#WLAM2019 | The future of landscape architecture

By: Stephanie Donovan
10 April 2019

Landscape architecture connects people to nature in creative and powerful ways. At CTA, we pursue simple yet thought-provoking and diverse ways to make those connections that will persist into the future.

In my work, I collaborate with fellow landscape architects who go beyond traditional methods of design and construction. To create meaningful designs, we study and incorporate natural processes and context so people can relate to and feel invigorated by their surroundings.

The future of landscape architecture is the nature-driven design of space, technologically enhanced experiences of the outdoors, and timeless environments that people crave for well-being. We use these principles in our projects and find they are more successful all around — they make our clients happy and they appeal to our souls.

To celebrate the impact and progression of the discipline, for World Landscape Architecture Month, I wanted to show how we are pushing the boundaries in landscape architecture.

Landscape development today

Landscape development is slowly shifting away from partially accommodating to fully embracing local ecosystems. Through municipal code updates, client education, advances in research and technology, and grassroots movements, the typical landscape architect is getting better at integrating local systems into their designs. Choices on material sourcing, installation practices, and long-term maintenance have huge impacts on habitat, hydrology, soil quality, plant choice and health, and other local conditions.

At CTA, we study existing landscapes in depth so development better co-exists with the environment. An example of site development that responds carefully to context is the visitor experience at Willapa National Wildlife Refuge in Washington. The development treads lightly, working with the diverse ecosystems in the refuge, while helping to tell the unique story of the refuge as gatekeeper of the regional water system.

Through a series of permeable pavement systems, rain gardens, and terraced landscapes, the design provides 100% capture, storage, and release of stormwater back into the natural water aquifer system. The team used restoration techniques to re-establish the forest understory and canopy, selecting plant materials that will grow quickly, continue to enhance water quality, and eventually create additional rain forest, which is prevalent along the coast. Trail head locations and informational kiosks draw visitors into the forest and onto the bluff overlooking the Pacific, and well-defined and well-built trails help reduce damage to the surrounding ecosystems.

Incorporating sustainable practices, the design of the visitor experience at the refuge uses nature as a model, will be resilient over time, and utilizes materials that can be deconstructed or recycled. Nature is our best inspiration for sustainable design.


The design for the visitor experience at the Willapa National Wildlife Refuge in Washington ensures the site development co-exists with the surrounding environment.

Leveraging biophilia in design

Biophilic design seeks to inspire a connection with the natural world in the built environment. When it’s used in landscape architecture, it removes the traditional boundaries of only outdoor design, bringing nature inside.

In this context, a landscape doesn’t stop at the edge of a building — the architecture, people, and surrounding environment are all part of the design considerations. Just like in nature, there are overlapping systems and processes that influence one another.

We know that our health and well-being are improved by exposure to and interaction with the natural world. Thus, a focus on biophilia in landscape architecture can support physical and mental health by including multi-sensory experiences in the landscape, fostering an emotional attachment to nature, and crafting spaces that facilitate a sense of community and a sense of place. These are all results we aspire to in the development of our workplace design projects.

At CTA, we design workplaces that incorporate biophilic concepts in both indoor and outdoor spaces. Nearby landscapes inspire the types of plants chosen and are then carried through from the outside spaces to the building interiors. For example, at the CTA office in Billings, Montana, indoor plantings and containers were engineered into the staircase to create a “green wall.” This adds a comforting element, softens the adjacent conference room, and provides relief from daily foot traffic. Employees working in these unique spaces know first-hand how nature can be adapted to enhance their work environments.


The CTA office in Billings, Montana, features indoor plantings and containers engineered into the staircase to create a “green wall.”


Miniature gardens nestled in walls, plant life throughout the space, wood accents, and biomimicry were all used in the design of Google’s Austin office

Enhancing our experience of the outdoors

In landscape architecture, we’re seeing design advancements through technology, which further our ability to imagine and create new ways to experience nature. An example is our recent collaboration with Kampgrounds of America for their Campground of the Future project. We were hired to design and illustrate what the future of camping could look like, and the end result was five different campground landscapes presented in virtual reality.

Bringing together our creative design team with an inventive client, we came up with fantastical ideas, all based on things that could well be possible in the near future. Again, looking at how technology will shape our experiences, we incorporated ways to fully capitalize on solar power, drone delivery at campsites, less invasive ways to transport people into more secluded areas, urban campgrounds, and campsites over (and under) the water.

These engineered structures and electronics will help make nature more accessible to different demographics and respond to a shift in our culture for unique and exciting ways to get outdoors.


For KOA’s Campground of the Future project, we incorporated ways to capitalize on solar power, drone delivery at campsites, less invasive ways to transport people into more secluded areas, urban campgrounds, and campsites over (and under) the water.


Virtual reality lends an immersive perspective to imagining what the future of camping could look like. 

How nature can influence wellness

Countless studies demonstrate how spending time in nature or having a view to the outdoors is crucial to maintaining good health and to healing. To meet emotional needs, landscape design is opening up opportunities for contemplation and rest through thoughtful place-making, incorporating features of familiar landscapes.

For our client Bozeman Health, we designed a new entry area and contemplation garden for their new ICU addition. The team emphasized a holistic aesthetic, which you experience from several vantage points on the site. To incorporate the feeling of the surrounding foothills and mountains, the team recreated three environments in the facility’s landscape, weaving them together to create a cohesive and compelling space.

A native wildflower meadow was designed into the drop-off area, and a mountain ravine inspired an intimate contemplation garden outside the chapel. The use of authentic forms and patterns found in nearby landscapes is demonstrated through the plant species, land forms, and boulder placement. In the contemplation garden, rainwater and snow melt from the roof will cascade down a stepped wall into a narrow stream, symbolizing hope and rejuvenation. These real landscape types inspire healing for the physical body, the mind, and spirit.

A native wildflower meadow was designed into the drop-off area at Bozeman Health’s new ICU facility. 

Biophilic design that incorporates aspects from local, natural environments to facilitate holistic healing are the future of landscape architecture. 

In its mission to pioneer environments, CTA goes above and beyond “standard of care” by incorporating progressive concepts and technology. Company wide, our landscape architects utilize a set of sustainability principles in projects that set the bar higher than what is commonly practiced. We also aspire to benchmarks such as LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) and SSI (Sustainable Sites Initiative), which are constantly evolving to accommodate new information about natural systems. In my career, it has been great to see landscape design and construction shift as these benchmarks continue to gain traction and importance.

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