In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning

  • Introduction
  • General Overview Texts
  • Reference Works
  • Case Studies

Environmental Science Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning
Kristina Hill
  • LAST REVIEWED: 04 June 2020
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 August 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199363445-0099


The design and planning of landscapes is an ancient human activity. The Epic of Gilgamesh described the first recorded urban landscape plan c. 2100 BCE. Intellectuals, builders, priests, royalty, military leaders, poets, slaves, and artists from all over the world have contributed to developing the body of professional knowledge now known as landscape architecture and environmental planning. The practice was formalized in the English-speaking world as landscape gardening in the 17th and 18th centuries. The academic discipline and profession of landscape architecture developed from landscape gardening in the 19th century, as urbanization expanded rapidly. Ideas about the arrangement of landscapes had by that time developed beyond formal geometries to include naturalistic patterns that relied on landscape processes, as well as urban infrastructure and open space systems. Landscape planning emerged as a sub-discipline during this same period of rapid metropolitan expansion, driven by the need to modernize infrastructure and natural resource planning to stabilize human health, safety, and welfare in a spatially extensive urban and industrial metropolitan landscape. Landscape architecture is a synthetic discipline, meaning that it draws on the epistemologies and methods of the arts and humanities as well as the sciences. Academics and practitioners in the field often develop hybrid methods based on practices from the fine arts, historical and political narratives, or scientific theories. They then apply these intellectual and methodological resources to analyze and influence the spatial organization and material design of social activities, land uses, infrastructure, vegetation, watersheds, urban districts, and landscapes within cities. The sub-field known as landscape planning or environmental planning emphasizes the natural, physical, and social sciences as its theoretical base, including studies of human values and decision-making. The primary methods of the discipline involve inventory, representation, or analysis of physical, biological, social, and cultural processes using images, physical models, statistics, narratives, or maps; the use of physical or digital overlay maps to identify areas where changes in land uses can produce conflicts; spatial and temporal strategies that seek to maximize the value of a landscape and its cultural or natural resources, sometimes for specific social groups such as children or people with different physical abilities; and strategies for adaptation to major changes in the social or biophysical environment, such as climate change. The profession became licensed in the United States during the 20th century, tasked with protecting human health, safety, and welfare. Landscape planners proposed parks and other open space systems as national or metropolitan infrastructure with a wide range of aesthetic, social, and environmental goals, including everything from democratic principles and social equity to water quality and biological diversity. In the early 21st century, environmental planners and landscape architects are developing biophysical, social, and aesthetic strategies to enhance human health and quality of life, as well as the health of the environment; to use the beauty of landscapes to inspire and provoke cultural responses; to reveal relationships within social and biophysical environments; to seek to eliminate historic and contemporary social inequalities; to protect important historic resources; to conserve biodiversity and protect or restore ecosystem services; to design infrastructure and urban districts; to mitigate and adapt to climate change; to enhance and protect regional food supply systems; and to design for increased resilience to environmental disasters.

General Overview Texts

The history of landscape design and environmental planning as broad areas of human activity has been described by two widely read contemporary texts. Rogers 2001 is the better illustrated of the two, and relies on more current historical research. Jellicoe and Jellicoe 1995 (originally published in 1975) is better known to an older generation of practitioners, and often influenced their views of the history of designed landscape. Both texts shift to a focus on the United States in their presentations of 20th-century landscape design and planning. In contrast, Simo 1999 and Walker and Simo 1994 present useful histories of the professional practice of landscape architecture in the United States, identifying schools of thought and changes in professional approaches in the post-WWII era, as the profession adapted to a changing economic context and incorporated new technologies. Several other texts provide a valuable overview of changing ideas that affected both landscape design and landscape planning. Hunt 1992 focuses on the cultural perception of parks and gardens, Schuyler 1986 presents the development of urban park systems as an influence on urban design, and Glacken 1967 describes the long-term history of Western ideas about the relationship between nature and culture. McHarg 1969 presents the author’s version of a widely practiced method of environmental planning using maps in successive overlays, which drew on earlier techniques. Lewis 1996 (cited under Planning and Design: Strategies, Methods, and Materials) presents an overview and history of the environmental planning process the author introduced in the 1960s for greenways and other landscape systems that link urban areas to their larger watershed and regional context, which is broadly representative of the environmental planning methods that were used in the United States before the advent of digital geographic information systems (GIS) in the 1990s. Steinitz 2012 presents the methods of environmental planning as a strategic process of influencing complex decision-making for large landscapes, updated to reflect the current use of GIS data and methods. Spirn 1984 is one of the most widely read texts on landscape architecture and planning as a form of urban design using knowledge of natural processes and spatial strategy. Hough 2004 (also first published in 1984) identifies the main spatial and ethical concepts that emerged from the author’s study of interactions between natural and social processes in cities. Spirn is more concerned with methods and strategies that influenced actual professional practice, and Hough shares more general observations with specific instances that illustrate the need for an ecological framework that can guide design and planning. A more contemporary version of their approach is evident in Yu and Padua 2006, which describes Yu’s philosophy and practice of ecological design and planning as an influential landscape architect and environmental planner in China.

  • Glacken, Clarence J. 1967. Traces on the Rhodian shore: Nature and culture in Western thought from ancient times to the end of the eighteenth century. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

    This book was one of the first to compile a sweeping range of references into a historical narrative context describing human perceptions of, and interactions with, the environment. It uses so many primary sources that it continues to be valuable, although new research and attitudes might cause readers to question some of the author’s interpretations. Suitable for any reader who appreciates a densely referenced text.

  • Hough, Michael. 2004. Cities and natural process: A basis for sustainability. 2d ed. London and New York: Routledge.

    Originally published in 1984, this book presents some important concepts that underlie the application of natural processes to planning and design, with an emphasis on waterways. It is more concerned with ethics than with history, and is suitable for undergraduates or other readers new to the topic. The book has more of an emphasis on community and environmental planning practice than on theory.

  • Hunt, John Dixon. 1992. Gardens and the picturesque: Studies in the history of landscape architecture. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

    This book deals with public parks and gardens of the 17th–19th centuries, treating them as texts to be read and interpreted using ideas from the leading thinkers of the time. Hunt applies the methods of art history to consider the contemporary meaning of the elements and spatial patterns of these landscapes. Complex, suitable for advanced undergraduate and graduate students with some previous knowledge of landscape design.

  • Jellicoe, Geoffrey, and Susan Jellicoe. 1995. The landscape of man: Shaping the environment from prehistory to the present day. New York: Thames and Hudson.

    First published in 1975, this text preceded Rogers 2001 as the introductory text in the discipline. It is well-illustrated, and it covers examples from the ancient world up to the 20th century, but will come across as slightly out of date to contemporary readers in terms of the historical research it relies upon as context.

  • McHarg, Ian. 1969. Design with nature. 1st ed. Garden City, NY: Natural History Press.

    This is a classic text in environmental planning. McHarg became famous internationally for inventing and promoting a robust method that used transparent map overlays to identify areas that should not be developed, based on the value of existing natural processes and patterns, before computer mapping tools were available. The text lays out his philosophy of planning in relation to dynamic natural processes and human health, as well as the health of the environment.

  • Rogers, Elizabeth Barlow. 2001. Landscape design: A cultural and architectural history. New York: Harry N. Abrams.

    This is the single most comprehensive, up-to-date overview of the activities of landscape design and planning, from ancient times all over the world to contemporary practice in the United States. It is very well-illustrated, and suitable as a text for undergraduates or people at any level of education who would like to know more about the antecedents and development of contemporary landscape architecture.

  • Schuyler, David. 1986. The new urban landscape: The redefinition of city form in nineteenth-century America. New Studies in American Intellectual and Cultural History. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press.

    Schuyler positions the design and planning of parks in the 19th century as an activity that transformed the concept of what a city could and should be in the United States. Carefully referenced, with detailed examples, the book is important because of the influence American park systems have had on cities elsewhere in the world. Likely to appeal to graduate students and professionals with a background in American history generally, or the history of American landscapes specifically.

  • Simo, Melanie Louise. 1999. 100 years of landscape architecture: Some patterns of a century. Washington, DC: ASLA Press.

    Written for the hundredth anniversary of the American Society of Landscape Architects, this book uses one hundred landmark American projects to articulate the history and influences of individual landscape architecture practices in the United States.

  • Spirn, Anne. 1984. The granite garden: Urban nature and human design. New York: Basic Books.

    This book was widely read in the 1980s and 1990s. It examines the recent influence of historical perceptions and ideas about cities and nature, using the technical approaches used by environmental planners to estimate flood risks and wind flows, among other dynamics. The book succeeds in making these dynamics engaging and accessible. Suitable for readers at all levels.

  • Steinitz, Carl. 2012. A framework for GeoDesign: Changing geography by design. Redlands, CA: ESRI.

    Steinitz developed a framework for theory and methods over thirty years of teaching that is uniquely useful, because it provides the basis for both designing a planning process and critiquing plans. This work could be described as the most broadly applicable framework for environmental planning in the literature of the field. First published in 1990, this book develops the framework more thoroughly and for readers from other fields. Suitable for use with graduate students, and in actual planning exercises with professionals across multiple disciplines.

  • Walker, Peter, and Melanie Louise Simo. 1994. Invisible gardens: The search for modernism in the American landscape. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

    Peter Walker is one of the most experienced practitioners in the United States, who has worked on urban sites all over the world. Writing with Melanie Simo, the two crafted a book that explores changes in American landscape architecture from the inside. Most suitable for people with some knowledge of the field, who want to consider the last sixty years of change during the Modern period affecting architecture and the arts.

  • Yu, Kongjian, and Mary Padua. 2006. The art of survival: Recovering landscape architecture. Mulgrave, Australia: Images Publishing Group.

    Kongjian Yu is one of the best-known Chinese landscape architects. He began his career as an environmental planner, with a focus on identifying ecological infrastructure (what he called “security patterns”). He later became a designer focused on the articulation of form at the site scale, but continues to be engaged with ecological processes. The book is engaging, and presents his historical and philosophical positions on the discipline, using his firm’s projects as examples.

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