20 ANSWERS to 20 questions about landscape architecture Q&A

This video asks AND ANSWERS, over 20 fundamental questions about landscape architecture, as an art and a profession. You can read them an outline for a Theory of Landscape Architecture. For more Q&A, please click the tab (top right, above)

  1. LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE? Question 1. What IS ‘landscape architecture’? Answer. Landscape architecture is the art of composing landform, water and plants with buildings and pavements to make good places.
  2. AIMS? Question 2. What are the aims of landscape architecture? Answer. They’re Vitruvian. Landscape architects aim to make places with good functional, ecological and visual qualities.
  3. FREDERICK LAW OLMSTED? Question 3. Was Frederick Law Olmsted the father of ‘landscape architecture’ or the originator of the term? Answer. No. But he was the father of the organised profession and he was the man who chose the name “landscape architecture” for this profession.
  4. LANDSCAPE THEORY? Question 4. What is landscape theory? Answer: It’s the theory of how to make good outdoor space – and this involves giving further answers to questions about the What, Why, When, How, Where, and Who of landscape architecture.
  5. LANDSCAPE DESIGN HISTORY Question 5. What is the history of landscape architecture? Answer. It can be seen as the history of garden design before 1860 plus the work of landscape architects after 1860, or it can be seen as the long history of both garden design and urban design or it can be seen as the even longer history of design-by-humans on the natural environment (therefore including agriculture, forestry and other land uses). This would make its age either 160 years, 5000 years or 12,000 years. I favour the middle alternative and trace the written history of landscape architecture to the Epic of Gigamesh – about 4000 years ago. But I agree with Geoffrey Jellicoe that the art of landscape design goes back over 30,000 years and is therefore much older than architecture or town planning
  6. THE TERM LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE in the UK? Question 6. Why did the UK adopt the term landscape architecture? Answer: Impressed by Frederick Law Olmsted’s work in America, Patrick Geddes, Thomas Mawson and Thomas Adams wanted a UK professional institute with a focus on public projects and public goods – as well as foe the design of private gardens.
  7. PROBLEMS? Question 7. Is there a problem with the term ‘landscape architecture’? Answer. Yes. The problem is that people find it hard to understand. Olmsted wrote that “Landscape is not a good word, Architecture is not; the combination is not”. Mawson wrote that most people understand landscape architecture as “an unwarranted interference with Nature”. Jellicoe wrote that “The landscape architect … is still surely wrongly named.” And not to be left out, I wrote, in 1997, that the term is ‘as tyrannical as it is sacrilegious as it is preposterous’. I’ll be happy to withdraw this comment when the two words which make up the term come to be used more carefully. Hence the next two questions.
  8. LANDSCAPE? Question 8. How should the word ‘landscape’ be understood in the phrase ‘landscape architecture’? Answer. Its meaning takes something from its use but by artists, poets and geographers but draws mainly upon its use, in a ‘Designer’s Sense’, in eighteenth century England. Typically, a designed landscape was, as it remains, a place where landform, water and plants have been composed with buildings and pavings for human use and enjoyment.
  9. ARCHITECTURE? Question 9. How should the word ‘architecture’ be understood in the phrase ‘landscape architecture’? Answer. It should be understood in the broad sense, outlined by Vitruvius, rather than in the narrow post-Renaissance sense of designing buildings for human occupancy. Vitruvius’ used the word to describe the activity of coordinating the skills of other experts and other disciplines. The narrower sense, in which it’s now used by building architects, makes “architecture” a subset of “landscape architecture” (just as you could see interior design a subset of architecture).
  10. COLLECTIVE LANDSCAPE? Question 10. What is the collective landscape? Answer. The term was introduced by Sir Geoffrey Jellicoe on the dustjacket of his history of the Landscape of Man. It isn’t explained in the book but its place on the cover implies that Jellicoe was using it for a central objective of landscape design: to create landscapes which match the physical and psychological aspirations of humanity.
  11. PROFESSIONAL SOCIETIES? Question 11. Does the landscape profession need professional societies? Answer. Yes. Institutes, societies and similar bodies have a vital role: in promoting landscape architecture, in maintaining standards – and in raising standards.
  12. URBAN DESIGN? Question 12. What is the relationship between landscape architecture and urban design? Answer. The landscape architect’s contribution to urban planning and design is that of composing landform, water and plants with buildings and pavings – to make good outdoor space
  13. LANDSCAPE PLANNING? Question 13. What is landscape planning? Answer. It’s the first stage in the design process, with an emphasis on public goods. At the larger scale, it involves plans for areas of land, including, planning zones, geographical regions and administrative areas. At the project scale, it involves Environmental Impact Designs for land development projects.
  14. CLIMATE CHANGE? Question 14. Can landscape architects help combat, mitigate and adapt to, climate change? Answer. Yes. At the site planning scale, we can ensure development projects have as least as much vegetation cover when complete, as they did before construction began. On large sites, we can plan for carbon capture, microclimate, biodiversity, re-wilding, surface water management, local energy generation and local food production
  15. GREENWAYS? Question 15 What is a Greenway? Answer: a greenway can be defined as a route that is good from an environmental point of view. Their history reaches back to the ancient world and the idea was given its present character by Frederick Law Olmsted’s wonderful Emerald Necklace in Boston.
  16. CONTEXT THEORY Question 16 What is Context Theory? Answer: It is the body of theory which underpins context-sensitive design. Or, in Alexander Pope’s phrase, its how to consult the Genius of the Place.
  17. SKYSPACE PLANNING Question 17 Should landscape architects have a role in the design of city skylines. Answer: Yes. Of course. But it’s not going to happen unless and until the world’s landscape professions do a better job of promoting themselves.
  18. LANDSCAPE URBANISM? Question 18. What is the landscape urbanism design method? Answer. It’s an advance on traditional 2D plans and on 3D models. The landscape urbanism design method involves ‘design-by-layers’, with each of the layers relating to a specialised area of knowledge and skill. An 8-layer project for a town square, for example, could include layers for: painting, sculpture and music, hydrology, ecology, psychology, architecture, and green transport.
  19. GREAT LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE Question 19 Who were the great figures in the history of landscape architecture? Answer: please see my short video on The landscape architecture canon in the east and in the west – there’s a link on the Youtube playlist at the end of this video, based on a section in my Kindle eBook on Landscape Architecture.
  20. THE FUTURE Question 20 Are the art and the profession of landscape architecture likely to prosper in the future? Answer: maybe they will and maybe they won’t. But, with a good dose of conceptual clarification, they most certainly can and should.

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Tom Turner

Posted in landscape architecture