the future of landscape architecture


            Landscape architects design areas so that they are not only beautiful, but functional, and compatible with the natural environment.  They plan the location of buildings, roads, walkways; they dictate the arrangement of flowers, shrubs and trees.  Landscape architects also plan the restoration of natural areas such as wetlands, stream corridors, mined areas and forested lands that had been stripped of their natural beauty.  A landscape architect through planning, vision and a lot of hard work can transform a dull and dreary landscape into an area loved and cherished by thousands of people.

Almost 19% of all landscape architects are self-employed, almost 2 times the proportion for all occupations (Palmer, 2006).  Landscape architects work for many different organizations, including real estate development firms, municipalities, or parks and recreation facilities.        They work with a variety of people including architects, surveyors, engineers and policy makers.  They help determine the arrangement of roads, buildings, and landscaped areas in such a way that is both aesthetically pleasing and functional to the task at hand (Ohio State University, 2005).

Educational Requirements for Landscape Architects

According to the American Society of Landscape Architects, a person that desires employment in this profession must have sensitivity to landscape quality, an understanding of the arts and a humanistic approach to design, be able to analyze problems in terms of both physical form and design, technical competence to translate a design into build work, be able to analyze problems in terms of physical form and design, and skills in all perspectives of professional practice including ethics and management.  In order to acquire these skills, a professional education in Landscape Architecture is necessary.  It can either be obtained at the undergraduate or graduate level of education, and can consist of either a Bachelor of Landscape Architecture (BLA), a Bachelor of Science in Landscape Architecture (BSLA) or the Master’s level degree.  Accredited programs usually consist of combination of coursework including five years of study in art, design, history, construction techniques, natural and social sciences.  It should be noted that in order to be employed, licensure and registration is required for landscape architects in most states (Education Portal, 2009).

Historical Perspectives

            Frederick Law Olmsted, designer of New York City’s Central Park, coined the term “landscape architect” in 1858.1  He was highly prolific, creating a number of city parks, as well as planning a number of complete urban open space systems, subdivisions, university campuses, private estates and even cemeteries.  He was very active in the conservation movement, and was responsible for the creation of Yosemite Valley in California, one of the first areas that were set aside for public use and enjoyment (Parker, 2009).

            In the early and middle of the 20th century, landscape architects did design work by laying out plans on paper and calculating cut and fills, run-off drainage, road layout, and all the other parts of the entire picture.   They evaluated forms and arrangements of their designs using the rules of commodity, firmness, and delight as dictated by Vitruvius’ work  On Architecture written around 27 BC.2  They worked alone, gathering the data in the field, made the calculations for moving the earth,  accommodating run-off, and road alignment (Palmer, 2006).

            Design details were considered office trademarks, having been molded and reformed over years of adjustments, re-calculations, and hard work.   The details were often copied by hand, over and over.  On rare occasions, they needed to work closely with another professional, other than an engineer or an architect.  Typically in this formalized setting, the landscape architect would have a single client that would provide them with the basic information of what they wanted the end product to be, and it would be up to the landscape architect, along with a small group of experts and visionaries to come up with a shared vision for the project at hand.  The client normally had a modest sense of their needs, and trusted the landscape architects to flush out their ideas and make it a reality (Hyson, 2000)..

            Over the last two decades, the business of landscape architecture has had a wide influence on many areas of daily life, both expected and unexpected.  Besides the landscapes of parks, yards, and governmental buildings, one of the areas that have seen an increase in landscaping architecture is that of zoological parks.    In fact, the idea of landscape immersion, championed by many current landscape architects, has steadily become the dominate style in zoo exhibits.  Landscape immersion is the idea of having realistic landscapes that center on the needs of the animals, presenting them in the natural habitats.   Zoo planners, with the help of various well known landscape architecture firms have transformed the cages and concrete jungles of old zoos into a world of realistic landscapes from Amazonian rainforests,  lush savannahs, and icy tundra, to the swamps of Louisiana.  These dramatic exhibits have helped sparked a renaissance at American zoos, reflecting  not only the increased sense of environmental awareness in the public, but also the sense of popularity and comfort first brought to the forefront by a team of landscape architects (Hyson, 2000).

Current Conditions of the Landscape Architecture Industry

            In today’s market, the job of a landscape architect has changed dramatically, both in the type of potential client, as well as the equipment and educational background needed.  Landscape architects work for many types of companies and organizations, ranging from real estate development firms, various governmental agencies, to private homes and multi-family estates.  They are often involved with the development of a project from its conception.  In addition, today’s landscape architects work with a diverse team of architects, surveyors, engineers, and environmental professionals to help the client realize the most aesthetically pleasing and environmentally sound plans (Barr Engineering, 2006).

            Once all the information is gathered, and all the opinions concerning natural resource conservation, visual effects, land use, and client desires are taken into account, the landscape architect creates detailed plans with an extensive amount of information.  The details include things such as new topographic levels, locations and types of new vegetation, dimensions and construction materials to be used in roads and walkways, as well as any decorative features (California Employment Development Department, 2003).

            Landscape architects, through their training and vision create areas that are not only functional, but also beautiful, highlighting their compatibility with the natural environment.  The designs help to restore natural places that have previously been disturbed by human practices, including wetlands, stream corridors, mined areas and forested land.

            For many landscape architects, the challenge is to find a balance between the needs and desires of the human population, and the needs and available resources of the natural world.  They seek an understanding of the site location, including the type of soil, availability of natural light, water, and air.  The interactions of animals and plants are also taken into account, and the determination of how people both affect and are affected by the landscape is an integral part of the overall design.  Successful projects occur when a synthesis between the understanding of the client’s needs and desires are incorporated with an intimate knowledge of the sites ecological identity, both now, and what is predicted for the future (Palmer, 2006).

Future Endeavors of the Landscape Architect

            In the future, chances are landscape architects will continue to transform landscapes for their clients, but the calculations which originally were completed by hand will be done with the aid of more powerful computers, programs and even calculators.  Calculations for such things as grading, drainage capacity, and road alignment will continue to be computer assisted.  Because of the availability of the computers and programs are most likely to increase in the future as the prices continue to decrease, few landscape architects will know how to perform the calculations by hand.  In this way, the people who choose this career will become more and more reliant on the available equipment and computer programs (Palmer, 2006).

            Another potential change that is on the horizon for many landscape architecture firms is the increased involvement of many regulatory and governmental entities.  Since the understanding of environmental processes has increased over the years, laws and regulations that affect landscape design were developed.  These regulations, brought about at the local, state and federal levels of government, are designed to conserve the natural resources, and limit the adverse effects of humans on the environmental landscape (Barr Engineering, 2006).

            The client relation has also significantly changed over the years, and will most likely continue to transform well into the future.  At one time, the landscape architect met with a single client for each project.  Today,  landscape architects can meet with a variety of people, all of which influence can how hand when the project is completed.  They can include the chief executive officer, staff employees, and customers, neighbors of the site location, government officials, and the representatives of special interest parties.  Often, the landscape architect has to not only act as a landscape designer, but as a mediator between the various interested parties.  A landscape architecture firm often hosts meetings in both real and virtual environments with the goal of making sure all the interested parties are well informed concerning the status of the projects, as well as to facilitate the interaction, and the obtainment of additional information as needed.  In many cases, the participants, through discussion and reaction to possible alternative ideas, can improve the overall project.  Then, “back of the envelope” assessments are completed on the new ideas while everyone is present.  Once all the information and opinions are taken into account, the landscape architect changes their designs and conducts more evaluations as necessary.

            Just as the overall job of  the landscape architect has changed over the years, so have the educational necessities.  The landscape architect is still a designer; he still needs to have a foundation in design, aesthetics, historical precedents, natural processes, and applicable laws.  However, with the increased involvement of multiple interested parties, a landscape architect must have significant education in group processes, and how to facilitate consensus building among the various interested parties.  There is also a need for the professional to be able to quickly and understandably relate the process of design, and evaluation.  Therefore, an increased understanding of the computer programs, regulations, environmental impacts, and economic influenced must be understood adequately.  The idea of the landscape architect presenting a finished project to the client is no longer a viable business option.  In today’s world, the client wants to be more involved, and more knowledgeable than ever before.

            One area of landscape architecture that is predicted to increase in popularity is known as ecology based approach to design.  This type of landscape architecture results in lower maintenance, less use of chemicals, decreased overall costs, and increased plant reliability.  In addition, the natural beauty and exposure to wildlife is increased, as well as the overall richness of the living environment.

            One of the most prominent examples of this type of ecological friendly landscape architecture was the Phalen Shopping Center. Located near the city of St. Paul, Minnesota, the Phalen Shopping Center was  originally built in the early 1960s on a filled wetland known as Ames Lake. In the subsequent years, normal wear and tear had left the buildings in an unusable state.

             In 1998, the city of St. Paul commissioned Barr Engineering to create a restored wetland and recreational area in place of the crumbling buildings.  The primary tasks in designing the area including the restoration of hydrologic function to the re-created basin, reconstructing the wetland soil profiles,  and the introduction of native flora and fauna.  A traditional park was also designed to frame the wetland habitat, create a recreational area, and provide a transition to the surrounding urban neighborhood.  In addition, an amphitheater was constructed in the place of the former building and parking lot.  Finally, the wetland  and recreational park was designed as part of a larger wildlife corridor between Lake Phalen and the Mississippi River.  Barr Engineering, with the creation of the restored wetland and recreational area in an ecologically sound and environmentally friendly was able to merge the needs and desires of the people of St. Paul, as well as considerations for the natural world (Barr Engineering, 2006).

Employment Outlook

            In the United States, there are currently over 30,000 practicing landscape architects, and 67 accredited professional degree programs.  The profession is experiencing rapid growth and an expanding market.  According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, landscape architecture is projected to be among the top ten in demand jobs during the 21st century (U.S. Department of Labor, 2009).

            Landscape architects are employed in private, public, and academic organizations.  Private sector opportunities are found within landscape architectural, engineering, architectural, and planning firms.  Landscape architects have also been known to work with other types of private corporations, such as physical planning departments, environmental consulting firms, and real estate development firms.  Public sector employment opportunities are found within federal, state and regional agencies that are involved in land planning, development, and preservation.  Examples of these potential employers can include a city’s urban planning division, a county’s land use commission, and even a state’s soil conservation and department of natural resource.  Federal agencies that often employ qualified landscape architects include the U.S. Forest Service, the National Park Service, the U.S. Army Corps, Department of Transportation, and the Veterans Administration.  In addition to the professional consulting opportunities for a landscape architect, opportunities within an academic setting also exist, and are predicted to grow, based on the increased need in the job market.  Qualified instructors and those who conduct research in the profession are needed by various colleges and universities across the country (U. S. Department of Labor, 2009).

            The American Society of Landscape architects (ASLA) reported in 2005 that the average starting salary of a qualified landscape architect was $34,700 annually.  The natural average for experienced landscape architects was determined to be approximately $74,644 annually.  Partners in firms, and senior associates may earn considerably more.

During 2006, approximately 28,000 jobs were held by landscape architects.  More than 1 out of 2 landscape architects were employed in architectural, engineering and related service firms.  State and local governments employed nearly six percent of landscape architects, and about 2 out of every 10 professionals were self-employed.  Employment of landscape architects is concentrated in urban and suburban areas, while a minority is employed in a more rural setting.  Based on the increased need for planning and development in an urban or suburban setting, an increase in the number jobs available in those settings is likely.

            Employment of landscape architects is expected to grow faster than average for all occupations through the year 2016.  Good employment opportunities are predicted, but the exact nature of them may depend on geographic location, and the local real estate and construction markets.  Employment of landscape architects is expected to increase by 16% during the next decade, since the expertise of landscape architects will be sought after in the planning and development of new construction to meet the needs of a growing population.  New construction will also spur the demand for landscape architects in order to aid in the planning of sites that adhere to environmental regulations, zoning laws, and the integration of new structures with the natural environment.  Landscape architects will be needed to help manage storm water run-off, to avoid pollution of waterways, and conserve water resources.  They will most likely be more involved in preserving and restoring wetlands and other environmentally sensitive sites.

            In addition to work related to new development and construction, landscape architects are expected to be involved in historic preservation, land reclamation, and the refurbishment of existing sites.  It is also predicted that landscape architects will be needed to create security perimeters that are better integrated with their surrounding environment for many of the nation’s landmarks, monuments, and buildings.

In addition to the projected creation of new jobs, the need to replace retiring landscape architects will produce additional job opportunities (Ohio State University, 2005).

            During a recession, when real estate sales and development decrease, landscape architects could potentially face greater competition for jobs and may experience occasional lay offs.  However, since landscape architects can work on a variety of projects, the availability of steadier work exists when traditional construction and real estate development slows.

            New graduates of landscape architecture programs can expect a fair amount of competition for employments in the largest and most prestigious landscape and architecture firms.  There should be good opportunities overall, as demand for their services increases.  Opportunities will increase for those who have strong technical skills, such as computer, communication, and knowledge of environmental codes and regulations.

Explanation of Footnotes

Olmsted was born in Hartford, Connecticut, in 1822. Between 1837 and 1857, Olmsted performed a variety of jobs: he was a clerk, a sailor in the China trade, and a farmer, as well as many other professions. He moved to New York in 1848 and in 1857, without having ever had any college education, Olmsted became the superintendent of New York’s Central Park

Vitruvius work, On Architecture, is perhaps one of the most notable texts in the history of western architecture, engineering and town planning.  In Roman times, the architect was a chief technician.  The Ten Books of Vitruvius, of which On Architecture is a portion, dealt with many aspects of urban development, and site planning, including clocks, aqueducts, pumps and siege engines, private dwellings, construction, and public places.  In addition to its wealth of information concerning the development of urban and private areas in the Roman world, Vitruvius’ work is one of the only texts to survive from the era (LIH, 2009)..


Barr Engineering (2006) Landscape Ecology & Landscape Architecture

The Educational Portal (2009) “Landscape Architect: Career Profile and Educational Requirements” Accessed January 11, 2009 from


Hyson, Jeffrey (2000)  “Jungles of Eden:  The Design of American Zoos”  Environmentalism in Landscape Architecture edited by Michel Conan, Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Volume 22  Dumbarton Oaks Colloquium on the History of Landscape Architecture

LIH Information Hub “Vitruvius Ten Books” Accessed on January 9, 2009 from


Ohio State University (2005) Landscape Architecture Knowlton School of Architecture, Ohio State University

Palmer, James (2006) “The Future Practice of Landscape Architecture and Its Implication for Education” Virtuality in Landscape Architecture International Conference, Anhalt University of Applied Sciences.

Parker, Christopher Glynn “A Short Biography of Fredrick Law Olmsted” Accessed January 10, 2009 from http://www.fredericklawolmsted.com/bioframe.htm

State of California, Employment Development Department (2003) California Occupational Guide Number 216 Interests Artistic:  Landscape Architects Labor Market Information Division Employment Development Department, State of California

United States Department of Labor (2009) “Landscape Architects – O*Net 171012.00” U.S. Department Labor Occupational Outlook Handbook 2008-09 Edition –Web Edition Accessed January 7, 2009 from http://www.bls.gov/oco/pdf/ocos039.pdf


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