Landscape Architecture is…

photo courtesy of Natalie MaynorWhen I first decided to study landscape architecture, I am quite sure that my father had a vision of me driving around in a pickup truck stocked with shovels and hoes planting and tending to my various garden projects. Twenty five years later, I hope that my father knows that I don’t spend my days in a pickup truck, but I think he would still be hard pressed to explain what it is that I do as a landscape architect. And it’s a question that is difficult for most to answer. The first assumption is always that as landscape architects we know a lot about plants. Now there are certainly many in this profession that are gifted horticulturalists and create elegant and inspiring places for people through their use of plant material. But the landscape architect profession is so broad in its reach and scale that there are also many landscape architects that rarely work with plants.

So what is landscape architecture? Travel with us through the venue of this blog as we explore the full range of that question exploring the traditional and the not so in an attempt to uncover the depth and breadth of the field. Welcome to the journey. Please feel free to contribute with comments, questions, and ideas of your own.

Here’s how one well known landscape architect, John Ormsbee Simonds, spoke about the profession. But before jumping into his words, a bit of background seems in order. Simonds (1913-2005) was a distinguished teacher, author and professional landscape architect. Simonds had degrees from Michigan State University and the Harvard Graduate School of Design. He traveled often researching and observing as he went in an effort to develop a thorough understanding of the profession of landscape architecture. He taught for many years at Carnegie Mellon University and was recognized with numerous accolades and awards throughout his career. I had the great fortune of hearing him speak during my graduate studies. I can still recall him saying that if you want to design beautiful places you should surround yourself with beauty in every aspect of your life particularly in your home and everyday setting. And he also spoke about the old adage of making lemonade out of lemons.

Simonds was perhaps best known to students of landscape architecture through his book, Landscape Architecture – a Manual of Site Planning and Design; published by McGraw-Hill Book Company in 1983. In his own words:


“The scope of our profession seemed sometimes as infinite as the best relating of all mankind to nature, sometimes as finite as the shaping of a brass tube to achieve varying spouting effects of water.” pg. 311


“What must count then is not primarily the designed shapes, spaces, and forms. What counts is the experience!” pg. 313


“One plans not places, or spaces, or things; one plans experiences” pg. 313


“The design approach then is not essentially a search for form, not primarily an application of principles. The true design approach stems from the realization that a plan has meaning only to people for whom it is planned, and only to the degree to which it brings facility, accommodation, and delight to their senses. It is a creation of optimum relationships resulting in a total experience” pg. 314


“All planning of and within the landscape should seek the optimum relationship between people and their living environment and thus, per se, the creation of a paradise on earth. Doubtless this will never be fully accomplished.”pg. 315


“The goal for all physical planners is an enlightened planning approach…. Plan not in terms of meaningless pattern or cold form. Plan, rather, a human experience. The living, pulsing vital experience, if conceived as a diagram of harmonious relationships, will develop its own expressive forms. And the forms evolved will be as organic as the shell of the nautilus; and perhaps, if the plan is successful, it may be as beautiful.” pg. 315


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