If Ground Zero were up for grabs today would Michael Van Valkenburgh be a more likely candidate for master planner than Daniel Libeskind? Itâ€™s plausible. The recent surge in prestigious commissions going to and being completed by landscape architects has fuelled a fiery discourse over the ether as well as in academic circles as to what this means for the way cities will be made in the future. Traditionally, the architect was the master builder with landscape designers as mere ancillaries. Today that relationship is fast being reversed.
â€œTraditional roles have flipped,â€ said architect Stephen Cassell of ARO, who believes landscape architects should have equal footing on design projects because of their specialized training. â€œA lot of these landscape architecture firms have started to think about green spaces in a synthetic way. How landscape architects analyze a problem is very specific; it is about looking at experience within the city.â€
Indeed, commissions that might have been won by architect-led teams just a few years ago are now going to landscape firms. And large-scale urban design competitions are going to landscape-led teams who demonstrate the capacity to design creatively with existing ecologies, such as the redevelopment of Seattle’s waterfront by Field Operations, or urban regeneration initiatives like Gateway Arch in St. Louis, which aims to reinvigorate Eero Saarinen’s iconic landmark through improved public areas by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates (MVVA).