Ecology and Education in Landscape Architecture

  • James Miller
  • Rebekkah Nelson
  • Mimi Wagner


Landscape architects engage in a wide range of projects relating to environmental quality. Indeed, the goals of preserving biodiversity and maintaining the integrity of ecological function is implicit in the charters of several of the discipline's professional organisations. Nonetheless, there is widespread opinion that much of the potential of design to contribute to environmental solutions goes unrealised. There are numerous explanations that purport to account for this situation; in this paper, we focus on one, the assertion that degree programmes in landscape architecture generally do a poor job of preparing students for practice grounded in ecological awareness. We examined the validity of this assertion by quantifying the amount and form of ecology-based coursework required of landscape architecture students. We surveyed the curricula of all 63 accredited, first-professional degree programmes in North America (28 offering a BLA, 17 offering an MLA and 18 offering both). We focused on required courses that could be categorised as emphasising information-based ecology, ecology/design integration, or plant identification and ecology. We recorded the level (introductory or advanced) and number of credit hours for each course, and the total number of credits required for graduation in each programme. Thirty-seven undergraduate programmes required an introductory information-based ecology course. Only 13 required an advanced class in ecology and, of these, only three required coursework in landscape ecology. All of the undergraduate programmes except one required a plant class. Ten of the graduate programmes required an information-based class, an advanced, except one. Six required a course in landscape ecology. Eight required at least one ecology-design integration course, yet had no requirements regarding information-based courses. Thirty graduate programmes required at least one plant course. We discuss the implications of these results and make recommendations for increased integration of ecology in landscape architecture programmes.
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