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A prospective client recently asked us when to use a Landscape Architect vs. a Landscape Designer and what is the difference.

A generalised & quick answer to this question would be – scale; Landscape Designers tend to deal with site specific and predominantly residential projects whereas Landscape Architects deal with a broad variety of projects that range from residential to urban and regional in scale.

We could elaborate on the above answer to mention the immense differences in our professional training – but for the purpose of this article let’s accept the limited answer of scale as the main point of difference between professions. If so – this then provokes another question of what is the difference in professions and services provided when working at the same residential scale? ­Specifically:

When to use a Landscape Architect vs. a Landscape Designer in a small-scale residential setting?

To answer this question the Sym team went to a long lunch at Bayview Marina (intrinsic to the thinking process we assure you) and hashed out our apposing & shared opinions on the topic. We also contacted a number of professional colleagues for their input on the topic.

It should be prefaced that we are a team of Landscape Architect’s who drew from our understanding of Landscape Design the best we can – there are always exceptions to the rule and in the interest of providing a definitive answer we have used generalisations. We encourage future discussion and the development of our initial findings.

Our answers for determining the selection process fell into the following categories – Site Context & Planning, Horticulture and Ecology, Design & Management & Price.

Site Context & Planning:

In general our degree training means that Landscape Architects are better equipped to understand the site within its wider context. We are trained to look beyond the extents of the property boundary; to consider issues of locality (social, cultural, environmental & geographic), strategic planning and legislation & the interface with surrounding properties (visual & physical grading).

An architect & sym.studio colleague believed the main difference lay in approach, that “Landscape Architect’s look at the opportunities and possibilities to think outside the boundaries”.

Horticulture & Ecology:

In general the degree training means that Landscape Designers are better equipped in horticultural knowledge and design.

A certificate IV in Horticulture is a prerequisite to study Landscape Design. Horticultural studies of a Landscape designer provide a thorough understanding of plants, agriculture, soil, pests & diseases, maintenance, weed control, irrigation & turf.

The majority of horticultural knowledge of a Landscape Architect is gained through years of experience rather than tertiary education. Landscape Architects do however; have a thorough understanding of larger ecological and vegetation communities – but lack the detail horticultural knowledge by comparison.

Design & Management:

Landscape Architects have an extensive education in both the history of the landscape design traditions as well as contemporary design theory. Landscape Architect’s also study architectural theory and building styles to design landscape that are architecturally responsive. Furthermore, registered Landscape Architects are required to achieve a level of CPD (Continued Processional Development) points each year to maintain registration thus ensuring that we are up to date with our design knowledge and skills.

The diploma of Landscape Design has more of a practical focus without the extensive theoretical background offered in Landscape Architecture. Landscape Designers gain majority of their design theory through experience and self-study rather than through formal education.

The relevancy of this theoretical knowledge to a residential project would depend on the client expectations, architectural design, scale and landscape significance.

Landscape Architects are well equipped to design and coordinate large structures including shade structures, pavilions, decking, pools and retaining walls. A Bachelor of Landscape Architecture includes technical subjects and electives and/or interdisciplinary subjects within the Built Environment that develop skills in structural design.

A lot of landscape design companies offer both design and construct. This combined company can be beneficial for a client who is looking for a quick turnaround. Design and build practices can thoroughly consider the practical construction methods as well as respond better to changes on site and last minute decision-making.

Landscape Architects are often involved in the management of landscape construction, which is usually carried out, by an external landscape contractor rather than a subset of the same company. As a result of working on large-scale projects Landscape Architects constantly interact with a variety of consultants and often play a leadership role within the project consultancy team. We can offer project management as we have a broad understanding of the roles and responsibilities of other disciples to ensure an integrated and well-considered design outcome.


The truthful and first answer of an architectural colleague on the difference between a Landscape Architect and Landscape Designer was “Price”.

In general the price of a Landscape Architect hourly rate is higher. This is a reflection of the higher degree of professional training, variety and standard of services provided and level of insurance they must hold. For a small-scale residential project this increase in up-front cost for a client is harder to justify.

Who’s most suitable for your project?

In general there seems to be a many areas of overlap. Both professionals are qualified to address issues of drainage, grading, materials, planting & material choice and in the end the decision will come down to the wants of the client.

For residential landscapes that require complex grading, project management, working with a team of consultants, significant planning controls, has a high flora & fauna impact, high visual impact or requires significant architectural/structural design we would suggest the use of a Landscape Architect.

For residential landscapes that require predominantly ‘soft’ (planting) design, design & construct capabilities, a very quick turnaround or is working to a particularly low complexity we would suggest the use of a Landscape Designer due to their extensive horticultural background and specified skill set.

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