What is a Landscape Architect?

What is a Landscape Architect and the profession of Landscape Architecture?

The profession of Landscape Architecture includes the analysis, planning and design of the natural and built external environment. Project types that Landscape Architects engage in may include the planning and design of public parks, commercial and residential properties, the design reclamation of blighted areas, the designing of external town and/or city urban areas, as well as projects that include preservation and rehabilitation of historic properties. Landscape architects have advanced education, professional training, specialized skills and occupational / architectural licensure in all 50 states, including Washington, DC.  Other activities and component pieces of our practice include study and use of:

  • the study of project/site specific context, people - their behavior & use of outdoor space and the various contributing factors considered in the design & conceptualization of external programmatic space and the connected relationships therein.

  • fine arts

  • building architecture

  • the structural design & engineering of hard built structures / hardscape elements (site retaining & knee walls, pedestrian & vehicular pavement, freestanding structures, etc....)

  • design of surface and sub-surface drainage systems

  • horticulture & planting design

  • soils science

  • geology

  • hydrology

  • grading: the designed adjustments to topography / slope contour of the earth-soil, or built hard surfaces placed within the external environment (grading plan documents are produced by a landscape architect using geometric slope/elevation calculations, to supply proposed adjustments to existing surveyed site topographic lines and spot elevations)

For what architects conceptualize and plan within the complex interrelationships of internal space, systems & facility, landscape architects design for the external environment. Landscape architects are architects of the outdoor world and could also be referred to as “site architects”.

What is the difference between a Landscape Architect and other design professionals?

Landscape architecture, architecture, civil engineering and urban planning are all professions that design the "built" environment. Despite some overlap between these professions, there are important distinctions.

  • Landscape Architects organize projects that entail the design of outdoor space and the land. The scope of the profession may include residential site design, commercial and institutional scale site design, external town and/or city/urban design, park and recreation design & planning, regional land planning and design relative to historic preservation.

  • Architects primarily design buildings and structures with specific uses, such as homes, offices, schools and factories.

  • Civil Engineers apply scientific principles to the design and construction of public infrastructure such as roads, bridges and utilities.

  • Urban Planners develop a broad, comprehensive overview of development for entire cities and regions. Earlier this field was closely associated with landscape architecture and architecture; however, urban planning has developed into a distinct profession with its own courses and degree programs. Today many landscape architects are still heavily involved in the field of urban planning.

Each of the above-mentioned professions are very distinct from gardeners, landscapers, horticulturists and landscape contractors.

  • Landscape Designers: The work of landscape designers may focus primarily on fundamental garden design, but they do not have an architectural/occupational license and may not have the advanced masters, or bachelors degree that is requisite for landscape architects (MLA / BLA). A landscape designer may possess a certificate in garden design, issued by a garden center, or garden club. A designer of any type (e.g.: boat designer, interior designer, industrial designer, landscape designer, etc..) is engaged in a design process which produces design documents/drawings and specifications for a builder, or manufacturer to build, install and/or fabricate the proposed design from and the design work produced by a designer is contracted billable work from which the designer makes taxable income.

  • Horticulturists are trained in the science of growing and producing plants. Many horticulturists become nurserymen or work in garden centers.

  • Landscape Building Contractors install proposed new site design work conceived, detailed and laid out in a set of blueprint / construction documents by landscape architects. Landscape contractors may sometimes be gardeners or landscapers and possess a contractor/builder’s license.

  • Gardening & Landscaping: This is the activity of performing yard maintenance and can be creative (e.g.: mowing lawns, trimming hedges, weeding, planting edibles, shrubs, trees & ground covers). Sometimes contracted landscape maintenance work is provided by landscape building contractors and landscaping companies.

Are they really a landscape architect?

Occasionally, a potential client might believe that the titles "landscape designer" and "landscape architect" are interchangeable, or the same, but they are not.  It is actually illegal to title / represent oneself as a landscape architect, practice as a landscape architect, as well as register a landscape architecture design firm, unless you posses a landscape architect's occupational license (as is the same with building architects and civil engineers).  If you have questions as to whether someone is really a landscape architect, all states governments have a department of occupational regulation.  You usually can do a "license lookup" for landscape architects, architects and civil engineers, on a state government website.  For example, the Virginia state government's "DPOR" (Department of Occupational Regulation) and the Maryland state government's "DLLR" (Department of Labor, Licensing & Regulation) have a professional / occupational license look-up found here on their government website


University architecture schools typically house a landscape architecture program, along with building architecture and urban planning programs.  You have to go to architecture school and acquire an undergraduate, or masters degree in landscape architecture, in order to qualify to sit for the landscape architect's license exam.  Here are some sample landscape architecture masters and undergraduate degree programs:


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