To kick off 2018, we are taking a look at what ASLA members had to say about the state of the landscape architecture profession today. For the Professional Practice Networks (PPNs) survey on creativity and what makes for inspired designs in landscape architecture, we posed a very tough last question to our members: How does the profession today stack up against historical achievements in landscape architecture?
Surprisingly few people skipped this final question, and we were rewarded with extended, thoughtful responses and candid assessments of the profession. While many opinions differed and some answers directly contradicted one another, an overall sense of where landscape architects excel and where the profession doesn’t quite measure up can be gleaned. As one member put it, these are “Exciting times!!!” indeed.
Below are ASLA members’ thoughts on areas where landscape architecture is doing well, and where there are opportunities for growth and improvement.
On the Bright Side
“Beauty is being combined with environmental impact.”
“Better diversity and community engagement.”
“Better than ever—greater relevance to more areas of need and less stuffy than always working for the top 1% (most historical landscapes are relics of such practice).”
“Each era has profound challenges for landscape architects and we are currently in a period where the distinctive skills of the landscape architect, trained in designing with living systems and materials, has found its voice and is addressing the great problems of our time. This will be a very clear period of history to teach in the coming years and I hope we will continue to have extraordinary achievements to show as examples.”
“Getting better all the time as we learn more and education improves.”
“Years down the road we’ll be admiring the advances in technology which we are experiencing these days, the water saving efforts, re-purposed materials, use of native plants, etc.”
“I think that a lot of the new age designs are more innovative and thoughtful towards the ecology of a place. I think that the designs are moving more toward engaging people, whereas the former were more for views and romantic layouts.”
“I think the profession is making similar strides, with the most notable projects. I believe the difference today is the general public is more aware of the benefits landscape architecture can bring to urban environments.”
“I think we’re doing lots of great things behind the scenes, similar to in the past—working with water resources, land resources, sustainability, government, quality of life issues. We need to be in that space and expand it. Landscape architecture is a great profession for the broad minded, visionaries, free-spirited.”
“It’s on the verge of becoming something great. LA was created to capture a need. A new, different need is now present and LA is poised to again fill that social void.”
“Stacks up well—we still have some monumental projects being undertaken around the nation that will someday be considered among the great projects for students to discover and study.”
“We practice in much, much wider circles and impact many more people. With the exception of a few projects like Central Park, we have an exponentially greater impact now on the health and wellbeing of the general population.”
Opportunities for Improvement
“I don’t think as well as it should. We started off so strongly with Fredrick Law Olmsted and worked our way down. Now, unless you happen to be one of the few star firms, it is very difficult to lead a design team for projects that are essentially landscape architecture. Engineering and architecture has supplanted us in this arena and much of our work is prettying up bad design or design that doesn’t understand plants or natural systems. With such a need for the type of work we do, I find this very frustrating.”
“I fear we may be losing the distinction of being landscape architects by becoming technical engineers that focus on outdoor spaces. Some of the ‘art’ and the ‘love of outdoors’ in the individual is disappearing.”
“I think the profession is still at a crossroads and has been for a while. Enrollments for undergraduate programs have been dropping and in many cases the profession continues to lose ground to engineers, architects, planners, and other sister professions—mostly because, I feel, we have a new identity crisis every several years.”
“I think we are seen more as a design profession, and not so much as ‘landscapers,’ but it is still a struggle to create a professional identity to most of the general public. There really is no single individual that really stands out as in past generations. Roberto Burle Marx is the last very prominent landscape architect I can think of at the moment, and his fame was for the last generation. So in that respect, I would have to say that the profession today lacks something that past achievements were able to attain.”
“There seems to be a lack of holistic, big picture benefit to people. Too much focus on what restrictions need to be addressed & not enough focus on how to make places special. I think those in private practice are too short sighted in trying to make their clients happy & those in public practice just don’t have the means to make things happen (resources aren’t available because they go to other ‘public interests’ of higher priority).”
“Sometimes it seems that as a profession, landscape architecture tries to be everything to everyone, which can negatively affect it and its practitioners. There are times I feel like a jack-of-all-trades, and master of none. It seems that other professions have more focus, or can do many of the same things we do, which I think minimizes our influence, or produces a lack of respect or attitude of indifference. However, overall I do think that its progress is still notable, especially on the environmental front.”
“We have to change the way we approach design now. In the past, depending on how far back we are talking, design was an overlay and frequently depended on controlling natural processes to only allow what suited the design. Now we have to think differently about design. We need to use systems thinking and make conscious decisions about how we are affecting not only the site, but the area around it. It is much more complicated, but essential to mitigating climate change as well as meeting ever changing regulations and permitting requirements. To be a professional now and not simply use the technology of the craft for overlay design, we have a lot more constituents to a design. It’s not simply pleasing one owner, but working with that owner to help them understand the importance of things we do that may not be what they are thinking of when they hire us, but is essential to the health of the soil we are designing for. I think what we CAN do is more impressive, but what is frequently done is dreary in comparison.”
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.