The Architecture of Landscape Architecture Practices

by Yujia Wang, ASLA

Mountain View Pavilion
Mountain View Pavilion, a small, 200-square-meter service complex including a medical room, an accessible restroom, a small café, and plenty of public space. Designed by Urban Narratives Office L+P 一场景观规划

I have always thought the name of our profession to be very interesting—the phrase “landscape architecture,” a name that embodies a compelling combination and intersection of nature and the humanities. This may have even been one of the reasons I was drawn to enter the field in the first place.

Of course, the second half of the phrase, “architecture,” originally indicated “design” in general. As Frederick Law Olmsted Sr. wrote in his letter to Charles Eliot in 1886, “I prefer that we should call ourselves Landscape Architects…rather than landscape gardeners…because the former title better carries the professional idea. It makes more important the idea of ​​design.”

Interestingly, in recent years, I have discovered that the real, literal “architecture” aspect of landscape architecture is more and more reflected in my practice.

Part of this points to the fact that (small) architecture—some call it parkitecture—is oftentimes an inherent part of public space (for larger-scale  spaces, at least). Some of these architectural pieces are there to carry basic service functions, such as public restrooms, shower rooms, etc.; others provide operable square footage for the park: the likes of cafés, mini libraries, stages, galleries, and so on. They are a part of the programming and energize the public space. In the design of several large parks that I undertook, our landscape architecture office being the lead consultant, architectural design of this nature was considered by the client as a part of the overall scheme.

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