Landscape architecture and the future of the professions

The continuing steps to broaden the membership were discussed again at the Landscape Institute’s Advisory Council this week: on the face of it, I think the steps to broaden our membership and formally recognise management-orientated skill sets is really positive but there are a number of implications that do not sit comfortably, and I feel need further investigation. I wonder to what extent other landscape architects feel the same?

At this point I should come clean: I’ve never liked the term ‘Landscape Architecture’. It feels both slightly obscurist and pretentious and ever since Frederick Law Olmsted declared himself a landscape architect we’ve been arguing over what that term means, explaining to friends and neighbours that we’re not gardeners and trying to justify to clients why we’re different to civil engineers, landscape gardeners and architects. Any attempt to delve into the history books isn’t much good either, as the earliest references to landscape architecture (such as that by Gilbert Laing Meason in 1828) use the term in ways that we wouldn’t recognise today. As a side note, the way that Meason used the term persists today in art history: Christopher Ridgway’s book on ‘Sir John Vanbrugh and Landscape Architecture in Baroque England’, for example, doesn’t talk about landscape at all but uses the term to distinguish a type of ornamental architecture that is different from, say, military architecture, agricultural architecture, or domestic architecture. What then, are we?


At the moment, the Landscape Institute’s answer is to introduce the term ‘Landscape Professional’. I raised a question about this at Council, asking whether the Institute intends to retire the term ‘Landscape Architect’ and was given the answer by the CEO and President, ‘No, of course not- Landscape Professional will simply become the umbrella term to describe everything we do- of which, Landscape Architect is simply one skill set.’ But to my mind, the only value of the term ‘Landscape Architect’ is in the sense developed by Olmsted, the Jellicoes and Sylvia Crowe- as an umbrella term that brings together scientists, designers, assessors, planners, managers and educators. This is the sense that is used and recognised around the world by other landscape architects and indeed, if you look at the LI’s (very recently granted and then amended) Royal Charter, Item 5* spells this out comprehensively: the term ‘Landscape Architect’ covers pretty much everything the LI wants ‘Landscape Professional’ to mean and explicitly states that landscape architects does not mean landscape design. Sure, the term ‘Landscape Architecture has come to mean different things to different people and there’s little point trying to pedantically insist that everyone else is wrong- I accept that we might need a new term to describe what it is we do but Landscape Professional does not tick that box, and in spite of Dan and Merrick’s arguments to the contrary, it makes the term ‘Landscape Architect’ redundant. It simply uses one portmanteau in place of another.

To some this argument might seem self-centred, pedantic and frankly, too late but it comes at a time when the professions are undergoing major changes. Dan Cook used a great example from a report by the World Economic Forum to show that our bread and butter work is directly related to the global risks that are most likely and most impactful, so we know that what we do matters and that with one step at a time, we can change the world. At the same time, software developments allow the professional boundaries to blur, the LI is carrying out major reviews of the profession, the way that we study and practice (to be published in March and consulted on over the next 9 months), the government is publishing landmark policy statements (such as the Industrial Strategy and the 25 Year Environment Plan) and our university courses are about to be overhauled through the introduction of apprenticeships and the accreditation of 1 year post graduate courses.



To many, this discussion will be old news. I have only recently started to volunteer with the Landscape Institute and perhaps those who are more engaged or have been round the block a few times will feel that the discussion needs to move on. But I wonder if many CMLIs are aware of this big step change? I wonder what the university departments and courses make of it- will they rename their departments and courses from Landscape Architecture to Studies for Landscape Professionals? Knowing who we are amidst this turbulence matters. It helps us explore the boundaries of what we can do, how we research, how we refine our practice and share our skills with professional teams. Whilst the term ‘Landscape Architecture’ is not ideal, I don’t think it is time to retire it yet.


* Extract from the Landscape Institute’s Royal Charter, granted in 1997 and revised in 2008.


5. 1 The objects and purposes for which the Institute is hereby constituted are to protect, conserve and enhance the natural and built environment for the benefit of the public by promoting the arts and sciences of Landscape Architecture (as such expression is hereinafter defined) and its several applications and for that purpose to foster and encourage the dissemination of knowledge relating to Landscape Architecture and the promotion of research and education therein, and in particular to establish, uphold and advance the standards of education, qualification, competence and conduct of those who practice Landscape Architecture as a profession, and to determine standards and criteria for education, training and experience.
5.2 In this Our Charter words and expressions shall have the meanings set out in clause 1 of the By-laws save where the context otherwise requires and “Landscape Architecture” shall mean all aspects of the science, planning, design, implementation and management of landscapes and their environment in urban and rural areas and the assessment, conservation, development, creation and sustainability of landscapes with a view to promoting landscapes which are aesthetically pleasing, functional and ecologically and biologically healthy and which when required are able to accommodate the built environment in all its forms, and without prejudice to the generality of the foregoing shall include:

(a) the application of intellectual and analytical skills to the assessment and evaluation of the landscape and its character and the resolution of existing and potential conflicts through the organisation of landscape elements, space and activities based on sound principles of ecology, horticulture, design, planning, construction and management;

(b) The planning and design of all types of outdoor and enclosed spaces;

(c) The determination of policies and planning for existing and future landscapes;

(d) The appraisal and harmonious integration of development and the build environment into landscapes;

(e) The conservation, modification and continuing management of the landscapes of town and countryside and sustaining their characteristic features and habitats;

(f) The promotion of a greater knowledge and understanding of materials and technology to enhance the appreciation of and resolution of practical landscape issues and problems; and

(g) The promotion of a better understanding of the principles and purposes of natural, biological and physical systems affecting or relating to the landscape.

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