Understanding what landscape architecture is today means understanding its origins, its history, and how its importance influences the way our outdoor spaces are developed today. Today’s landscape architects must understand civil engineering, urban planning, horticulture, and sustainability. These industries overlap to create landscape architecture and the roots of this profession date back to the beginning of the industrial revolution.
At the heart of landscape architecture is the intersection of the natural world and the world that humans build around them. As far back as classical Rome, humans have recognized this overlap. For example, simple gardening has continually improved from classical times, throughout the Renaissance, and into modern times.
During the Renaissance, for example, ideal gardens were those that were heavily dependent on symmetry and extreme manicuring. However, this ideal evolved into an interest in more pastoral landscapes, especially in England. This pastoral aesthetic emphasized flowing hills, curving paths, and untouched meadows.
Landscape Architects Are Born
A surge of new technology at this point helped to develop the landscape architecture industry. The industrial revolution made it possible for new developments in agricultural machinery, railroads, automobiles, and steel. Through these innovations, human society moved from an agrarian model to an urban one.
We became drawn to restaurants, theaters, cultural centers, and museums. These features of urban life made urban environments more appealing.
On the other hand, we weren’t prepared to plan cities efficiently. This led to a lack of clean water accessibility, as well as a lack of hygienic sewer systems. This combination made it easy for diseases like cholera, tuberculosis, and typhoid to spread.
As a result, upper and middle-class citizens began to flee city centers. In Paris, the resulting unrest was combated by redevelopment, which replaced slums and lower class buildings with beautiful landmarks and spacious boulevards.
During the same period, cities in the United States began to centralize cemeteries to provide pastoral oases in urban centers. This idea continued to evolve, leading Frederick Law Olmstead to develop one of the most iconic parks in the United States—Central Park, located on the tightly packed island of Manhattan.
The Garden City Movement
The Garden City movement developed alongside the concept of artistic modernism. The Garden City movement sought to compartmentalize several different aspects of modern life—agricultural life, social life, natural life, and industrial life.
These different categories of human experience radiated outward from the center of the city. Boston’s Emerald Necklace is a fantastic example of this concept.
Other Contributing Factors
Industrialization was hardly the only factor which influenced these concepts. Racial tensions were also pivotal. “White flight” from central urban areas resulted from post-WWII tensions. Wealthier citizens moved from city centers to the suburbs. At this point, landscape architecture came into its own, as designing these suburbs became a full-time career.
The final challenge, of course, was to ensure that these designs could be sustainable—which is what landscape architects still strive for today.
Much More Than We Could Cover
While we’ve attempted to give a general overview of landscape architecture, its origins, and how it came to be, there is so much more to the story that we simply couldn’t get to. If you’re looking to read more about landscape architecture, we invite you to check out this article on the Encyclopedia Britannica’s website on the topic. If you’d like to speak with a landscape architect about a making a landscape plan for your property, reach out to us to get started!