Kōrero: Landscape architecture

Whārangi 3. Modern landscape architecture, 1960s to 2000s

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The creation of a specific qualification was a key moment in the professionalisation of landscape architecture. The first landscape architecture course was a two-year postgraduate diploma taught at Lincoln College (later Lincoln University) by Charlie Challenger in 1969.

Landscape architecture was part of the horticulture programme at Lincoln until 1991, when a stand-alone department was created. In the 2000s four-year landscape architecture degrees were also offered at Unitec (Auckland) and Victoria University of Wellington.


The first New Zealand-qualified landscape architects were ready for work by 1971. Postgraduate courses were accredited by the Australian Institute of Landscape Architects and some New Zealand practitioners became members of that institute. Charlie Challenger was determined that landscape architecture in New Zealand should be recognised as a profession, with an equivalent status to engineers and architects. By 1972 there were enough graduates for a local organisation, and the New Zealand Institute of Landscape Architects (NZILA) was formed the following year. It was separate from the existing New Zealand Association of Landscape Designers, whose members were mainly garden designers and landscape construction contractors.

Architect or designer?

Landscape architects and landscape designers are differentiated by their qualifications and the scope of their work. Landscape architects must have a degree in landscape architecture, and they primarily work on large-scale projects, though some also do smaller residential commissions. Landscape designers must complete a two-year diploma or one-year course in landscape design, and they typically work on residential and small commercial projects.

NZILA accredits the landscape architecture degrees at Lincoln, Victoria and Unitec, which means these qualifications are recognised nationally and internationally. Graduates can register with the NZILA after they have built up a sufficient body of professional work and pass the registration exam. In 2013 NZILA had 570 members.


In the 1970s and 1980s most landscape architects worked in the public sector, for local and central government departments such as the Ministry of Works and Development, the Department of Lands and Survey and the Forest Service, providing landscape assessment and design services. They contributed to the ‘Think Big’ industrial projects of these decades.

In the 1990s private landscape architecture practices became more prevalent. In the 1980s and 1990s free-market-orientated governments deregulated city planning and disestablished government agencies such as the Ministry of Works, which left landscape architects who had been working in the public service without jobs. Many set up their own practices.

Landscape architects continued to work in local government, but many civic projects are designed by private practitioners who also undertake commercial and domestic commissions. In the 2000s many specialised in urban design and public spaces.

Major civic projects

The creation of Aotea Square, in Auckland’s central business district, was a major civic project that required the expertise of landscape architects. It was completed in 1979 and gave the city its first large public square. Aotea Square was redeveloped between 2008 and 2011 to landscape architect Ted Smyth’s design. Manukau’s Northcrest Plaza was revitalised in 2009 with community gatherings in mind.

Wellington also lacked a large public square and this was remedied in 1992, when Civic Square (designed by architect Ian Athfield) was completed. Another major civic landscape architecture project in Wellington was the creation of Midland Park on Lambton Quay, which was built in 1983.

In the 1990s city waterfronts were transformed from private, commercial spaces to sites of public leisure and recreation. Landscape architects played important roles in the revitalisation of central-city waterfronts in Auckland, Wellington, Tauranga, Napier and Nelson.

Landscape architecture firm Boffa Miskell led the design process for the Christchurch central-city rebuild after the 2011 earthquake.

Environmental concerns

Environmental concerns have been at the core of landscape architecture since the discipline was professionalised in the 1970s. Under the auspices of government agencies including the Ministry of Works, Department of Lands and Survey and New Zealand Forest Service, landscape architects undertook large landscape assessment studies in the late 1970s and 1980s.

Landscape architects successfully lobbied for the inclusion of the word ‘landscape’ in the Resource Management Act 1991. Under that act local councils have to give consideration to the effect of development on landscapes, and landscape architects have been commissioned to produce landscape studies.

Environmental sustainability underlies many modern civic landscape architecture projects. Water conservation and regionally specific vegetation were important components of Wellington’s Waitangi Park, which was completed in 2006. Native plants predominate in modern projects, which also typically include sculptures and architecturally designed street furniture.

Acknowledgements to Shona McCahon

Me pēnei te tohu i te whārangi:

Kerryn Pollock, 'Landscape architecture - Modern landscape architecture, 1960s to 2000s', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/mi/landscape-architecture/page-3 (accessed 1 December 2022)

He kōrero nā Kerryn Pollock, i tāngia i te 22 Oct 2014, updated 26 Mar 2015