T here is a movement afoot called landscape urbanism, and it is quietly pulling the rug out from under the traditional design hierarchy. Proponents of the notion argue that principles of ecological landscape design, rather than architecture or urban planning, are more capable of organizing and enhancing the city.
“Landscape is usurping architecture’s historical role as the basic building block of city- making,” says Charles Waldheim, chairman of landscape architecture at the Harvard Graduate School of Design and the coiner of “landscape urbanism.” As a result, cities are starting to hire landscape architects to lead the multidisciplinary team that shapes urban form, he adds.
Examples of landscape urbanism already are happening in Toronto at Downsview Park and in New York City at the High-Line elevated promenade, which opened last month. But it can also be applied in newer sprawling cities, such as Los Angeles, Atlanta and Houston, and on suburban fringes.
Graduate programs in sustainable urban landscape architecture have been springing up in cities in response to the profession’s renaissance. Historically, such schools tended to be outside urban areas, says Fritz Steiner,dean of the school of architecture at the University of Texas, Austin.
Four of the newest graduate programs are at City College of New York; Virginia Tech in Washington, D.C.; Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago; and at UT, a program started by Steiner.
More landscape architecture schools are needed because there is a shortage of talent. “I can’t produce enough landscape architects to replace those retiring,” says Waldheim.