by Alexis Canter
Since its formal inception over 100 years ago, landscape architecture has expanded beyond horticultural preoccupations to a discipline that engages natural, political, and cultural systems. Today, this systems-based approach results in landscape projects that are ecologically, financially, and socially resilient—creating value communities and owners alike.
This new role requires rethinking the work we do and how we do it. Here are six trends that illustrate where we've arrived, and how we must continue to move the practice forward.
Researching. This has always been a component of the design process—but mostly in terms of preliminary analysis as part of a specific project. More and more, design practices are shifting to a deeper, and more varied form of research, often creating projects with research as the product or goal itself. These new forms of research span topics from material innovation to the integration of new forms of technology to understanding holistic trends in city-making.
Engaging. Public outreach is part of nearly every public project in the United States. From traditional public meetings and charettes to wild spectacles and online forums, designers are diversifying the ways they gather feedback, reach consensus, and inform an inspired design strategy.
Withstanding. Public space today is exposed to many extreme cultural, natural, and social forces—think recent storms and natural disasters across the country and heightened security requirements post- 9/11. Designers must create dynamic public spaces that withstand natural and environmental use and abuse.
Art and Programming. Once an overlay at the end of the design process, art and programming are now often major drivers in the design. Designers must now consider the goals, creation, and maintenance of art and programming in public spaces.
Programming: Mobile and adaptable collaboration cubes, developed by Sasaki in collaboration with Rebar for the TechTown District Plan
Competing. Design competitions are booming. Though standard in some international contexts as a means of engaging design ideas and teams, competitions in the US were relatively rare a decade ago. In the new post-recession economy, competitions are everywhere—from private, public, federal, and even academic sources. Competitions are spaces for designers to explore new ideas and also serve as marketing opportunities for firms.
Operations. Academic design programs often avoid the discussion of business. But management, finances, technology, and marketing are all critical consideration for practicing designers. There is great opportunity for firms to revamp their business models and promote themselves in the context of the new landscape architecture.
These topics are currently under exploration by soon-to-graduate MLA students in my professional practice seminar at the Rhode School of Design's (RISD) and I've worked with an all-star list of guest speakers whose work relates to each theme. For a complete list of speakers and contributing firms, please visit our class blog.
Many of the themes explored in class were developed through a previous seminar at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, which I co-taught with Gina Ford.