Climate change brings with it more frequent heat waves, droughts and other extreme weather events. Over the past decade or two, this has convinced a large part of society to change the way people think about and treat their environment. This also applies to the way human settlements are developed, adapted, designed and built. Hence the growing importance of landscape architects, who have the right knowledge and a major role to play. The demand for their services continues to grow as society matures and becomes wealthier. We approached four architects individually, asking them what they think about the relationship between landscape architects and the public, and whether they feel they are used enough. We also spoke about public authorities, urban planning, public competitions and the current covid situation.
What, in your opinion, does the public think about the need for landscape architects? Do you agree that the profession is on the rise? If so, what are the reasons?
Štěpánka Šmídová: I agree, and it is a combination of several factors. There has been a surge of interest in environmental topics and architecture in general. You can see this in the number of ongoing architecture competitions and the amount of interest in architecture-related events and in the activities of institutions such as the Prague Institute of Planning and Development.
Jitka Ressová: Society is evolving. There was a time when people made their business cards and flyers themselves. But then they realised that having the job done by a graphic designer made a huge difference. And the same applies to the work of architects and landscape architects. You can design your garden yourself, or you can decide to go for a higher quality level. But this evolution takes place in steps. The first professionals people go to are architects, because they want their homes not only to be practical, but also to look better. The interior is the next step, and the outdoor space comes last. It is good when people set aside some money for the landscaping, too. The building process is not finished if there is mud around the house. A home is about communication between the interior and the exterior, and this has to be taken into account already in the design stage. The same applies to public space, and we also see a growing number of revitalisation projects in that area. This is why landscape architects are employed more often, and they already step in at the beginning of the process.
Pavel Hnilička: Yes, the landscape is now taking up a significant amount of space in public debate. And no wonder. We have damaged it enormously through our unsustainable actions, and the threat of climate change is showing to us that the damage may be irreversible. There have been many civilisations in history that have caused their own fall. After the boom of the industrial revolution, people are, hopefully, giving up the idea of being “masters of the planet”. They are starting to realise that landscape is everywhere. It is not only the open farmland and the forests modified by humans. It is also the landscape “under the houses”, in cities. There is so little landscape untouched by humans that we no longer see it. I feel deep respect for the profession of landscape architect. To me, a landscape architect is not just someone who comes after a building is designed, and makes its surroundings “greener”. It is a profession that helps in shaping the landscape, and so landscape architects must be involved right from the start. Personally, however, I do not think there is a clear dividing line between architecture and landscape architecture. Landscape architects necessarily work with buildings and their parts, not just plants.
Michal Sedláček: The role of the landscape architect was important and traditional already in the past century. Landscape architects shaped both private and public spaces. This is evidenced by the number of famous names, such as Thomayer, Kumpán, Vaněk, Wágner, Otruba, Finger and Šonský. The current trend can be linked to more extensive media coverage and an increased interest in architecture and urbanism in general. The idea that landscape architecture is a luxury for the rich is being abandoned.
Are there more public design competitions suitable for landscape architects? And are landscape architects represented in juries?
Pavel Hnilička: The number of competitions in general has increased, thanks to the activity of the Czech Chamber of Architects, and this includes landscape competitions, which is good.
Štěpánka Šmídová: Not only the number of competitions is going up every year, but also their quality – preparation of the brief, communication with the public, and public participation. I think that the representation of landscape architects in juries is proportionate to our small numbers. I myself am currently on the juries of six competitions. For us, the composition of the jury is a very important factor when we consider participating in a competition. But I don’t think that the main problem is whether someone is a landscape architect or other kind of architect.
Jitka Ressová: We often work very closely with a landscape architect when we prepare competition proposals. It seems to me that the presence of landscape architects on the juries of public space competitions is a matter of course; at least I often meet them there.
Michal Sedláček: Parks and, more generally, public spaces, have become an attractive theme not only for landscape architects, but also for architecture studios, which previously did not focus on public space at all. It is a competitive environment, and the composition of competition juries reflects this fact. However, our office wants to make sure that the composition of juries is well balanced. In Brno, when we launch a competition for a park or a landscaped public space, there is a majority of landscape architects on the jury. As a rule, landscape architects are represented on the jury of every competition we organise, because we see their role in the team as irreplaceable.
The economic situation is worsening due to the covid pandemic and the war in Ukraine. Is it affecting the number of commissioned landscape projects, or will there be an impact in the future?
Štěpánka Šmídová: We do feel the impact of covid and the war, but more because of the situation in the labour market – there is a lack of skilled people. I do not dare to estimate if there will be other effects in the long term.
Michal Sedláček: I wouldn’t worry about that. The current trend of promoting climate change adaptation and the emphasis on blue-green infrastructure are so pronounced that I can’t think of a situation where the role of landscape architecture would be marginalised for the benefit of, for example, technical or transport infrastructure. If there is a slowdown, it will affect all professions.
More and more cities and municipalities are employing municipal architects and setting up planning institutes. How suitable are landscape architects for this job and how often do they actually do it?
Štěpánka Šmídová: The presence of landscape architects in these institutions is clearly desirable. We look at the large scale, and so we are able to grasp processes such as the functioning of the landscape, including urban landscape, natural processes and the like. There are landscape architects in planning institutes of Prague, Brno and Ostrava, for example, but not enough for the number and range of topics these institutes tackle. Unfortunately, there is a great shortage of landscape architects. That is why the positions are often filled by colleagues from related fields.
Michal Sedláček: Landscape architects are important members of such teams. Their expertise and the interdisciplinary character of their work are irreplaceable in urban planning. From the spatial planning scale down to the details of a public space. Brno’s Office of the City Architect has one authorised landscape architect and one landscape architecture graduate in its team. The Prague Institute of Planning and Development has an entire department focusing on the landscape and green infrastructure. I don’t know of a similar institution looking for a landscape architect and not being able to find one. But there are not enough good and authorised landscape architects in the labour market. To some extent, this is due to the limited capacity of landscape architecture schools and the common, sometimes even romantic, misconceptions that people have about the profession.
In what other fields, public institutions or functions could landscape architects have a place, and where are they lacking? What about infrastructure projects and water structures? Or projects involving water and greenery in the landscape?
Štěpánka Šmídová: There is a place for them in all the fields you have mentioned. A landscape architect should have enough insight and expertise to lead multidisciplinary teams and make sure their approach is not one-sided. This also applies to projects seemingly unrelated to landscape architecture, such as the construction of dams or linear transport infrastructure.
Michal Sedláček: The role of the landscape architect is broad and difficult to replace. Landscape architects have a place in practically all types of projects, including large infrastructure projects that primarily deal with, for example, transport or flood prevention measures.
How would you compare the situation in the Czech Republic with other countries?
Štěpánka Šmídová: The profession is much better established in Western Europe. We still have a long way to go.
Michal Sedláček: The Czech Republic has recently come closer to the European level. This is evidenced by the fact that foreign landscape studios are interested in competitions here. But the position of landscape architects is not really established yet and it still needs working on. A lot still needs to be done to stabilise the profession and promote it.
Text: Filip Grygera for ARCHITECT+ magazine 34