April is World Landscape Architecture Month. This internationally recognized celebration represents a highlight of our year at The North Carolina Arboretum, although others outside the profession of landscape architecture have likely never heard of this particular annual occasion. As a landscape architect, I see the Arboretum as a direct product of this wonderful way of working.

What is landscape architecture?

While many see “landscape” as a general term that encompasses design and management related to outdoor spaces, that interpretation is not exactly complete. Frederick Law Olmsted, for example, as the father of American landscape architecture, drew a distinction between gardening and landscape architecture. While the gardener creates attractive and interesting compositions of plants and other materials for a variety of purposes, a landscape architect approaches his or her work by utilizing a generally accepted design process that harmonizes the proposed uses for a site with its character and specific qualities. Properly applied, this process incorporates four essential perspectives simultaneously:

  • Functional/social uses envisioned for future users;
  • Economic considerations and impacts of the project on its surroundings;
  • Environmental sensitivity and relationships engendered by the design; and
  • The aesthetic appearance or attractiveness of the outcome.

Understanding the process

The landscape architecture process begins with setting goals for proposed uses, followed by completing an inventory and analysis of site factors, schematic exploration of relationships of uses to themselves and to the site, and lastly, design development leading to working drawings that articulate layout and specifications for materials and finishes. This methodology melds science and art throughout, moving from very general to very specific issues, in order to yield a satisfactory outcome. The Arboretum is a direct product of this process, starting with its inception during the 1980s and continuing to guide decisions to this day. Each building, structure, space, walk, wall, water feature and plant has been filtered through this process.

Much of the feedback we receive here at the Arboretum is quite favorable, due to the exceptionally beautiful setting, a highly dedicated and competent staff, engaged donors and supporters, and the fact that we have consciously and consistently applied carefully balanced considerations of economics, environment, function and aesthetics to all of our development decisions through the years.

There are many ways to evaluate a landscape, but these four criteria provide a simple but useful way to assess what you have and what you can create. They were first deployed by Olmsted during the late 1800s and have served as the backbone of the landscape architectural profession and process worldwide ever since.

This is Landscape Architecture

Before the month ends, take a stroll through the Arboretum, drive the Blue Ridge Parkway, visit the Biltmore Estate, explore the Sierra Nevada or New Belgium sites, grab a bench in Pack Square Park, hike through developed national forest or national park areas, enjoy Biltmore Park, meander through downtown Hendersonville, visit a local campus of higher education or find any other space designed by landscape architects. Take a picture and share it on social media with #WLAM2018 so that others can see how this profession shapes our communities.

Join us in April and help us celebrate how landscape architecture transforms ordinary spaces and places into extraordinarily enjoyable experiences.

~George Briggs, FASLA