Landscape Designer vs. Landscape Architect: What Is The Difference?
By Zack Thomas
October 31, 2017
There are many things to consider as you think about your landscape project. Should you hire a design firm or go with design/build? (Of course, we have thoughts on that.) Once you decide to go with a design firm, the next question is: what is the difference between hiring a landscape architect versus going with a landscape designer? Which one will work best for you and meet the needs of your project?
Many people have a notion about the difference between the two and it almost always revolves around… plants! In many people’s minds, landscape designers are plant lovers whereas landscape architects focus more on space planning and the technical side of things. But, happily, those are just generalizations and (spoiler alert!) you can have both with the right choice of design team.
Let’s start by talking more about plants and who really loves them.
Plants and horticultural expertise is the most common dividing line between landscape architects and landscape designers in most people’s minds. And it’s true that, generally speaking, the starting point from which many, many landscape designers enter the field is a love of plants. But that’s not to say the rest of us don’t share that passion! For example, we do things that most other design firms don’t – like visit wholesale nurseries in the spring to see what’s looking good and check on new arrivals and introductions. We think it’s just not possible to know too much about plants.
Those who have dedicated their lives to knowing and understanding plants are rare indeed, but they can bring something special and unique to a project. Which is why many designers and design firms will tap this expertise when they need it. Dan Hinckley and Piet Oudolf come to mind. While most of us will never reach their level of mastery, it’s important to try!
But don’t forget the details!
What about the details - the technical side of a project like code requirements, setbacks, and coordination with engineers? What about sites that aren’t flat (or even close)? When these things arise in a project, that’s the point when most people turn to landscape architects. These things are part of the education and it’s tested when you sit for the licensing exams. But more than that, it can set the limits of what can be achieved in a project or a design. Much like those who don’t know plants will never produce an elegant planting design, those who don’t know the details will likewise be limited – and will usually limit your project as they steer you away from areas where they are less knowledgeable and bring you back into their comfort zone.
Do you have questions such as, “Can I build my deck into the sideyard setback?” (In Seattle, yes, but keep it 18” or lower from the ground!) Or, “What are the impervious surfaces limits on my lot?” (Not so easy to answer in a parenthetical aside – give us a call!) What can be done if your yard has slopes or other terrain? We know that it’s important to be fluent with these items, which is why we’ve also assembled a team that is strong in this area. Don’t let questions like these limit your project just because your designer isn’t comfortable addressing them!
We’re here to help with either/both!
Who should you choose? First off, If you find an individual or firm that has a style or aesthetic that’s exactly what you want and works with your budget then, by all means, go with them! Have a look at our work and let us know what you think. If you’re not entirely sure, also give us a call – we think that both plant expertise and technical skills are critical, and we have built our team so we have expertise in both areas. It could be that your project only needs some plants – we’re ready and excited to help! Or you might be looking at something more involved that will require attention to detailing, engineering coordination, and permitting – and we’re ready and excited to help with that as well!