Landscape Architecture – a profession of ‘place’


It is understood that if you organise a ‘gaggle’ of designers or planners to solve a mutual task, the number of alternative outcomes would be directly proportional to the number of participants – that is, if it was initially agreed amongst the ‘gaggle’ that there were no restrictions on alternative options.   This does not mean that the participants would disagree on the alternative outcomes and that having multiple answers to a design problem is an issue. Moreover, the example positions the capricious nature of design.

The myriad of design methods and personal lenses that affect the qualitative side of analytical design are endless and by their own nature open to interpretation.  Defining a ‘correct’ design process or outcome is meaningless, and the strength of design is lost when the process is limited, simplified or boxed.  Can the similar be said when we try to define or corral the variables of our ever expanding profession?

The same observation can be applied to the profiling or marketing of Landscape Architecture.  How does our national industry representative, AILA, speak with one voice when, by nature of the profession, there are so many voices which continue to blur between adjoining traditional professions, i.e. – planning, engineering, ecology, geography, etc.?

This short discussion does not suggest that we change the name of our profession, one that is embedded with the traditional understanding and language of ‘landscape.’  As an alternative proposition, it is suggested that our profession begins to use the language of ‘place’ to encompass a more universally understood and broader concept of landscape.

When we think of landscape, on the cognitive level, let’s include the term of ‘place’ – ‘Place Architecture’.  Of course, this now brings up issues around the language of ‘Architecture’.  Most practitioners of landscape are interveners in interconnected systems, or actors in a fluid, non-object centred approach that does not practise control over the physical elements of ‘place.’  We therefore have to again, on a cognitive level, drop the connotations of control and objectification that are still embedded within our traditional understanding and language of  ‘Architecture’ and instead suggest a language of systems and intervention.  In this way, the practice of the Landscape Architect could be more broadly profiled as ‘Place Facilitator, Manager or Intervener’.

The recently coined term of ‘Place-Maker’ is broadly associated with working in the area of ‘place,’ however this title is limited in that it falls back into the language and associations of Architecture, a dominant and objectifying act of humankind, as compared to the provision of a fluid intervention in the systems and processes of ‘place’.

The expression ‘capricious’ is used in the header to deliberately conjure how seemingly unpredictable, inconsistent and indecisive our design and planning profession of Landscape Architecture at times may seem, especially to new practitioners and members within the broader design industry. Therefore, it is an initial suggestion that we discontinue the internal categorisation and naval gazing within our profession, continuing a circular critique without providing a way to transcend our broader industry endorsed box. Being pigeonholed can provide means to hold design industry ground; however will ultimately lessen access to an ever expanding and valuable ‘place’ discourse.

AILA’s current definition of the profession of a Landscape Architect is based on the International Standard Classification of Occupations, International Labour Office, Geneva, stating;

Landscape Architects research, plan, design and advise on the stewardship, conservation and sustainability of development of the environment and spaces, both within and beyond the built environment.

…and Landscape Architecture,

…is the profession committed to the creation of meaningful and enjoyable outdoor places and to the sustainable management of our environment.

The above definition of practitioner and profession are intentionally broad, however this paper suggests that, unfortunately, the use of language continues to adhere to the simplistic Australian public perception that a Landscape Architect is a practitioner who works beyond the realms of glorified garden design (landscape designer).  As recognised, the existing definition is based on the common understanding of the word ‘landscape’ compounded with the relationship an urban populace has with our vast, apparently untouched, natural environment (that is seemingly non-designed). The only truly designed landscape that ‘Aussies’ continually revert back to is the humble ‘backyard’.  Conceivably, is this why an international impression of Landscape Architecture (European, South American, etc.) tends to be more encompassing to ‘place’ design / planning? Deconstructing the Australian people’s understanding of landscape has warranted many educational papers leaving this discussion topic providing only a sip from a soup that has most of its ingredients suspended in a breeding broth of ambiguity.

As stated, this short paper does not intend to suggest we change the name of our vitally important profession however that we broaden the language that is used in Profiling and Marketing.  An option for AILA Profiling and Marketing would be to embrace the uncomplicated industry boxed definition of Landscape Architecture as ‘garden design.’ This could be used as a starting point, while also expanding on the profession’s broader, systems-based approach to ‘place.’  This could include educating and raising the public expectation of ‘landscape’, including how it can encompasses the broader term, ‘place.’ Associated with this, an aim to increase public awareness around the act of Landscape Architecture as sensitive, sustainable, bold and beautiful – an act of ‘Place Intervention’.

In closing, how does Landscape Architecture become crucial to addressing the ‘wicked’ issues of ‘place’? Ultimately it is up to us, as practitioners and as a proudly capricious profession to lead by example.


Greg Grabasch Australia

Greg Grabasch

UDLA Principle Director

Greg has over 20 years’ experience in the ‘place’ development and management industry as Environmental Consultant, Landscape Architect and Urban Designer. He has a strong socio-environmental philosophy that acknowledges a sustainable imperative to lesson ‘greenfield’ expansion within the Australian urban condition and therefore focuses his efforts on providing an inclusive participatory and site responsive process to ‘growing’ urban centres and neglected ‘greyfields’.

As Principal Director of UDLA, with studio’s located in Broome and Fremantle, his team believe to address the ‘wicked problems’ that exist within our increasingly complex society there needs to be a robust imperative to analyse and address all the interrelated factors that foster ‘place’ well-being.

Greg’s learning’s come from numerous community development projects providing opportunity to continually design community building tools in realisation that every complex problem requires a unique solution. Deciding on an appropriate inclusive process requires experience and a sensitive intuition. Fortunately Greg’s project history, acknowledged through his peers and industry awards demonstrates capacity to navigate through many ‘wicked problems’ and draw the appropriate threads to connect the ‘place-led’ analysis with resilient sustainable solutions.