Theoretically the distinction between landscape architecture and architecture may be fairly clear. With that said, for someone that has a passion for impacting our environment through design, making the decision to go into one field or the other can be challenging.

Mike Chu, a Landscape Architect now working as an Intern Architect in Calgary offers one perspective on the matter.

Mike, you were a classmate of mine in the Master of Architecture program at the University of Calgary… Would you mind filling us in on your background prior to that?

My first degree from the University of Manitoba is in Environmental Design (2001) where in your final third year you can choose a specialization in either Architecture, Landscape Architecture, City Planning and Interior Design. Everyone goes through the first two years of the program in the same manner and is exposed to the architecture stream much more than any other stream especially LA and CP.

What made you decide to switch from landscape architecture to architecture? 

I remember a speaker series in my second year where I found a portion of the presenters were both landscape architects and architects. It seemed that their projects were much more robust in development than the architectural presenters which lead me to question why this was. Was it a multi-disciplined understanding of a project? Did landscape architecture pose questions and challenges that architecture doesn’t ask or face?

Prior to starting my final year at the U of M, I was working with an architect during the summer and had every intention on continuing my career in architecture. However, I chose landscape architecture in my final year in order to broaden my horizons and expose myself to another way of thinking about the built/human made environment.

So the question was really “Why did I switch back to architecture after my exposure to landscape architecture?” Opportunities is the one word that sums it up. As architects, we are  poised to control the entire project. That’s how we are trained and geared. We think holistically of the project which differs greatly from engineering (which I have had exposure to as engineers as prime roles – all negative). So to train with an additional discipline so closely related to our own I thought would only benefit me. If I could go back and do engineering as well, I would, but more education isn’t always the route to go.

What are some similarities of the two?  Differences? 

As my undergraduate studio adviser noted, “I’ve noticed a certain trend that architects want to do landscape architecture and you landscape architecture students want to do architecture. I think this is an interesting evolution in the two fields coming together finally.”

Both have roots of course in design but I think they both strive to enhance the environment experientially through intervention. Both require artistic expression keeping in mind the science behind all of it; form and function.

The major difference between the two is scale. What I like about landscape as a discipline is the scope can vary from a pocket park to a full river development. Rarely do you get that large of an opportunity in architecture.


Now that you have made the switch, are you happy with your decision?

I always knew that I would eventually be in architecture. The beauty of the landscape background is I can step into that role in our office without requiring an outside consultant.


How did the academic experience for both compare to each other? 

12 years between degrees results in extremely different  experiences in many aspects.

My undergrad, I entered into straight out of high school. My maturity in education was low and I didn’t really know how I learned until later my third year of university. So I struggled through the first two and a half years of my education. Knowing that, my experience in grad school was much better but having been out of academia for that long it took me a while to get my head back into that environment.

Undergrad I would say I learned a lot and most was useful; grad school, I was there to get the piece of paper I needed to move on in my career and with the experience I had going into it, most of the education was redundant.


Do you find one is more science-focused and/or art-focused than the other? 

U of M was well rounded. It forced expression of the concept and idea but not forfeiting the practicality of it. Although neither course touched on budgets, the practicality was more driven by the laws surrounding us whether political, natural, physical, etc. U of C was less grounded in the practical which I relate to the science. Although, if we want to discuss science in terms of mathematically driven algorithm, then that is entirely a U of C thing largely in part of the 12 year difference in the program. U of M was much more thought driven where U of C I found was “let the computer think for you”.

When hiring, we have seen some issues with this current trend. Although it is learned through the internship, the logic of thinking through problems because of the introduction of the computer has been lacking in many applicants.




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