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When do you need a Landscape Architect?

Almost any outdoor project will be able to benefit from the advice of a good Landscape Architect

While Landscape Architects are often hired for all types of outdoor projects. You might ask whether their services are worthwhile.

For some sites, employing a Landscape Architect will be crucial in meeting the requirements in obtaining planning consent. However, for many outdoor projects, it remains a matter of personal choice. 

In truth, collaborating with a skilled Landscape Architect can significantly make the difference between creating a delightful ‘place’ or a ‘blot on the landscape.’ 

The starting point has to be the understanding that any new development, (whether that’s a house extension, a new build home, or a larger development) will change its landscape.

This principle is not well served by the popular use of the term ‘landscaping’. The term is entrenched in planning language, creating the misconception that landscaping simply involves the plants and shrubs placed around buildings. 

In the mind of a Landscape Architect, ‘the landscape’ describes the entire scene, including any neighbouring homes or other buildings. Consequently, the term ‘agricultural landscape’ evokes a very different image from that of an ‘industrial landscape.’

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Landscape Architecture encompasses the whole outdoor environment

Some projects might be made up wholly of green spaces and green design ingredients, for instance, forestry design. These projects focus on creating lush, natural environments that emphasise vegetation and organic elements. 

On the other hand, the job may be to design an urban square in which the dominant materials are probably hard and inorganic. Such projects prioritise the use of concrete, stone, and metal to create functional, aesthetically pleasing public spaces.

That is not to say that the green ingredients are unimportant. It is always crucial for a Landscape Architect to understand the qualities and vulnerabilities of living plant material. 

They must specify plantings in locations where they’ll thrive and they’ll harmonise with the built environment. If we’re to consider ourselves as ‘surgeon of the land’ it clearly demands an excellent understanding of how life is sustained.

Even in predominantly green spaces, there’s likely to be a call for earthworks and hard construction, such as paths and retaining walls. It’s essential that the Landscape Architect is well-versed in the strengths and limitations of all these materials. Their expertise ensures that these elements integrate with the natural surroundings, enhancing both functionality and appearance.

The most subtle and valuable skill of all is the ability to guide others in matters such as site selection, positioning, and orientation of buildings and infrastructure. 

These actions may not bear the signature of the Landscape Architect, but they will influence the success of the entire development within its setting. This guidance ensures that every element of the project works together, creating a cohesive outdoor environment.

Who might need to engage a Landscape Architect

The need for a Landscape Architect’s services will depend on the size of the job and, especially, the sensitivity of the site and its surrounding context. For small residential developments within an urban setting, not covered by a Conservation Area or other special protection, a Landscape Architect may not be necessary. However, their expertise can be invaluable if a large garden is planned or if there are existing trees.

The services of a Landscape Architect become really important, even for a single dwelling, where the Local Planning Authority (LPA) deem there to be sensitivity in the local environment. 

Their expertise ensures that the development respects and enhances the existing landscape, minimises environmental impact and aligning with local regulations. For example, this could include areas with significant wildlife habitats, historic sites, or locations prone to erosion and flooding.

This may be a national designation such as:

  • An Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty,
  • The Green Belt,
  • Or the existence of a Local Plan policy that rules out development in an area of open countryside.

In this latter context, the government’s National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) provides guidance in Paragraph 79 (now Paragraph 84) on criteria for an exception to be made in recognition of outstanding design that also enhances the landscape setting.

Landscape Architects add value to new build projects

It’s now increasingly common for a Landscape Architect to be appointed as a core member of a design team on large projects. However, there’s still scope for better use of their services. 

This particularly applies to larger housing developments, where the quality and cohesion of outdoor spaces can radically influence the quality of life for residents. In all instances, it is the very early involvement of a Landscape Architect that delivers the best value.

An expert’s analysis of the wider landscape can provide indispensable design cues for the rest of the team. This ensures that buildings are sensitively located and oriented. 

By aligning the architecture with the natural features, the overarching space can be greatly improved. Open spaces become positive parts of the layout, making much more sense rather than being ‘leftover.’ 

The ecology of the area is a pivotal factor in determining the distribution of open space, creating wildlife corridors as well as rewarding spaces for people.

A Landscape and Visual Impact Assessment (LVIA) is commonly required by Planners to help them determine whether the development is visually intrusive or inflicts physical harm on the landscape. This assessment is crucial so that the proposed development aligns with environmental and aesthetic standards.

The Architect is most commonly the main author of the Design and Access Statement (DAS). However, the strategic guidance of the Landscape Architect ought to be a central component of the narrative in explaining the reasoning behind design decisions on layout, orientation, materials choices, etc. 

Including a Landscape Architects insights can significantly enhance the overall coherence and sustainability of the project.

Landscaping inspiration

Last House, Nottinghamshire
Stamford Road, Oakham
Photo of the outside of Sandall House
Sandall House, Rotherham
Walkley, Sheffield

How to find a Landscape Architect

The central source of information exists through the Landscape Institute. They will provide information on registered practices. When searching, it’s crucial to ensure that the practice is either run by, or employs a Chartered Landscape Architect.

It is often the case that your Architect already knows of a suitably qualified and local Landscape Architect. This can ease the integration within the design team, but a client always has the right to choose.

Having a pre-established relationship can streamline the project. But selecting a Landscape Architect should be based on the specific needs of the project. 

What matters most is the match between the Landscape Architect’s approach and experience with the aspirations of the client. And, of course, the demands of the site and project.

About the author

Tom Lonsdale is a Chartered Landscape Architect, urban designer and CABE Built Environment Expert (BEE).

From early days as Chief Landscape Architect for Manchester City Council, he spent twenty years leading the successful landscape consultancy, Camlin Lonsdale. Tom is now retired to concentrate on what he calls ‘quality mentoring’. In this guise, he chairs the regional Yorkshire Design Review Panel and the Barnsley local panel. He no longer provides a full range of design services but is happy to advise at an early stage with a ‘place audit’ on sensitive sites.

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