Urban Design v. Landscape Architecture


Hi all,

I am considering going back to school for a Masters in Urban Planning with a concentration in Urban Design and, with an undergraduate degree in an unrelated field, am intent on making the most out of this professional pivot.  While I have spoken to several planners, architects, and academics in design-related fields, I am still having difficulty sussing out a few particulars about the field of planning and am hoping this community can shed a little light on some particulars.  Any insight you have is much appreciated -- thank you in advance for your help!

1) It seems like planners who focus on urban design during grad school and work at an arhcitecture firm rather than with a government have opportunities to proactively contribute creatively to projects, instead of regulating reactively.  Where does the line between landscape architects and planners fall in those cases?  Or, phrased differently, if a planner and a landscape architect were both working on the master plan for a college campus, for example, how would their roles differ?

2) Do you know of any architecture firms in rural or small town areas that employ planners?

3) I am currently a journalist familiar with working long hours for little financial reward, a situation it seems I share with many architects and planners.  Having worked in marketing for a boutique residential design firm, I feel that I have a fairly accurate sense of the daily drudge of design, how long projects can take, and the amount of time actually devoted to creative pursuits.  All that to say, I have heard the common complaints about architecture and planning and am not daunted by them; I have gotten up close and personal with at least one aspect of the industry and found that it doesn't lose its allure.  From where I'm sitting, 2.5 years out of a liberal arts degree, planning would certainly seem like a step up in terms of industry stability, opportunities for future growth, and -- believe it or not -- pay.  Is there anything else you'd encourage me to consider before making this leap?  Cost-cautious and deliberate in decisions, I have been dancing around making this move for years.

Thank you for your help!

Oct 3, 17 8:31 pm

I haven't met a landscape architect in years.  When I did work with them, they picked trees and shrubs and grass type.  We pick our own trees now.  They always get VE'd out of the project anyway.

Oct 3, 17 9:34 pm

that is seriously depressing...


I have worked with an urban planner once during an internship for the city I was living in at the time. At the time, she was creating a GIS map of the city that survey info (like conditions of sidewalks, streets,etc.) could be input. Then the city would use the GIS as a guide to prioritizing certain areas for updating/repair. 

I have also worked with many landscape architects. They tend to work at a smaller scale, selecting plants for a particular site, understanding how they work together to form an outdoor space, and their maintenance. They've also designed outdoor water features for us, and selected different ground covers like brick paving or others. 

Other things to consider: the job market where you intend to live. Are there many urban planners or landscape jobs there? In terms of a rural setting, in my experience, there may be a lot less zoning requirements (or none) therefore less need of planners. 

Oct 3, 17 10:43 pm

Thank you all for your input!  I really appreciate it.

Oct 4, 17 6:48 pm

Here is a short video that includes both landscape design and Architecture in River North in Chicago. 

Nov 2, 17 2:40 pm

Urban Design = policy planning / urban focused long term planning strategies / not getting stuff built but drawing lots of pictures / archives of non completed work

Landscape Architecture = plants / trees shrub / getting stuff built / gardening / can be urban design  / public art / detail design / everything outside the walls of a building.

Nov 3, 17 6:55 pm

architects design bathrooms and floor plans. 

Landscape architects are the urbanists of the future. 

Nov 4, 17 2:43 pm

What a coincidence... that's what my business card says!

"Specializing in bathrooms, floor plans, and cities of the future.  Also available for weddings and bar mitzvahs"


Jesus. What school and where do you people all work that you think LA's 'work mostly at smaller scale,' specing shrubs and such??! 

I thought I was in the sticks...

Most contemporary, practicing licensed LA's are very much accustomed to work at the scale of the site, block, neighborhood, district, and region. LA's today plan entire cities. Ian Mcharg wrote Design with Nature many years ago, much of which became precursory to modern day gis analysis.

LA's work with a broad palette wherein everything is considered a component of 'landscape' including buildings, streets, paths, plants, and soil. 

Mar 16, 18 11:57 pm



Architects think they can be landscape architects and interior designers but usually the results are pretty poor. I am always intrigued with some large landscaping projects where architects, landscape architects, civil engineers, and often preservationists, come together to create a really nice place.

Mar 17, 18 8:59 am

was going to make a pithy comment, but I accidentally hit enter and now we're stuck with whatever...this is.  


I have an accredited bachelor's degree in landscape architecture, and am about 75% finished with my master's degree in urban design. Professionally, landscape architecture is incredibly detail-oriented, despite the fact that our projects are quite large relative to most architects. If you even suggest that all landscape architects care about (or are capable of contributing to) is plants, you have never taken the time to understand the profession. Grading, hardscape design, site furniture selection, and initial site analysis each make up just as much (if not more) of the job as plant selection and design. This of course discounts the theoretical discourse of landscape architecture, but we don't need to get into that.

Urban design, on the other hand, deals with higher-level problems, and is far less concerned with the details of the built environment. Policy, land use regulations, real estate, social issues, and other urban planning issues are considered, as well as a deep understanding of urbanism at the local and global scales. A landscape architect may be able to design a beautiful civic space, but his/her education doesn't likely place much emphasis on the social context or consequences of that project, nor the funding mechanisms, etc. It's not urban planning, because design is still very much involved at several different scales, but it certainly isn't architecture or landscape architecture.

Apr 13, 18 8:53 pm

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