Landscape architects often find themselves in a figurative “arm wrestling” contest with other consultants for the site scope of work. Civil engineers and landscape architects have an obvious and not so obvious overlap in skill set, with the lines between the professions blurred at best. Each discipline is licensed to execute the site design and detailing effort of a development project. Clearly the landscape architect is best qualified to provide the schematic site concept and planting plan, and the engineer is best qualified to design the utility systems.

In between lays the meat of the site: layout, grading, materials, erosion control, and details. Many architects and engineers still cling to the stereotype of the landscape architect as the purveyor of grass, trees, and shrubs. Admittedly, this is a very important function, and a thoughtful planting plan does add to the value and ultimate success of a project. But, if the landscape architect is relegated to designing the planting in a vacuum, it is a lost opportunity.

On many site design efforts, if not most, the landscape architect is best suited to lead the municipal approval, site design, and construction documentation effort. Here’s why:

  1. Site Design is a DESIGN effort – Just as a structural engineer should not design the building, a civil engineer is not best qualified to design the site. Landscape architects are trained in equal parts DESIGN, natural systems, and placemaking, which make them uniquely qualified to lead the effort.
  2. Landscape architects receive extensive training in site layout and grading, with a large portion of our licensing exam devoted to those subjects.
  3. Landscape architects think holistically about the site. Human needs, including the need for beauty, order, and community connections are considered along with the ecological and technical requirements of a site. Natural systems can, and often should be the driver of the site layout, grading, AND planting. These are all design efforts.
  4. Having a landscape architect put “the green paint” on an engineered site plan can be akin to having the building architect design the fenestration for a structural engineer’s building layout, or in today’s parlance, “putting lipstick on a pig.” Architects and engineers are equally important to the success of a project, but each discipline is unique in their skill set and they should be utilized accordingly.

Landscape architecture is a profession that is broad in scale and scope. Landscape architects receive education and training in site design, historic preservation, and planning, as well as in technical and scientific areas such as grading, drainage, horticulture, and environmental sciences. With this diverse background, landscape architects possess a unique blend of skills to help communities and businesses address important local, regional, and national concerns.

Landscape architecture is regulated by state licensure requirements. Becoming licensed requires a university degree in landscape architecture and completion of a period of supervised practice. All states require passage of the extensive four-part national licensing examination.

Building Sites

Landscape architects design for how people experience and use the site. We are concerned with how the space feels to the user, intimate vs. vast, cool vs. hot, or lush vs. minimalist. These decisions provide the framework for the user experience, and are fundamental in the design process.

School Campuses

Landscape architects design school campuses that that foster a learning environment for students and educators to grow. This includes learning spaces that feature outdoor classrooms, an abundance of natural light, and greater mobility and movement.

Parks & Recreational Facilities

Landscape architects help communities by designing parks and recreational facilities that provide passive and active recreational opportunities that keep children and families active and healthy. These systems are often urban sites in neighborhoods and cities, but they all have the same goals in common – connecting people to nature, providing safe places for play, and building stronger communities for future generations.

Landscape architecture is a misunderstood profession that has much to offer our communities. Check out some of our projects at

About the Author

Phil Barlow is the founding principal of To Design Landscape architects in New Britain CT. To Design works primarily in the urban environment, designing parks, streetscapes and public building sites.

Phil was also a speaker at our March BRIDGE event on The Economic Value of Urban Parks & Public Spaces. Click to see Phil and the other speakers’ presentations along with additional information from this event.