Unearthing the Differences: Landscape Designer vs. Landscape Architect Explained


Unearthing the Differences: Landscape Designer vs. Landscape Architect Explained

If you’re planning to design a beautiful and functional outdoor oasis in 2024, engage a landscape designer or a landscape architect to move your project from concept to reality. As you explore the nuances of landscape designers vs. landscape architects, DabneyCollins offers essential guidance. With a combined four decades of expertise, DabneyCollins is recognized as an industry leader in landscape design-build and landscape architecture, combining disciplines to spearhead some of the finest luxury outdoor spaces in the Southeast. We’ll help you navigate the important differences between the two professions so you understand their roles, responsibilities, and benefits and can choose the best partner for your design project, be it a landscape architect or a landscape designer.

Outdoor Hearth overlooking a contemporary luxury garden
Contemporary Garden with rolling greens and well lite house at dusk
Swimming Pool and Garden Backdrop with landscape lighting
Wide angle of contemporary garden with rolling greens

Key Takeaways

  • Landscape designers and architects have distinct roles in the design of outdoor spaces, especially in the areas of education, apprenticeship, licensing requirements, types of projects, professional life, and pay scale. 
  • Landscape designers focus on residential projects and aesthetics while landscape architects handle larger-scale commercial projects and sustainability. Understanding your project scope will help you determine who is best suited to the job.
  • Landscape design-build companies, like DabneyCollins, combine expertise from both professions to offer comprehensive solutions that are aesthetically pleasing, functional, and sustainable while streamlining design and construction processes.

Understanding Landscape Architects and Designers

Education and Apprenticeship

Traditionally, the differences between a landscape architect and a landscape designer boil down to six categories: education, apprenticeship, licensing requirements, types of projects, professional life, and pay scale. Landscape architects require a bachelor of science or bachelor of arts degree in landscape architecture from an LAAB-accredited institution, with three years of supervision under a licensed landscape architect following graduation. On the other hand, there is no singular nationwide education standard or apprenticeship mandate for landscape designers. Many landscape designers opt for an associate’s degree in landscape design, a bachelor’s degree in landscape architecture or a degree in a related field like horticulture, with on-the-job experience working for professional landscapers. 

Beautifully manicured lawn, trees, and landscape pool design

Licensing Requirements

Pursuant to receiving higher education and apprenticeship, only landscape architects are required to gain licensure by taking the Landscape Architect Registration Exam (LARE). There is no legal licensure for landscape designers, though many obtain a professional certification in landscape design from the APLD or NALP. That said, 15 states have landscape licensing requirements, which compel landscape designers in those states to obtain a state license for landscaping contractors and related landscaping services. 

Types of Projects

Landscape architecture is a regulated profession, and as a result of education, apprenticeship, and professional licensing, landscape architects are equipped to work on large-scale commercial projects like public parks and gardens, neighborhood and waterfront developments, university campuses, and institutional facilities, to name a few. Conversely, landscape designers focus primarily on smaller-scale residential projects, including condos, private properties, office buildings, and even churches. Though landscape designers do not have an apprenticeship mandate, most acquire mastery through hands-on experience with residential garden design, landscape installation, and property maintenance while working under an already established designer.

Hedges and greenery outlining the contemporary home and pool

Expertise and Professional Life

A few major differences between architects and landscape designers are the expertise and day-to-day focus each has. Landscape architects spend considerable time designing commercial projects, but inherent in their design is a specialization in planning, restoration, and environmental conservation. For example, landscape architects are trained in soil gradation and slope and have the architectural expertise to overcome environmental obstructions. Throughout the design process, a licensed landscape architect ensures the landscape design-build complies with local drainage laws while intentionally reducing or recycling rainwater runoff and mitigating floods. This focus is essential for the safe design of public parks, corporate campuses, healthcare facilities, transportation infrastructure, educational institutions, waterfront and neighborhood developments, as well as plant and structural features.

Landscape designers also spend significant time designing residential projects, but primarily focus on creating aesthetically pleasing garden designs, outdoor living spaces, and complementing landscape features like pool landscape designs, landscape lighting designs, and furniture, plant, and water features.

Many projects require collaboration across disciplines that incorporate principles of landscape design and architecture both for residential and commercial projects. Landscape design firms are well versed in working with blueprints, and landscape architects frequently rely on landscape designers to imagine, install, and fulfill garden maintenance. Ideally, landscape architects and designers will work together, along with surveyors, engineers, and horticulturalists, to play essential roles in transforming ordinary outdoor environments into visually stunning and functional gardenscapes. If you’re wondering where to start, begin the conversation with a landscape designer.