Unearthing the Differences: Landscape Designer vs. Landscape Architect Explained


Unearthing the Differences: Landscape Designer vs Landscape Architect Explained

Traditionally, the differences between a landscape architect and a landscape designer boil down to education and a primary focus on commercial projects vs. residential projects. That said there are six distinctions that set them apart: 

  • education
  • apprenticeship
  • licensing requirements
  • types of projects
  • professional life, and
  • pay scale

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 designer vs landscape architect, 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

  • Designers and architects have distinct backgrounds in the design of outdoor spaces, especially in the areas of education, apprenticeship, licensing requirements, types of projects, professional life, and pay scale. 
  • Landscape designer’s work focuses 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

To become a landscape architect you need 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 a landscape designer. Many landscapers learn design on-the-job, 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.

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 typically 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 understand local topography and spend considerable time designing commercial projects around natural contours and features of the land to create a design that is both functional and beautiful. 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.

Professional landscape designer’s work primarily focuses on residential properties with the goal to create beautiful backyard spaces. Plant and structural design integrates dynamic landscape features like pool landscape designs, landscape lighting designs, furniture, and water features.

When to Hire a Landscape Architect vs Landscape Designer

If you’re wondering where to start, begin the conversation with a multidisciplinary landscape design firm that has a landscape architect on staff. Commercial landscape design projects require a landscape architect, while many residential landscape design projects do not. That said,  collaboration across disciplines will incorporate principles of design and architecture, both for residential and commercial projects. Landscape design firms are well versed in working with blueprints, and a landscape architect’s work frequently relies on landscape designers to imagine, install, and fulfill garden maintenance. So ideally, landscape architects and designers will work together as a team, along with surveyors, engineers, and horticulturalists, to play essential roles in transforming ordinary outdoor environments into visually stunning and functional gardenscapes.