Landscape Design vs. Landscape Architecture

Discussion in 'Landscape Architecture and Design' started by Loganab13, Sep 24, 2013.

  1. Loganab13

    Loganab13 LawnSite Member
    Messages: 24

    As an 18 year old first year college student, I was wondering what exactly the differences between landscape design and landscape architecture are. I assume landscape designers primarily only design planting plans, and do not actually build/ implement them as an LA would? Any information, comments, or even suggestions will be greatly appreciated..
  2. PaperCutter

    PaperCutter LawnSite Bronze Member
    Messages: 1,996

    nope. "Landscape Architect" is a protected legal title. In most states you need to meet education requirements and pass an exam to call yourself an LA. Landscape designer, you could decide working at Best Buy sucks, print up a bunch of cards that say landscape designer, and go into business.

    In terms of the difference in the field, it depends. There's some overlap between landscape architecture and urban planning, and that LA stamp means you can do more with regards to grading and drainage, site planning, and wetlands. While I do some commercial work (I'm a landscape designer), I'm really selective about the projects I pursue because I honestly believe for many commercial jobs, LAs have a better set of skills via their training.

    On residential (which is 80-90% of my practice), I'm often competing with LAs for design projects. Excluding jobs where an LA is required (wetlands, etc) I'd say who gets it comes down to portfolio, references, and salesmanship.

    It all comes down to what you want to do with your degree. I think that unless you're one of the incredibly rare, talented exceptions, you learn design by studying or working under good designers. I think it's part of being an artist to look back on work you did ten years ago and be horrified at how bad it sucks compared to what you're doing now. Having the right instruction and guidance can shorten the time between suck and awesome though.
  3. Loganab13

    Loganab13 LawnSite Member
    Messages: 24

    Thanks! I want to get the positives and negatives of both LD's and LA's. Obviously becoming an LA requires more work and studying, but in the end, if I get more job opportunities and more knowledge about the work I want to do, it will definitely be worth the hard work. Anyone have any input on whether an internship at an established landscaping company would be a good thing to pursue?
  4. TTS

    TTS LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 615

    As paper cutter touched on LA's have slightly more job diversity from specialty projects that require the architect stamp. Building code and local code will dictate what requires permits but from my experience most jobs requiring a permit require either an architect or an engineer to sign off on the plan when submitted for the permit. I believe a LD could do the design and simply submit it to a LA for review and sign off prior to submission, I'm not completely certain how that works. The biggest example in residential landscaping would be new construction that involves altering the grade and larger installs that involve some form of regulated structure (a gazebo or something similar).
  5. AGLA

    AGLA LawnSite Bronze Member
    Messages: 1,778

    I'm a Registered Landscape Architect. Papercutter is totally correct ... depending on some variations from state to state. To get licensed in most states you'll need a degree from an accredited landscape architecture school ( )and usually two years of full time work under the direct supervision of a licensed LA in order to take the license exam ( ).

    The degree is much more broad based than planting design. Most 4 year degrees only have two semesters of planting design class, but it is worked into projects that you'd do in three years of design studio classes. It is very diverse from planting design, to site planning, to road and parking design, to large campus planning, to urban planning, and a lot of environmental issues. You'll have to take psychology, sociology, soils, geology. biology. botany, some surveying, grading and drainage, and several art classes as well as normal college English and Math.

    Landscape Architecture itself is a very broad field, but most people in it tend to specialize in certain niches where some combination of some of this is applied all the time and other portions maybe not at all.

    It is a big commitment of time, effort, and money that may or may not be worth it depending on what it is that you want to do with that education. The apprentice time is also a big time commitment and really hard to get in this economy. Some employers don't pay much when they know you need the apprentice time. Some go further to dump people after a couple of years and replace them with new interns who need the experience more than a bigger paycheck.

    I'm a guy who was a landscaper before I got my degree at 35. I wanted to do residential design and that is what I do now. Along the way I have worked in civil engineering offices doing far more commercial and residential civil site plans, subdivisions, and restoration plans than landscape plans for them. The big benefit to me was that I have a much broader depth of knowledge than just doing planting plans which gives me a big advantage on more complicated residential sites than most landscape designers. However, most landscape designs are not that complicated and many experienced self taught landscape designers are equally capable of the job.

    The big question for you is what exactly do you see yourself wanting to be doing ten years from now? The next question is how can you gain the necessary experience to make yourself sought after to do that work? Opportunity is sometimes a matter of pure luck and sometimes a matter of a lot of effort and some luck. For me, having the degree opened opportunities for me that I did not have before, but in a different direction than I expected (civil engineering office). That helped me get my LA license which opened other doors. All of those opportunities gave me the ability to gain a lot of experience, network with lots of professionals, and give me am understanding of how everything works and what I could do to be successful on my own. Now other people bring their clients to me. That would not have happened quite the same way if I just took a few adult ed classes on landscape design.

    I was a good planting designer before I went to school. I'd go so far to say that I did not gain a lot in planting design while getting my degree because I probably had more experience in actually doing it than the people teaching it. Many people are talented at things like planting design, but the problem is that people who are willing to pay for it don't do so unless they have:
    1. complete confidence in you based on your reputation,
    2. your ability to communicate your knowledge before you are hired,
    3. and a portfolio of built work.

    The problem is that all three of those are like the chicken and the egg. How can you get any opportunities without having these three things and how can you get these three things without the opportunities that they open?

    You either have to get a little lucky to work somewhere where you can start to do design work or go through all the process of getting a degree and working for others that are doing something similar to what you want to do in order to learn not only how to design, but how the business works, where the work comes from, and how the people you work for get their work.

    Designing is the easy part.
  6. JimLewis

    JimLewis LawnSite Fanatic
    Messages: 6,876

    Definitely some good feeback so far. I will give my 2cents about the difference, if it helps.

    First, we only do residential landscape work, so a landsape designers is typically more than sufficient for the work we do. I would consider using a landscape architect if the client had a really large estate property, could afford the landscape architect (which are generally 3-4x more expensive than a good landscape designer) and the work was complicated enough that it would be really helpful to have the more knowledge that an LA would have. But that's rarely the case for what we do, so we don't often work with LAs.

    If your goal is to make more money, a good LA will always make more than a good landscape designer. As good as some landscape designers are, none of them make what I would consider good money.

    But I personally would enjoy being a landscape designer more. I think they are generally more creative. They have a better handle on plant materials. They have a better handle on current construction methods, materials being used, what residential clients like to see, and are able to work within a client's budget more easily than a LA would. I have done several projects over the years that were designed by and sometimes even managed by (that is to say, they were looking over our shoulder as we did the work) a LA. I have to say, those were about the most annoying jobs we ever did. The LA comes into it thinking they know everything, second guessing our methods, and then only when I sit down and explain why we do things a certain way do they finally understand and allow us to continue. They don't generally have a good handle on which variety of pavers are most popular, which plantings do well and have really been successful in our area, and often tend to design things that are next to impossible to really build. Then when you approach them with a question like, "How, exactly were you expecting this to be built??" they give you attitude, like, "What? You've never built one of those before? Maye I have the wrong company then! I would have thought you had more experience in this area."

    Anyway, enough of me dogging on LAs, just my experience with them hasn't been that great. I'm sure on big estates and big commercial properties they end up doing some great work. I just find them to usually be a little less informed and less down to earth than the local area designers are. But they definitely can handle bigger, more complicated projects and make a lot more money.

    A guy I know locally who is a landscape designer came to one of our meetings recently, wanting to introduce himself and hoping we'd send him some design work. At the meeting, he explained that he had been in LA school but dropped out and decided to just become a landscape designer instead. The reason why, he explained, is because as he looked through the entire 4-year program, there was only one class on plant ID and horticulture. All the rest of the courses were not related to plants. And to him, this was the most important part of designing landscapes and his passion was really for plants. So he switched. I didn't know it was like that. But if that's true, that is telling. Check out the program you're wanting to attend and see if that's the case.

    Best of luck making your decision.
  7. AGLA

    AGLA LawnSite Bronze Member
    Messages: 1,778

    I'm only going to dispute one point that Jim made, the rest I generally agree with. That one point is that some LAs, not many, were good landscape designers who went back to school and added on to what they already knew and what they already experienced.

    Not many LA programs have a lot of planting design, often only two semesters. That is two semesters more than most landscape designers, but that could also be displacing a year of hands on trial and error in the field.

    Getting the LA degree is not going to make you incapable of doing anything in the way of creativity or practicality that you might have without it, but it could put you on a course where you do not gain that same type of experience that Jim's designers get.

    The university professors look down on residential as if it is not worthy of the profession. The truth is that it is more complicated, more difficult, and has a bigger impact of the people using the site than any large scale venue. These landscapes are impacting a family for most of each and every day no matter what they are doing. You impact very few people with each design, but it is a huge impact that has to take into account every aspect every day. Big sites usually have a specific use or a specific set of uses and a more limited demographic. The site is bigger, but the requirements are much more limited.

    The degree does open doors to gain experience in more site design issues than planting and surfacing hardscapes which you can then incorporate into residential design. The problem is that it takes time and it follows a different path than that which has you growing with experience through trial and error and being on site doing residential design. In other words, it is not easy to do both at the same time. If you do one, you are probably not doing the other.

    I had the good fortune of being a landscape designer/contractor before getting my degree at 35. I was able to work full time in civil engineering offices and part time as a landscape designer for a well established high end contractor at the same time for a lot of years. The only reason why I could have that part time job was that I was already known to be a good landscape designer. It is not easy for someone else to come right out of school and get a job doing landscape design for a good company with no experience ... Jim is going to take experience over degree every time, I believe. So will everyone else in business.
  8. JimLewis

    JimLewis LawnSite Fanatic
    Messages: 6,876

    All very good points AGLA. Agreed.

    I have seen one LA who was amazing with planting. Turned out to be one of our most beautiful jobs, in terms of planting. This is one photo from that job. Here is another photo. I really loved the layering, use of colors, mass plantings, and the shape of the lawn that LA chose. And those photos were just 4 months after install. It looks even more beautiful now, as plants have matured. Every spring and summer, this yard looks amazing. We still maintain this property, 5 years later. So apparently, there are some LAs who do have some great experience with planting. I just don't find that to be the norm.

    An LA, as AGLA describes, who had a lot of experience in planting and residential design, that would be awesome! Just hasn't been the case with most of the ones I've run into over the years. I wish it was. Plus, there's always the matter of affordability too. Even if I did find one, they'd probably be too expensive for 90% of my clients.

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