Landscape architecture’s deep-rooted significance

When most people think of architecture, a tall, sleek skyscraper comes to mind. Rooftop gardens and rolling, green hills striped with inviting pathways are usually not things people think of.

Landscape architecture challenges this common perception of design and construction by blending the natural and man-made to create truly livable spaces.

According to assistant landscape architecture professor Gabriel Montemayor, there have traditionally been borders not only between architecture and landscape architecture, but also between other disciplines, such as urban design and planning.

“Buildings were (the domain) of architecture, and landscape architecture (focused on) the in-between,” he said.

Recently, however, things have changed.

“There’s a much higher level of interaction between these disciplines, and, to some degree, some marriage between them,” Montemayor said.

Landscape architecture integrates our work, play and movement with the beauty and intriguing order of nature’s own systems.

It reveals the network of trees, riverbeds and even animal migration paths that can be more intricate than our sprawling cities and their grid of neighborhoods, public buildings and transportation routes. In short, the line between the natural and built environment is gradually dissolving.

“There are several reasons for this shift toward landscape (architecture),” John Gendall wrote in an article in the October 2010 issue of Architect magazine.

They included a massive influx of people into cities, which is “forcing a re-evaluation of city design.”

New and attractive buildings are also not enough. “As image-ennui sets in,” Gendall said, “cities are looking for ways to refashion themselves that are both subtler and more substantive.”

Our interest in exciting building projects and centers may fade, but the rest and refreshment offered to us by the outdoors never ceases to inspire us.

Landscape architecture is also, perhaps most noticeably, an effective and sustainable use of land.

The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) said in its Urban Growth and Development Rationale, “As communities plan for growth and change, ASLA encourages in-fill and redevelopment utilizing existing infrastructure … Alternative planning initiatives argue for responsible growth and development strategies that are broader in vision and more regional in scale.”

Montemayor said landscape architects were the original stewards of the land.

“I think (landscape architecture) is getting a lot of attention because we were the ones who started the idea of stewardship of the land,” he said.

“We figure out how to minimize the impact of public and private development, or what we do with the land, on natural systems, which have been around for years.”

Though roof gardens may be very trendy examples of landscape architecture, they are not very suited for our harsh climate.

Montemayor said the green space by the Biodesign Institute integrates native plants and catches storm runoff to water itself, which makes it a true example of landscape architecture.

“There’s one very interesting thing about the culture of Phoenix and Arizona and the Southwest,” Montemayor said. “Using native plants and understanding and pushing forward an aesthetic ideal of these materials don’t really happen in many other places in the world. They are still trying to have an English-garden type of idea,” he said.

The goal of landscaping is to create unity between man and nature.

As Gendal said, “The 21st century city is setting itself up — quite necessarily so — to be remembered as the sustainable city, anchored by landscapes rather than grids.”

The greener shades of landscape architecture are a welcome change from the gray and browns of urban sprawl.


Reach the columnist at


Click here to subscribe to the daily State Press newsletter.

Get the best of State Press delivered straight to your inbox.