Landscape Architecture vs. Architecture


Hello friends, 

Despite my research I am having a hard time getting a handle on Landscape architecture's full scope. I have been accepted into a M.Arch program at a school up north (non ivy) and have been accepted into Cornell for a MLA. I want to make sure I am not turning down a great opportunity at a great school. Could someone explain the two scopes comparatively  I have done a lot of research and still feel that LA's descript is pretty vague. That, or it would be better named  civil architecture. Any thoughts?

May 6, 13 3:59 pm

I know this is not absolute and I could be totally ignorant, but I found in most cases, landscape architecture and architecture leads to different type of jobs,e.g. MLA holders deal with planting, paving material, gardens, outdoor futniture etc,more on a 2D level, while MA holders design buildings, structures and other 3D objects

In my experience, the two professions work together in urban design, and landscape architects didn't seem to the best leaders when dealing with urban conditions. They probably rose to manager positions when traditional subdivision development were still common practice and things to be worried about then were grading and green field preservation.

I am kinda leaning towards doing architecture for the sake of flexibility but yeah, going to a brand name school itself could be a major event in life

May 6, 13 8:29 pm  · 
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I love all these questions.  I've got opinions.  I'm not sure if they're answers.

My attitude is that, if you were a kid, and drew buildings or floor plans, or went to movie theaters, for example, just to ogle their grandeur or layout (something I did), you should go for architecture.

However, if you were a kid, and marveled at parks and gardens, and also drew plans for them  - the paths, the water features, etc. (and I did that, too), then you COULD be a landscape architect.

I think I might have liked being a landscape architect.  While I didn't apply, it's generally easier to get into a good MLA than it is into a comparable M.Arch.  LA is a smaller and more niche-oriented field.

In the end, the question always comes down to this:  "What can you see yourself doing for 8+ hours a day?"  That is the NUMBER ONE question one needs to ask themselves.

May 6, 13 8:58 pm  · 
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I'd like to think of it with the analogy of the architect designs the clubhouse, the landscape architect designs the golf course. 

Looking back, and admittedly still, I think I could have enjoyed LA. Then again I ran my own landscaping firm during summers for a few years during school, so I enjoy landscaping and landscape/hard scape design. Too late now, got to pay off loans and get established in my architectural career (or get my business actually making money). 

Think about where you want to work and what you want to do, I would think that landscape architecture might hold better prospects at the moment, but only due to the smaller numbers of practitioners; however, by the time you graduate things may have changed. 

May 6, 13 11:03 pm  · 

Another thing is that, for some reason, it seems that, like civil engineers, a greater proportion of landscape architects are employed in the public sector than architects.  It's probably not the most creative of venues, but I've seen several go that route (and civils, too) and they seem to be content with their jobs.  Someone has to manage the planting and forestation along the freeways and parkways.

Landscape architects have some liability issues, too.  I wonder what it stems from - is it subsequent behavior of a slope, erroneous choosing of plants for that specific environment, or the damage that has been done by root systems, among other issues?  How many times does one walk down a sidewalk that has "buckled" because of some ginormous tree's "behavior" in the adjacent lawn strip between the sidewalk and the curb?  Frequently.

May 6, 13 11:13 pm  · 
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But if you have a M.Arch can you still work in landscape architecture? 

May 9, 13 2:21 am  · 
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^ sure you can but there will likely be someone educated in LA who'll be better versed than you xP

May 9, 13 5:44 am  · 
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My attitude is that, if you were a kid, and drew buildings or floor plans, or went to movie theaters, for example, just to ogle their grandeur or layout (something I did), you should go for architecture.

However, if you were a kid, and marveled at parks and gardens, and also drew plans for them  - the paths, the water features, etc. (and I did that, too), then you COULD be a landscape architect. oversimplified and, I believe, patently false.

I have an M.Arch and have been working in landscape architecture/urban design since I graduated in 2011. Some of the primary factors in becoming a good designer are spacial & material experience. It's not a dichotomy between 'interior vs. exterior' or 'parks vs. buildings'. 

I work on master-planning, urban design, interior installations, green roofs, rainwater run-off & bio-swales, urban public spaces of all kinds, parks, (from large city parks to small courtyards), urban furniture and lighting, playgrounds, memorials, markets, waterfront redevelopment, and adaptive reuse of defunct open areas (like airports and amusement parks) from private to public.

I don't know how to identify trees, grass, or flowers. I didn't grow up in a city that was known for its public outdoor spaces. I drew houseplans as a kid.

The first firm I worked for called themselves 'open space planners' and this I found to be a pretty accurate description. Most buildings in competitions we did were only schematically designed by the architects, but the open space around it had to be detailed to a level where you could see each individual plank in a bench from a 1:5000 plan. Because that is what the public & municipal leaders cared about most - the details of the public spaces around the buildings.

My opinion on choosing a direction is more based on the degree of impact you would like to have on your environment and whether you want to cater to private (limited) use or public (unlimited) use.

Buildings (even very good ones) have a very limited impact on a city - and if you don't think that's true, look at the museum in New York by Tod Williams Billie Tsien. Less than 10 years old, a gorgeous contemporary building, and it's being considered for demolition because it doesn't match the current style of MOMA. 

I worked on a competition for the redesign of the Hauptmarkt in Nuremberg that has been the centre point of the city since 1000 AD. All the buildings around it were bombed out in 1945. The first thing the city rebuilt was the main market square - it was the spirit of the city and so the most important to them as a landmark and orientation point. 

What I'm getting at is that the public realm is a very interesting and fertile place for design. A person may visit a fancy museum, music hall, opera house or library once a year and it may impress design magazines for a year or two. But people walk up and down the streets, visit parks and meet at squares every day. So in terms of impact on how people view their neighbourhoods and ultimately their city, open space planning is the far more engaging route.

If you take an M.Arch instead of an MLA, you will bring a very different view to your work in open space. But I don't know how many programs there are that would encourage you to focus on public space as opposed to designing a building. It would depend on the background and interests of your instructors, I suppose. As far as working - it doesn't make a huge difference what your title is if you have good design ideas. 

Anyways, best of luck!

May 9, 13 7:32 am  · 
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This is a fantastic view, I really resonate with your points.

Jan 30, 23 12:58 pm  · 
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Pardon what was your masters on,come again?

Jun 12, 24 8:38 am  · 
Saint Rest

well Stephanie, I enjoy great landscape architecture a lot, but I'm afraid we entice thinkgreen into landscape with arguments not sufficient enough for decision making. E.g. Once could also argue that architecture provide shelter like no others. Landscape has impacts, for sure, but if one's in a career for impacts, maybe she/he's better off in politics. Actually, all jobs have influence on other's life.  Landscape architecture is strong in impact, long lasting, beautiful, it's just not architecture... 

May 9, 13 1:03 pm  · 
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I've grown to realize that I have come to appreciate architecture in context of landscape. I'm sure many can say the same. If there was a way to do both (and I know there is academically but in practice I've heard from practicing professionals in both fields that it is near impossible) I'd be all for it. But I suppose I would have to choose. I was given good advice to say what would I rather do on my worst day. Design backyards or a strip mall. I'd take a strip mall at this point. I guess that partially answers the question?

May 9, 13 3:22 pm  · 
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I am reviving this thread for a few if ya guys don't mind. Now can someone with an MLA or LA focus work on matter involving interiors, buildings, etc? Stuff an M.Arch would normally do? I am going for the LA because I am more passionate about it and also love urban design, planning, etc. But if I do not find a job I may have to work for my father in law's or one of his competitor contacts construction firms and they mostly deal with interiors, buildings.

But I keep hearing from people that LA is a safer route with more prospects. I also hear that getting a general M.Arch will always be better because you get the best overal grasp.

What do you guys think of all this?

Sep 10, 13 6:29 pm  · 
observant oversimplified and, I believe, patently false.

Well, oversimplified, possibly.  However, patently false, no.  Anybody I've talked to about their choice made the distinction along those lines - that they wanted to enclose space, as in designing and documenting buildings, or that they wanted to plan open spaces, such as working with natural elements, as well as man-made ones, such as pavings, retaining walls, benches, tables, and even built objects which provide shelter.  So, the commonality is the emphasis on design, making landscape architecture a viable option for some who might be interested in architecture.  However, let's face it, when you walk through an l.a. studio at university or see a l.a. professional's drawings, the product is very different.

Sep 10, 13 7:25 pm  · 

Thinkgreen--ive designed more strip malls, commercial centers as an la than i ever wouldve dreamed possible years ago. Ive designed like two backyards in my entire career--just to give a little perspective.

As far as the golf course/clubhouse analogy--i find myself often designing where the clubhouse goes, but neither the course itself nor the clubhouse, lol.

Queen made a comment about la's being poor project leads on urban projects--not so sure about that, though i dont want to start an argument on larch vs arch--each are populated by many designers with varied skill sets--you may meet a larch that can design a better building (at least from a planning standpoint) than an arch, but also an arch who designs great sites. Admittedly the latter being more prevalent. The only sentiment i might offer in defense of la is the argument that bldgs exist within the larger landscape :)

Still there are so many facets to la and i would disagree with the notion that arch is by definition all encompassing. If for no other reason than being naive to say that any o e title or degree affords a designer the skill and knowledge to effectively design everything under the sun.

Jan 25, 14 2:09 am  · 
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Generally Arch are the boxes, LA the spaces between boxes.  Urban planning / design is supposed to be a coordinate effort.

Having done both, there is a distinct pedagogical influence that is hard to shake off - you can do either with either degree, but for the most part an LA designs for their projects to grow in, Arch for the completion date (and yes there are exceptions).

Work wise, a building set may have hundreds of pages, while the site set a fraction of that - that isn't to say it's less work, or less relevant; it's the nature of the material LAs work with - you can spec a tree but not really the individual components of a tree (though we often do go to the nursery to find 'the one').  Some firms do new cities, others parks, others residential yards, and others streetscapes - it is a broad field, but generally almost all outdoors (though there are the few that do commercial interiors like malls and atriums).

As with anything, each program is very different - schools with strengths in both areas and both fields under the same roof will give you a broader sense of the design fields (LA programs are often in the agriculture school relating to horticulture or forestry more than art/design).  Cornell is a great program.

Work prospect wise it's not all that different, trolling through will give you some of the same doom and gloom as here...

Jan 27, 14 3:52 pm  · 
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Dear Madam or Sir,

I am a third year student of landscape architecture department. I need your help about  project 1. Public Space, Sports Complex (15% slope). Composition lines then, I've been having problems with the concept plan. I can not create circular concept sloping terrain. I want to work on sloping terrain with soft lines. I need your help to create a concept plan. but I am open to all kinds of all kinds of help. 

Thanks for your interest,

Best Regards

mail : [email protected]

Nov 6, 15 6:04 pm  · 

Mark Rios, the third best architect in Los Angeles according to Build Direct:

Is licensed as and works as both an architect and as a landscape architect. From what I know the division between the two fields is very loose in the office. Architects work on landscape, landscape architects work on buildings. The staff leans a little more heavily toward architects but that is only because the amount of time preparing a set of construction drawings for a building is so much greater than a landscape construction set. 

Doing both, and having at least some degree of success with it, can be done.  

Nov 6, 15 6:22 pm  · 


This is somewhat off topic, but still related. 

I'm currently in a planning program at a university in Canada which focuses on environmental planning and natural resource management. I'm currently working towards becoming a professional planner and a professional agrologist.

However, I have always been interested in designing parks and horse properties and hobby farms so I have recently looked at landscape architecture programs. I'm assuming that if I wanted to build horse barns I would need to become an architect. 

My question is: Do I need to become a landscape architect to design these kinds of properties, or can I just do it with the education I have now? Should I pursue as MLA, or are there other kinds of certificates I could pursue? Can I open my own one person consulting firm as is? 


Feb 6, 17 2:28 pm  · 

^Somewhat tangential info, but maybe useful...

If you can or can't design a barn is more of a code issue, depending on your jurisdiction and intended use.  There's a lot of barns out there that aren't "architected" but if you start putting inhabited shop/office spaces in there, the calculus changes.  

You don't HAVE to be an LA to design a park, but it is helpful if you want a job designing parks and the like.  Very helpful...  Not sure about now, but getting an MLA wasn't a pre-req. as there are (were) still 4 (5) year professional programs out there that would allow you to test for the stamp without paying for a masters.  We had a good crop of Canucks pursuing that professional bachelors at Idaho when the dean decided we could make more money dropping that program and going MLA.  Lo and behold, the next year, no more Canadians and empty studio spaces abound.  You still being in college, you need go the direction that calls to you the most now rather than later.

Feb 6, 17 3:21 pm  · 


Equestrian barns and landscaping near Lexington, Kentucky.

Feb 6, 17 3:51 pm  · 

Great info! Thanks so much!

I ended up asking an acquaintance who is doing her MLA at UBC and shes basically said the same thing -- you dont need to be a licensed LA to design a park or a site plan, but they are developing law that may require you to be in the next 5-10 so its pretty necessary to have the degree to break into the industry. 

Guess I'll get some familiar with some design programs and create a portfolio and see what happens!

Feb 6, 17 8:59 pm  · 

Hey! There are several great comments here....all of which appear to be opinions based on personal streams of practice. Nothing inherently wrong with that! I actually have a degree of both MLA and MArch, so here goes... We know both fields are in constant flux with the socioeconomic environment, and definitely the global natural environment these days. While I've seen way too many projects of old school thinkers following the footsteps of Robert Moses, mucking up urban spaces by relying on solely architecture (seems to be easy to overstep bounds into the LA world than the other direction), BOTH fields are really needed at the end of the day. And both fields working together and in their own respective scopes, produce the most evocative and meaningful work. In my opinion...start with MArch, realize it's solely privatized to the rich, then study under an urban designer, and go for your MLA (it is definitely needed for the best education on urban design), see that you're now able to design everything under the blue sky, and do so! Architecture firms do tend to be the prime on projects, but at the end of the day, the buildings have to sit in some kind of context...which is best studied by a well versed LA (don't forget the social fabric of the site, people). Take a couple years to get licensed in both, and finally, just become a developer so you can just run the whole show. The end. 

Jul 18, 19 3:53 pm  · 
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Thanks for this response. Love the ending, “whole show”. One day!! :)

Jul 24, 19 11:09 pm  · 

As a 2nd year Grad student of LA who started in Architecture, i can tell you this. In my opinion the main difference i saw specially in collaborating with my Architecture student peers is that LA dives deeper into the Analysis of the site and context of the area. It is a mix of sociology, ecology, botany, environmental science, architecture, urban-ism, psychology, etc... I found that LA is not self serving when it comes to design but more about how your design affects the context and how its going to be beneficial for the community. LA design is more than just designing a garden. We aren't studying to become gardeners as most people think. LA is a mix of all types of studies to encompass a good design. but what i have realized in the small time i have been studying LA, its about improving the quality of life of those that you are designing for and trying to create a ripple effect of improving one neighborhood or context area at a time. Its definitely not about stroking your ego and designing something you like but designing what is needed. Your design has to have a purpose more than just because its pretty or looks cool. and that is where all that Analysis comes from (something that LA students dive deeper in than the architecture students). Most of the architect students i know don't know how to do a real site analysis. they have no idea the difference between inventory and actually analysis. So for you to decide you need to ask yourself what you like and what you feel its going to be the impact that you truly want to create in your design.

Good luck but really reach out to the LA department and professionals in the field and speak to members of ASLA and get input from actually MLA not just MArch because in my opinion most MArch don't really know what MLA do. (unless they studied both).

Sep 3, 20 2:09 pm  · 
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“LA design is more than just designing a garden“ I completely disagree with this sentiment. A garden is imo the greatest achievement one can accomplish in the field. How many other things do we humans create that serve to connect us to nature, that lacks a utilitarian purpose’ and rather satisfies a deeper purpose. A garden is a sort of temple without a religion...I can’t think of anything else that does that except maybe music?

Sep 6, 20 11:16 am  · 
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On one hand, I agree and disagree with x-jla. I also agree with what jhoannafarray said. Yes, it is more than the garden itself. Landscape design/landscape architecture is more than garden design. No demeaning of gardens and their importance but it is important to understand that there is more to the scope of the design. It's probably x-jla getting triggered by phrasing that demeans or comes of as demeaning gardens.

If I could give a thumbs up and down to each of the the two above, I would.

Feb 3, 23 11:42 pm  · 

Landscape architecture and landscape design practices tends to vary but LDs tend to be more horticulture / garden design oriented due to people, often gardeners/horticulturists shifting into designing but based on a horticulture education or landscape design programs that are more associated with horticulture. Landscape architecture is less horticulture oriented and getting into hardscape and site structure. This is probably due to access to education in horticulture and landscape design is much more accessible and affordable to attain when a lot of these programs are at community colleges, and technical colleges. 

As a building designer / landscape designer, in ways I'm more closer in background of education to that of an LA. In some regards, I do stuff some if not most LDs (demographics fluidity) does not do due to the building designer side of services... even in cases even LAs might not do in their practice. Again, it's more about details and nature of education background. However, there are LDs more in the horticulture side that are stronger on those fronts but I can supplement my background with nursery / horticulturists as consultants. 

When I went to University of Oregon, the landscape architecture degree curriculum very much fits the description jhoannafarray said. Similar to the architecture curriculum as well on the subject courses intended to provide diversity to the education. The profession of landscape architecture (largely public projects), the work is much less gardening. LAs would design urban parks, playgrounds, and also commercial landscapes. The line in Oregon law is kind of trickier and you may find LAs and LDs doing commercial but LDs being usually smaller projects whereas LAs are more often larger projects and public park projects. There's more to it but no need to get into that. 

Since we are a long way off from the purpose of the thread's creation in the original post which is more of "should I get a landscape architecture degree or an architecture degree". The broadening of the subject from the scope of the OP makes the thread more valuable about learning or expressing what is landscape architecture, landscape design, architecture, and building design and comparing & contrasting.

Feb 4, 23 2:08 am  · 

Hi! Architecture focuses on the design of buildings, structures, and other physical environments, while landscape architecture focuses on the design of outdoor spaces, such as gardens, parks, and public areas. Landscape architects take into account the natural environment and the built environment when designing and developing outdoor spaces. They also consider the environmental impact of a project and work to ensure that landscapes are sustainable and ecologically sound.

Jan 30, 23 2:19 pm  · 
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Nice revival of a 10 yr thread! I hope the person that posed the initial question has made a decision by now or even better graduated and did both degrees!

Feb 3, 23 6:21 pm  · 
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Concur. Good timing, too. Mid-century/contemporary style landscape design project for a 1960s era mid-century modern house with some 90s/2000s era interior remodel work. Can be refreshed up with a better mid-century modern / 21st century contemporary modern refreshing of the remodel. Too bad we don't get a little more deeper discussion of landscape design/architecture.

Feb 3, 23 11:32 pm  · 

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