by Thomas Schurch, PhD, ASLA, PLA
The American Society of Landscape Architects’ Honors and Awards Advisory Committee has crossed an important threshold for the profession by recently acting to add urban design as an awards category for submissions of suitable work by professionals and students of landscape architecture. This necessary and welcome development commences with the 2020 ASLA awards program, which is now open for entries, and will allow our colleagues in practice and education to demonstrate to the world landscape architecture’s unique capabilities in the 21st century’s growing and rapidly changing urban realm.
In implementing this change, the ASLA Honors and Awards Advisory Committee—in partnership with the Urban Design Professional Practice Network (PPN)—concluded that in our era of urbanization the great work done by landscape architects in enhancing urban environments is deserving of focused recognition. And, of course, landscape architecture’s shaping of urban form reflects not only recent professional practice, but dates to the earliest days of the profession. This significant addition to the national awards program gives ASLA members the opportunity to be credited for outstanding work concerning urban design, urban form, and meaningful place within an urban context while implicitly reminding us of our design legacy.
Therefore, it’s not a matter of urban design being new to landscape architecture, but to underscore the profession’s ability to shape growing urban environments in the 21st century, continuing a longstanding contribution towards truly dynamic and meaningful outcomes in which quality of life, sustainability, and ecological resilience are paramount. It is largely for this reason that landscape architecture came to the fore in the 19th century, given the needs of the time. And currently, when compared with the allied professions of architecture and urban planning, whose professional associations—along with the Urban Land Institute and Congress for the New Urbanism—already identify urban design for award recognition, one can say that the needs today are more demanding and challenging than ever.