Should Landscape Science have a more central role in educating Landscape Architects?

27th October 2021

A core objective of the Landscape Institute (LI),  is to bring focus to protecting, conserving and enhancing the natural and built environment, for the benefit of the public, by promoting the ‘arts’ and ‘science’ of the profession.  This approach perhaps inadvertently demonstrates that the profession is one which encompasses many fields of expertise, disciplines and sub-disciplines. Some focus on creative interpretation and artistic impressionism, whilst others look objectively at maximizing outputs and critically assess the components that form the landscape.

Landscape professionals must always act within their respective realms of competence, as stated in The Landscape Institute Standard Code of Conduct 2012, though true also is the requirement for continuing professional development. This blog asks if there should be a greater focus towards landscape science training when we look to develop our careers.

Training in the Landscape Profession

As a professional institute, the LI is responsible for determining the academic requirements of any aspiring Landscape Architect.  Whilst enthusiasm, practical skills and ‘a passion for the environment’, are stressed over any prerequisite academic qualification, the LI highlights various specialisms within the profession which require more of a scientific knowledge (botany, arboriculture, soils etc). Where a higher education course in Landscape Architecture is a dual honours (BSc/MSc), a scientific qualification is required as a prerequisite. As natural sciences provide the basis for our understanding of the environment, and it is essential for a landscape designer to appreciate the many natural processes that make, and influence the landscape this requirement seems sensible.  Given the student’s ultimate responsibility for shaping the landscape, an informed knowledge of natural science should arguably be at the forefront of their training.

The LI ‘Pathway to Chartership’

The LI requires its members to undertake educational training and practical experience prior to undertaking the ‘Pathway to Chartership’ which upon successful completion leads on to attaining Chartership status. Using a relatively flexible syllabus, the candidate must sufficiently cover the majority of the core subject prior to undertaking the final oral exam. The syllabus focuses the candidate towards contract law, planning procedures and professional integrity.  Whilst candidates must provide their ‘supervisor’ with specific worked examples of how they are undertaking practical experience in different areas of the profession, the training does not require a student to master specifics of the profession (plant identification, tree tagging at a nursery, soil science or arboricultural hazard awareness). Whilst the process may highlight to a candidate their areas of weakness, it will not help them when participating within or leading a multi-disciplinary team, which may result in the Landscape Architect being seen as a ‘softscape’ specialist, with seemingly little knowledge in related scientific fields.

Do Landscape Architects need more Landscape Science training?

Given the scientific and technical challenges faced by Landscape Architects on a daily basis, it is perhaps of concern that the profession is so freely opened to those with such varied academic backgrounds. Publications used by Landscape Architect’s are often based on a sound knowledge of science, which may be taken for granted and reduce the need for the individual to learn the data first-hand. It is also understandable that any academic/professional institute may wish to encourage those from all walks of life to play a part in enhancing and protecting public spaces, especially in the light of an economic downturn, but this should not come at the cost of professional standards.

Landscape Architect’s are professionally obligated to continually further their knowledge of the profession. Still the choice of professional development is largely down to the individual and may be used to further their interests as they desire. Given the examples discussed, perhaps the profession should turn its focus towards understanding and utilising new techniques and scientific advances through requiring more scientific training of all its members.

The Outerspace Team

At Outerspace we pride ourselves on employing a team with strong educational backgrounds to back up their unwavering enthusiasm (and in multiple languages!) we also deliver a comprehensive CPD program which aims to increase technical, design and scientific knowledge. Click here to meet our team.

Written by Antony Geddes, Associate