Landscape Architects: More Than a Pretty Garden

February 11, 2014

Landscape Architects: More Than a Pretty Garden

By Laura Sokol

Landscape architecture is often viewed by the public as a beautification measure rather than an integration of natural systems and design. This integration creates functional landscapes that address environmental issues, sustainably manage stormwater, and create desirable spaces while respecting   the surrounding environment.

What makes landscape architecture beneficial on new and existing applications?

SUSTAINABILITY. Sustainable landscapes are responsive to the environment, re-generative, and contribute to the prosperity of communities.  These landscapes function to trap carbon, clean the air and water, increase energy efficiency, restore habitats, and create value.

The implementation of green infrastructure such as bioretention facilities in urban areas is a prime example of sustainability. The water collected in these facilities soaks through the soils into the ground, where it recharges the water table instead of running over hard surfaces into the storm system. Landscape architects help to guide local cities and communities in integrating green systems into their streetscapes.

Our work restores ecosystems using a combination of science and aesthetics—ecosystems that have been degraded, damaged, transformed, or destroyed directly or indirectly by human activities. We use native plant materials that attract wildlife and insects yet help to decrease maintenance over time.

ECONOMICAL.  There are many economic benefits that are generated from our work. Green roofs extend the life of rooftops and improve a building’s energy performance by adding an insulating layer while reducing heat island effect by reducing the surfaces that retain and reflect heat. Implementing storm water management practices can help municipalities reduce the expense of engineering stormwater infrastructure, reduce flood risks and lead to cleaner water.

SOCIAL. Landscape architects create places that allow users to become conscious of their natural environments and in turn, improve the quality of life for those users. Users can become aware of their natural environment by observing plant life, birds and insects, water processes, and better associate with their surrounding environment. [Landscape architects create places to gather, places to reflect on nature, recreational spaces and other places where people and natural surroundings can come together. This improves the quality of life for those who use the space.]

Denying access to residents’ local natural resources limits opportunities for people to learn about their local ecosystems and cultural resources. Designing recreational trails is a prime example of how landscape architects can connect people to place by providing access and proper design strategies.

UNDERSTANDING OF PLACE. Through proper environmental site analysis, landscape architects can help us begin to understand and thoroughly analyze a site’s past, present, and future story to provide a basis for site design.  Environmental services such as natural resource inventories create a foundation that is used throughout a project’s life. We identify the opportunities and constraints by considering priority preservation areas, canopy coverage, heat island effect, noise impacts, forest interior dwelling spaces, and assess tree conditions. The inventory directs the proposed design’s use, accessibility, safety, grading and environmental sensitivity. Conservation measures are then proposed to demonstrate the relationship between the existing and proposed sites.

As landscape architects, we’re more than people who will “design your garden.” We take into account the environment, people, and economic benefits to create sustainable sites and places for the 21st century.

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