There is a growing awareness within the landscape architecture profession about the importance of integrating scientific disciplines to address current and future environmental challenges. We cannot continue following a path of precedent-driven design propped up by soft knowledge. We have witnessed the frequent failures of constructed ecosystems and native California landscapes that do not perform the way that they were rendered and sold.
Rather than robust landscapes woven into urban and suburban infrastructures that are depicted in our renderings and narrative reports, these promised landscapes are too frequently overtaken with exotics, unattractive, and ultimately inhospitable to the intended biota.
The profession of landscape architecture is becoming more skilled at storytelling and Photoshop. But the field is also falling short of integrating the scientific substance necessary to fulfill the promises of our simulacra. However, there are structural barriers that disadvantage our profession from deeper engagement with scientific methods.
- The materials we work with do not have the barcodes, or the digital footprint necessary for the easy aggregation of data to drive analysis.
- We don’t have substantial private investment feeding research.
- Our academic institutions don’t offer a doctorate of landscape architecture (except for a few programs tied to history) driving long-term and sustained studies.
- Our professional fee structure is based on billable time tied to the interests of our clients.
A few large landscape architecture firms have added research to their practice, but this effort, while valuable, cannot complete the heavy lifting required to build a structural knowledge base to better help us understand the implications of our design experiments. And, practice-based research will always be built on the backs of other professionals completing billable work.
Following the scientific method alone can sometimes lead to asking wrong or misleading questions, and the profession of landscape architecture will always integrate art and science to guide inquiry. Collectively, the profession must develop stronger tools for putting forward hard, explicit knowledge that can be shared, tested, and refined so that by developing a professional culture of knowledge creation and sharing, we can fulfill the promised of our best stories and pictures.