It’s undeniable that landscape architects add immeasurable value to any building project—bringing their deep knowledge of everything from soil conditions and native plant species to environmental patterns, agriculture, renewable energy, and so much more. And as extreme weather worsens, good landscape design and management is becoming even more imperative for our health, and the Earth’s too. So it comes as little surprise that the US Department of Homeland Security recently designated landscape architecture as a STEM discipline, recognizing the high degree of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics inherent in the education and practice of landscape architecture, and marking a important leap away from “the impression that landscape architects only select plants,” says Debra Guenther, partner at Seattle-based firm Mithun.
“It’s an indication of the growing understanding of the importance of landscape architecture and its cultural, social, and environmental contributions,” adds Michelle Delk, partner and landscape architecture discipline director at Snøhetta. This designation not only opens up new research and funding opportunities, but also has important implications for international students after they graduate. (For a deeper dive, this white paper released by the American Society of Landscape Architects is very comprehensive.) Looking ahead, this may well mean that young people will choose to study landscape architecture over other design fields, as it may create an easier path into the industry, and offer a better chance of staying in the US post-graduation.
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“Design fields in general have also struggled to attract BIPOC members and first-generation college students who bring critical experience and perspective for making design relevant to broadening audiences,” remarks Guenther. “Surveys have indicated that families are often evaluating the return on investment in education, and a STEM designation can help alleviate the impressions around those concerns.”
With a likely influx of qualified landscape architects into the job market, and a demand for these professionals increasing, what does this mean for architecture and interior firms? Is now the time to consider hiring landscape architects as full-time team members, rather than outsourcing their services from separate companies? This approach certainly has its benefits, according to studios like Marmol Radziner, which adopted the practice long ago. “With our architects and landscape architects under one roof, we can integrate the landscape with the architectural design from the beginning, to allow the building and site to become an expression of a singular vision,” says partner Ron Radziner, who began putting landscape architects on the payroll 25 years ago, and typically employs between 7 and 10 specialists at any given time. It’s a natural synergy, since “we’re often thinking about the design for the garden while we’re thinking about the design of the house,” he adds.