Trends We Could Do Without

A bike path in need of some help
A bike path in need of some help. Poor maintenance was one trend ASLA’s PPN members would like to resolve. / image: Alexandra Hay

While some of the best designs are the result of transcending whatever style happens to be in fashion, there are some trends that are pretty much unavoidable if you take a look at more than a handful landscape architecture projects. To see which of these recurring themes have overstayed their welcome, we asked Professional Practice Network (PPN) members: What trend in landscape architecture annoys you the most?

Though some respondents have had enough of designers’ tendency to wear all black or the conflict of “deciding between RLA or PLA on [my] signature,” the most frequently mentioned trend was the ubiquity of “sustainability.” Members highlighted the frequent overuse or misuse of the word when applied to “shallow sustainability,” and the fact that it’s nothing new for landscape architects:

“Sustainability—was trained to do that 40 years ago! Not a new term!”

“Sustainability—creating the world smartly; what we have been doing forever.”

Other responses that appeared more than once include:

Geometric designs, including stripes and “contemporary gardens with lots of square corners that photograph well.”

Green roofs, green walls, and “GREEN anything.”


Loss of horticultural expertise.

Below is a roundup of several other key themes that appeared among landscape architecture’s most irksome trends:

Representations of Designs

“Graphics that are meaningless—showing ‘designs’ that can’t be built.”

“‘Punch’ graphics designed to sell rather than convey.”

“Hyper realist renderings and their high value when the thought process is more important.”


“Trees on a grid.”

“Little green balls (hollies & junipers) arranged by arrogant architects.”

“Planting canopy trees under power lines.”

“Single species or single cultivar sweeps in large formats.”

“The sanctification of native plants. They are not always the right answer.”

“Use of nonnative plants.”


“Concrete pavers trying to look like brick or stone.”

“Fake rocks and over the top fountain-scapes; the equivalent of McMansion landscapes.”

“Focus on paving patterns.”

“Pavement patterns that mimic the High Line. Great idea on the High Line, but overused elsewhere.”

“Paving/bricks and other hard (and reflective) surfaces brought right to the trunks of trees.”

“Slippery pavers.”

“Synthetic turf.”

“Synthetic wood alternatives.”

Criteria for Recognition & Awards


“Egocentrism and comparisons with ‘other’ professionals.”

“Firms who find a ‘signature’ and repeat it EVERYWHERE.”

“Focus on work by big firms, big names. Small practitioners feel disenfranchised.”

“Fussy signature details used across multiple projects.”

“How only the major firms/players dictate what is a trend.”

“The focus on minimalist design (including recognition/awards), without a lot of plant color.”

“The obsession with association to big name landscape architects.”

Urban Design

“Colossal plaza designs.”

“Design for urban wildlife (does not address ‘pests’ in a positive & educational way).”

“Sprawl—destructive land development—LA’s keeping silent.”

Other Areas for Improvement

“Ignorance of water conservation.”

“Parametrics that is only about aesthetics & pretends to be about ecology.”

“Perfunctory ‘community work’ without real engagement.”

“Poor landscape maintenance.”

“Primary colors in playgrounds.”

At the start of 2015, a questionnaire was sent out to members of ASLA’s Professional Practice Networks (PPNs). The theme: creativity and inspired design. As you can imagine, responses were varied, and included many insightful comments and suggestions. Synopses of the survey results were originally shared in LAND over the course of 2015, and we are now re-posting this information here on The Field. For the latest updates on the results of the annual PPN Survey, see LAND’s PPN News section.

4 thoughts on “Trends We Could Do Without

  1. nnancynp August 27, 2017 / 3:28 pm

    how about no playgrounds without shade shade and more shade !

  2. nancynp August 27, 2017 / 3:29 pm

    Please advocate for no playgrounds without shade shade and more shade Force cities to donate their vast greenspace areas for trees and walking paths and benches and people places

  3. PJS September 5, 2017 / 9:28 am

    Synthetic turf is incredibly useful for schools and other clients who can’t perform maintenance. It’s better than an overgrown lawn or poorly maintained landscape

  4. PJS September 5, 2017 / 9:29 am

    I wouldn’t say LA’s are silent on sprawl…

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