Landscape Architecture: The Bare Essentials of Urban Development

Image: © Barrett Doherty | The Public Square and Gardens at Hudson Yards designed by Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects (NBW)

Landscape architecture has been around since the agricultural era but only became a formal profession in the mid-19th century. Human migration from less-developed areas to cities continues to shift standards of living, creating more mega cities. The pressure, then, to create cities which are functional, welcoming, and aesthetically pleasing while catering to the needs of a growing population has posed significant challenges for private developers and public institutions managing a city’s public infrastructure.

Landscape architecture marries hard materials, such as concrete, terrazzo, marble, and stone, with softer elements, such as wood, flora, while keeping in mind the “whole building design” approach. Because a landscape architect needs to understand different elements and merge them to create livable spaces, they appreciate a multi-disciplinary approach to design. While cities are becoming packed with people, effective landscape architects understand that they must fuse all the elements while keeping the integrity of the natural space. The architects and designers also take to heart the importance of sustainability, moving forward. Currently, sustainability is a non-negotiable aspect of urban development. And landscape architects must take every opportunity to bring this issue front and center of their designs and development.

Terrazzo pavers, for example, continue to be one of the preferred flooring by landscape architects. Its depth and structure not only provide a better base for aesthetics, but also allows a sustainable alternative for most cityscapes. Because it is easy to clean and maintain, costs and resource consumption are kept low while maintaining the landscape’s integrity and structure.  

Creating megacities that are ecologically, culturally, and economically sustainable will continue to be the most pressing challenge of landscape architecture. Landscape architects should work towards encouraging collective action from the community, business and government leaders, not just to create new landscapes and spaces but to bring the existing built environment up to the level of sustainable design standards. These challenges can only be addressed with a collective commitment towards long-term livability of cities not just for the current inhabitants, but for future generations.

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Whole Building Design Guide: Landscape Architecture, 2016WLA: The Hudson Yards Public Square and Gardens were envisioned as a contemporary plaza