in Hillsboro, Oregon
Master plan for King Saudi University in Saudi Arabia
Restoration of Maryland's landscape along the Baltimore-Washington Parkway

Depending on the scope of the project for clients, landscape architects may plan the entire arrangement of a site, including the location of buildings, grading, stormwater management, construction, and planting. They may also coordinate teams of design, construction, and contracting professionals.

Already, federal and state government agencies, including the National Park Service and most local park planning boards, employ a large number of landscape architects. More and more private developers also now realize that the services of a landscape architect are an integral part of maximizing their projects' success and profitability.

Profession in Practice

The landscape architecture profession of today is too broad, and the projects too varied, to be described in a few simple terms. A variety of often interwoven specializations exist within the profession, including the following:

Landscape Design
Landscape design, the historical core of the profession, is concerned with detailed outdoor space design for residential, commercial, industrial, institutional, and public spaces. It involves the treatment of a site as art, the balance of hard and soft surfaces in outdoor and indoor spaces, the selection of construction and plant materials, infrastructure such as irrigation, and the preparation of detailed construction plans and documents.

Site Planning
Site Planning focuses on the physical design and arrangement of built and natural elements of a land parcel. A site planning project can involve designing the land for a single house, an office park of shopping center, or an entire residential community. More specifically, site design involves the orderly, efficient, aesthetic and ecologically sensitive integration of man-made objects with a site's natural features including topography, vegetation, drainage, water, wildlife and climate. Sensitive design produces development that minimizes both environmental impacts and project costs and add value to a site.

Urban/Town Planning
Urban/Town Planning deals with designing and planning cities and towns. Urban planners use zoning techniques and regulations, master plans, conceptual plans, land use studies and other methods to set the layout and organization of urban areas. This field also involves "urban design" the development of mostly open, public spaces, such as plazas and streetscapes.

Regional Landscape Planning
With the rise of the public's environmental awareness over the last three decades, Regional Landscape Planning has emerged as a major area of practice for many landscape architects. It merges landscape architecture with environmental planning. In this field, landscape architects deal with the full spectrum of planning and managing land and water, including natural resource surveys, preparation of environmental impact statements, visual analysis, landscape reclamation and coastal zone management.

Park and Recreation Planning
Park and Recreation Planning involves creating or redesigning parks and recreational areas in cities, suburban and rural areas. Landscape architects also develop plans for large natural areas as part of national park, forest, and wildlife refuge systems.

Land Development Planning
Land Development Planning can be on large-scale, multi-acre parcels of undeveloped land or smaller scale sites in urban, rural and historic areas. It provides a bridge between policy planning and individual development projects. Landscape architects working in this area require a knowledge of real estate economics and development regulations, as well as understanding the physical constraints of developing and working with the land. The challenge is to integrate economic factors with good design and thus create quality environments. Due to the blending of expertise, landscape architects are often selected to head multi-disciplinary design teams.

Ecological Planning and Design
Ecological Planning and Design studies the interaction between people and the natural environment. It is concerned with interpretation, analysis, and formulation of design policies, guidelines and plans, to ensure the quality of the environment. This specialization includes, but is not limited to, analytical evaluations of the land and focuses on the suitability of a site for development. It requires specific knowledge of environmental laws such as the Clean Water Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, Federal wetlands regulations, etc. This specialization also encompasses highway design and planning.

Historic Preservation and Reclamation
Historic Preservation and Reclamation of sites such as parks, gardens, grounds, waterfronts, and wetlands involves increasing the number of landscape architects as growing populations lead to additional development. This field may involve preservation on a site in relatively static condition, conservation of a site as part of a larger area of historic importance, restoration of a site to a given date or quality, and renovation of a site for ongoing or new use. Landscape architects often participate from the research through the actual restoration stage.

The Profession in Practice
Social and Behavioral Aspects of Landscape Design focuses on the human dimension of design, such as designing for the special needs of the elderly or the disabled. This field requires advanced training in social sciences, such as behavioral psychology, sociology, anthropology and economics. Areas of study include design evaluation of existing environments, environmental perceptions, and effects of environments of people.

The Profession of the Future

The years ahead promise new developments and challenges to the ever-broadening profession. As environmental concerns become increasingly important, landscape architects are being called upon to help solve complex problems. Rural concerns are attracting landscape architects to farmland preservation, small town revitalization, landscape preservation, and energy resource development and conservation. Advances in technology have opened the field of computerized design and land reclamation has become a major new area of emphasis.

Landscape architects have even begun to use their skill within indoor environments (e.g. atriums) and enclosed pedestrian spaces have been incorporated into commercial development projects. From southern California to the Maine coast, the names of landscape architecture firms appear on signs heralding future developments, as more people seek the expertise and services of the profession.

The future also promises increased cooperation among landscape architects and other design professionals. As interest continues to grow, students are studying the profession in increasing numbers. Nearly 60 universities and colleges in the United States now offer accredited baccalaureate and post-graduate programs in landscape architecture. Forty-five states license landscape architects. Headquartered today in Washington D.C., the American Society of Landscape Architects has grown to nearly 12,000 members in 46 chapters.

The profession continues to evolve as it meets the challenges of a society interested in improving both its quality of life and wise use of the land. Today, landscape architects are shaping the future of our world.

Top 10 reasons to join ASLA

1. Increase Awareness of the Profession - ASLA has launched extensive public relations and targeted marketing efforts which will introduce prospective and current commercial, residential, and government consumers to our full palette of skills and expertise, and explain how these talents are best employed.

2. Protect and Enhance the Integrity of the Profession - Across the country, ASLA and its members are at the forefront of successful efforts to maintain and improve professional state licensing laws. Because of the diligent efforts of ASLA and its members, 46 states now have licensing laws. In addition, the Landscape Architectural Accreditation Board, managed under ASLA auspices, ensures the quality of degree-granting programs and provides the profession with an essential mantle of credibility. Finally, ASLA successfully lobbied to create an appropriate professional sector for our members in the all-important Federal Industrial Classification System. This distinct classification for landscape architects will open up opportunities for you to compete for a larger pie of federal, state, and municipal contracts and programs.

3. Protect the Environment - At the national and local level, ASLA and its members are at the forefront of efforts to increase respect for the land and our natural environment, particularly on issues of prudent land use and planning, sustainable development, waste and water management, recreation, and land reclamation. Through efforts by ASLA, landscape architects are now recognized as experts and their knowledge and skills are often called upon by other organizations with common goals and ideals.

4. Continuing Education - ASLA members enjoy access to an ever-widening array of continuing education programs, each designed to keep the busy professional abreast of the latest developments in horticulture, land use, CAD, and other areas of importance. Plus, our annual meeting is the industry's leading education program, with entire tracks and specific sessions focusing on areas of need-including practice management, marketing, and liability.

5. Networking Opportunities. - ASLA members are afforded numerous opportunities to meet and network with peers from various areas of expertise within the profession at the local, state and national level. For example, members can join one or more of ASLA's 15 "Professional Interest Groups," comprised of individuals from multiple disciplines who come together around a specific topic of interest, including historic preservation, parks and recreation, and campus planning.

6. Information Tools - ASLA offers its members a comprehensive variety of publications and digital resources including our comprehensive Product Profiles and Directory, Landscape Architecture News Digest, salary and practice surveys, and a "members only" section on ASLA's website. In addition, ASLA members enjoy access to an unparalleled technical library and a paid research librarian to help you obtain information you need to conduct your business.

7. Landscape Architecture Magazine - If you don't already read it, you should. A subscription is included in your annual dues. Landscape Architecture is the definitive design magazine of the industry. With rich illustrations and photographs, and compelling writing, this magazine is a must-read for tens of thousands each month who must stay on the cutting edge of design and technology.

8. Discounted Products and Services - ASLA members receive substantial members-only discounts on purchases from ASLA's widely respected bookstore, affinity programs, and continuing education registration.

9. 100 Years of Integrity, Respect, and Proven Value Behind Your Name  - ASLA, through licensing, accreditation, marketing, and public relations efforts, is successfully establishing ASLA as the premier "brand" which, when seen behind your name, identifies you as a professional of the highest standard.

10. ASLA Membership More Than Pays For Itself - ASLA membership is a proven value. The benefits above more than offset the cost of your dues-in any number of ways, you'll recoup your modest membership fees in a matter of weeks, if not days. Just ask any one of your over 13,500 peers who is a member.

There you have it. Ten compelling reasons why you should join ASLA. If three or more of these apply to you or your business, then you should be one of us.  Visit the national American Society of Landscape Architects web site for more details on joining ASLA.

Sustainable Design


The Sustainable Sites Initiative is an interdisciplinary effort by the American Society of Landscape Architects, the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at The University of Texas at Austin and the United States Botanic Garden to create voluntary national guidelines and performance benchmarks for sustainable land design, construction and maintenance practices.

The goal of SITES is to create a National Standard which will guide those who want to create sustainable landscapes.

The SITES Initiative is similar to LEED, but focuses specifically on landscapes. A key difference between LEED & SITES is the"landscapes are unique in that they also have the additional capacity to enhance and regenerate natural resources".

"SITES suggests that such change moves from a do-not-harm principle or conservation and use reduction to ultimately a production and regenerative outcome, through Performative Landscapes."

Project Schedule

  1. Pilot Projects Phase - June 2010 thru June 2012

  2. SITES Reference Guide - target publication date late 2012/early 2013

  3. Open Enrollment - 2013

Currently there are over 150 SITES projects going on throughout the US.

The Guidelines released in November 2009 is divided into 9 sections with 15 prerequisites and 51 credits.

The 250 point scale is divided into 4 levels with each level equaling one start. The four levels of certification are:

  • One star - 100 points (40%)

  • Two stars - 125 points (50%)

  • Three stars - 150 points (60%)

  • Four stars - 200 points (80%)

To view a brochure on the benefits of Sustainable Sites - "Landscapes Give Back- Benefits of Sustainable Sites"



ADA: Information on requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act -

AHS: American Horticultural Society -

AIA: The American Institute for Architects -

ANLA: American Nursery & Landscape Association -

APA: American Planning Association -

APLD: Association of Professional Landscape Designers  -

ASCE: American Society of Civil Engineers -

ASLA on Flickr  -

ASLA: American Society of Landscape Architects  -

Buildium Green Building Resource Guide -

CLARB: Council of Landscape Architectural Registration Boards -

HALS: Historic American Landscapes Survey -

INLA: Indiana Nursery & Landscape Association -

INPAWS: Indiana Native Plant and Wildflower Society -

LAF: Landscape Architectural Foundation -

Land Online- Landscape Architecture News Digest  -

Landscape Architecture Magazine  -

Regional Online College Accreditation Resource - - Photo Editing Software Reviews -

SITES: Sustainable Sites Initiative -

Smart Growth -

State Board of Registration for Architects & Landscape Architects -

The Cultural Landscapes Foundation -

The Trust for Public Land -

ULI: Urban Land Institute -

USGBC: U.S. Green Building Council -