When architects design buildings, they seek to create structures that not only fulfill their intended functions but also please the senses of the occupants. The same principles are applied by a landscape architect, who creates functional, decorative spaces outdoors. Residential landscape architecture is the branch of design that focuses on the natural areas surrounding homes.
Residential landscape architecture involves more than just planting a tree and a few shrubs around the foundation. A competent landscape architect will study the home's site, whether it is a small city plot or an acre in the country, to determine shady and sunny areas, prevailing wind directions, the type of soil on the site and any problems, such as unsightly views or excess noise levels, for which compensation may be needed. As part of the site planning, the architect will determine the best potential focal points for the property.
Once the initial site survey is complete, the architect can design a plan that includes the types of trees, flowers or shrubbery that would best complement the house. Recreational areas, such as a backyard pool or barbecue, will be integrated if the builder or homeowner so desires. Residential landscape architecture may also incorporate terraces, decks, playgrounds or lighting.
Based on all factors, from the slope of the site to the specific features desired, the architect will select the best varieties of trees and plants for the location. Obtaining a degree and license in residential landscape architecture requires courses in geology and botany, among others, so the architect will know which plants will thrive, given the soil, drainage and local weather, and which ones will experience stunted growth or premature death. Landscape architecture, therefore, involves blending art and science to create a desired effect.
Because residential landscape architecture is, in essence, the promotion of a beautiful, natural environment, many landscape architects pay particular attention to conserving resources. Pools, waterfalls and ponds are often designed to recirculate water. Solar heating blankets may be recommended for the pool; outdoor lights may be solar-powered or placed on a timer so they turn off automatically at sunrise.
Most landscape architects have completed a four-year degree and obtained an undergraduate degree in landscape architecture or a related field. Some students choose to get post-graduate degree in the field. In order to practice residential landscape architecture, virtually all states require licensing or severely restrict who may advertise their services as a landscape architect.