While we may think of landscape architects as the people who come in to make pretty gardens after a new office building or apartment complex has been completed, their role has become much more varied in recent years. As the lines between the fields of architecture, urban planning, engineering and sustainability continue to blur and overlap, landscape architecture has become a lot more holistic. From helping to conduct environmental impact assessments, to using computer-aided design tools to draw up plans, and liaising with suppliers and structural and civil engineers, landscape architects have an increasingly broad range of responsibilities.
In essence, their role has become about creating spaces where infrastructure, people and nature can interact and coexist. Even in the most built-up cities, landscape architects can find ways to bring in nature and greenery – suggesting the best types of trees to line streets or pedestrian walkways, or coming up with innovative solutions like vertical gardens and green roof gardens. As the construction industry slowly but surely moves towards materials and designs that have less impact on the environment and make better use of the resources and forces present in nature – such as capturing solar energy and rainfall and utilizing green spaces to counteract the heat island effect – we can expect to see even more innovation in the field.
Landscape architecture and art:
Whether it’s creating interesting focal points and unusual shapes in a public area or park, or incorporating the work of outside artists like sculptors, landscape architects will often make use of art to increase the visual appeal of an area. Designed to entice visitors and get people talking and interacting with the space, fascinating things can happen when fine art and landscape architecture meet!
The Chianti Sculpture Park in Italy is a prime example of the ways landscape architecture can be used to create a kind of outdoor art gallery. A one-kilometer walking trail allows visitors to enjoy the beautiful wooded landscape, discovering 26 works from artists from all over the world as they do so.
Landscape architecture and engineering:
As anyone who’s worked on large scale construction projects can attest, no two sites are exactly the same, and the slope, soil conditions and drainage can vary considerably from one end of the site to the other. Landscape architects therefore need to be able to deal with complex issues such as solving elevation problems, incorporating irrigation and drainage systems, as well as creating retaining walls and dealing with steep slopes. This is one of the key differences between a landscape architect and a landscape designer.
The Baha’i Terraces of the Shrine of the Báb Gardens in Israel are a notable example where a particularly steep slope presented a challenge for landscape architects. Due to the extreme slope, the danger of the gardens sliding due to erosion was a real concern. To find a permanent solution, engineers and landscape architects needed to work together. The Baha’i religious officials who owned the site also wanted a green, sustainable technology to address their environmental concerns.
The traditional solution, namely compacting and spreading gardening soil and then relying on vegetation to stabilize it, would require substantial ongoing maintenance, and likely not provide sufficient erosion control in the initial stages. Instead, the officials and engineers decided to make use of a cellular confinement system technology called geocells. Once in place, these were then filled in with gardening soil, providing a stable platform for the plants to take root and grow. The solution was not just simple, affordable and easy to install, but the perforated walls of the geocells also allowed for good water flow, creating a healthy habitat for vegetation. And as for aesthetics, we think the results speak for themselves!
Image source: Wikimedia
Landscape architecture and sustainability:
Image source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/valeryrizzo/9611620952
Among the many benefits of bringing more plants into urban spaces, allowing citizens to grow their own fresh produce locally has several advantages. By creating a local source of healthy fruits and vegetables, less produce needs to be trucked in from farms which might be many miles outside of the city, reducing the overall carbon footprint of the food supply chain. Rooftop gardens also create an oasis for our valuable pollinating insects, can improve air quality, and are an excellent way of better managing stormwater.
The Brooklyn Grange urban rooftop farm pictured above is a shining example, with over two acres of cultivated rooftop. They supply local restaurants as well as the public with organically produced fruits and veggies via their weekly farm stands and have even expanded their offering to a commercial apiary. They also help to educate the public about urban agriculture, running workshops for local youth.