Beyond the Lawn: Landscape Architecture

By Emily Diehl 

Landscape architecture is not mowing lawns or maintaining flower gardens. The park you frequent with your family; the tree-lined street with separated bike lanes; the rail trail you enjoy in your free time; the local urban plaza you visit to listen to music; and the interconnected walkways on the campus of your college alma mater are all spaces that were likely designed by, or in collaboration with, a landscape architect. Working in concert with architects, civil engineers, surveyors, environmental scientists and policy makers, the landscape architect considers the natural elements, uniting them with built elements to create enjoyable spaces that enhance the quality of life.  

Pedestrian places and green spaces 

Streetscapes that connect people with their communities and make them a better place to work and live are a focus of landscape architects. Bold improvements like new sidewalks, decorative pavers, street interpretive signage, art sculptures and street trees create placemaking and promote healthy, livable environments. The improvements made by landscape architects can also improve safety, including high-visibility crosswalks, new curbs, curb ramps, sidewalks and lighting upgrades. These can increase visibility of pedestrians at night, enhance security and provide drivers with visual cues that they are entering a downtown area with pedestrian traffic. 

Landscape architects also work with institutions like hospitals to add value to the overall patient experience. We provide spaces that blend indoor and outdoor environments and create interactive spaces for healing, reflection or viewing for visitors, patients and employees. Research has shown that both outdoor and indoor hospital spaces are crucial to patients’ physical, psychological and social recuperation and wellness. The gardens are conducive to stress relief, relieving physical symptoms and enhancing the feeling of well-being of hospital staff and patients. 

In short, landscape architects don’t just make spaces look nice – they help to connect people with the built environment while they move from place to place. 

Getting out and about 

Recreational trails connect people with safe places to navigate through nature and communities, and landscape architects often work on the feasibility study, design and final construction of recreational projects like rail trails. By adding elements like pavilions and seating, improving the trail itself and paving it to match the surrounding environment, these projects help link people with nature and allow for a safe place to walk, bike and explore. 

Landscape architects also work far outside the confines of a rail trail that sits on the edges of an urban area – they get out and about in dense forest areas to help study and design recreational elements like  ATV connector trails. This involves investigating and flagging trails, identifying possible alignments, inventory and analysis of existing land and environmental features, mapping a conceptual alignment or new trail path, holding public meetings, and issuing a final feasibility report that can be used to obtain funding for the construction of such projects.  

As you can see, landscape architects have a variety of skills and how many of the design elements go unnoticed to the untrained eye. So the next time you are enjoying a public space, take a moment to consider the landscape architect’s role in designing or creating those places you enjoy. 

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