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Brown and green capabilities

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Maybe it is time that landscape architects were integrated into the mainstream professional body of architecture

Architects commonly perceive landscape architecture as being confined to plants and paving, unaware that the skills of the landscape architect include land-use planning, masterplanning, horticulture, reclamation, environmental impact assessment and landscape management as well as design. This also overlooks the value that an awareness of the landscape can add to making buildings.

In turn, landscape architects tend to demonize architects as misguided egotists who think they can do it all, including the landscape bits. Yet, in my experience, it is not that architects do landscape badly, they just do not pay it enough attention. The end result is that the two professions coexist, but in a separate and distinct way, at a distance from one another.

Maybe it was a lack of interest in the landscape, which, in the eighteenth century, created a niche for landscape gardeners Repton, Knight and Capability Brown to do their own thing.

During the nineteenth century Gertrude Jekyll elevated planting design to an art form; in America, Frederick Olmstead, the designer of Central Park, was the first to use the term 'landscape architect'. Professionalization proceeded with the first formal teaching of landscape design in 1909 and the formation of an institute in 1929. Initially called the British Association of Garden Architects, it was soon renamed the Institute of Landscape Architects, a rejection of the gardenesque tradition. The institute maintained independence despite attempts by both planning and architectural institutes to absorb it and set about creating systems of professional qualification and membership like other professions. In 1978, it was renamed the Landscape Institute and was granted Royal Charter in 1997.

So landscape architecture is relatively young and its relationship with the architectural profession remains uneasy. Prejudice aside, the landscape profession is often marginalized in the early stages. It is difficult to get clients to allocate decent budgets to the landscape component of projects. Landscape architects are paid less than architects and tend to be the last in and first out of any project team.

Awareness of the landscape profession is low - at parties, people still assume I am a gardener. And politically, the profession is peripheral: for example, there is no representative of the Landscape Institute on the panel of the government's new Urban Green Spaces Task Force, launched last month to look into the future of UKparks. Compare this with Lord Rogers' prominent position on the Urban Task Force.

Sandwiched between garden design and architecture, it seems that landscape architecture still struggles for recognition as a discipline in its own right. This struggle can be both tiresome and self-defeating in that it perpetuates a dichotomy between landscape and architecture.

Landscape architecture is a specialism with expertise in particular aspects of the built environment, foremost of which is knowledge about plants and trees in the human environment. It has an affinity for land and landscape - its management, origin, use, symbolic meanings and ecology. In design terms, it is concerned with the whole site - including its buildings. It is focused on both the public realm of street, square, park and playground, and the private garden or outdoor room. It is a specialist in the creation of places.

At the planning stages, a landscape architect can bring a heightened awareness of the site, its context and meaning, facilitating the development of robust design concepts. Sensibility of levels, gradients and aspect determine the relationship between building and site. The landscape architect is an expert in the design of edges and boundaries: transitions between indoors and outdoors, public and private, civic and domestic, hard and soft, wall and ground. A further relationship between landscape and architecture occurs in what is seen when you look out of the window.

These considerations and more were explored in the rich collaboration between German architect Hans Scharoun and landscape architect Hermann Mattern in the 1930s.

The making of buildings - and the spaces in between - is a rich and complex process. Few people are capable of doing all of it, so the process has been divided up into specialisms. I can't help wondering what would happen if these specialisms were to be drawn together into a single institute. This potential 'Institute of the Built Environment' could encompass architects and landscape architects - as well as planners, structural engineers, urban designers, quantity surveyors and public artists.

While there is room in the world for all these specialisms working alone, there are tremendous benefits to be had from them working in a more integrated way than they do at the moment.

Maisie Rowe is a landscape architect with Shepheard Epstein Hunter in London, tel 020 7841 7500

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