At the start of every year, I predict the landscape architecture trends of the coming year and beyond, and as we all start to wind down for the year, it is an excellent time to reflect on these predictions. 2023 was a year that began with some reservations about the coming year and the possibility of a recession, which was tempered by the optimism of coming out of COVID-19 period.
COVID-19 – No pre or post-pandemic, just a new normal
Although many of us thought that COVID-19 would change cities and increase the funding for open spaces, sadly, it appears that COVID-19 has been mostly forgotten and that we have a new “normal”. Cities are grappling with large debts and the cost of servicing loans, which has impacted city and state projects. There is a realisation that COVID is not going away and has become part of everyday life, with people often absent from work or school. Although many cities are still trying to determine how to reinvigorate cities as the COVID-induced move to Work from Home continues. Many cities are looking at more events and initiatives. Still, these are low-cost, short-term solutions that continue to ignore the need to change cities to create welcoming places that people wish to revisit rather than attend a one-off event.
Climate change, Natural solutions, and shift from emissions to biodiversity
These issues are intertwined; seemingly, we have seen a shift to a greater emphasis on natural solutions (nature based solutions) and increasing biodiversity. Climate change is a significant challenge for humankind, and we need to reduce our environmental impact. However, in 2023, as a profession we have shifted from merely talking about climate change to taking action using tools such as Pathfinder, Carbon Conscious, and other tools available. I am beginning to see more project submissions, including references to the quantified carbon sequestration and the number of years for a project to become carbon-positive. This is a significant shift primarily due to the hard work of many individuals and organisations in providing tools, guidelines, and information sessions.
Carbon emission reduction is only one of the significant issues we face. We have also seen some changes in language in government policy from purely focusing on emissions to biodiversity, such as the new UK policy on biodiversity net gain. Although it was a minor shift in 2023, it was a good thing to see, and I hope it continues into 2024.
Evidence-based design and mapping
These trends occurred in 2023, but not as intensely as I thought they would happen. The use of carbon measurement tools has anecdotally increased; however, the use of analysis in the design and development of solutions seems to be less prevalent than I thought. Similarly, extensive digital mapping and the power of mapping to analyse is still only part of the design process for only a few firms. Evidence-based design occurs due to our professional need to solve problems during the design process as we look to design solutions for our problems. However, I think there needs to be more rigor in analysis of the possibilities and use of tools to provide multiple design options.
BIM and Digital Twin
In 2023, BIM has become part of how many firms design and document projects. Although many firms are still grappling with whether or not they should start their BIM journey due to the cost of software and training (formal and billable time). BIM is here to stay, and many firms will eventually have to make the shift as clients make it a requirement due to the efficiencies they see in construction and facilities management. I feel many firms will not shift to BIM, which is probably similar to the number of firms that didn’t shift from hand drafting to CAD in the early 2000’s.
Digital Twins are still in their infancy for many design firms are using them for masterplanning, and cities are seeking digital twins to use a planning tool. Similar to how many cities shifted to GIS inventories and planning, this is the new technology that cities will use to determine the possible approaches for addressing climate change and growth issues (traffic, open space, education facilities, etc).
The use of artificial intelligence saw a big increase during the early part of the year when the buzz around ChatGPT was at its highest. Landscape architects have been experimenting with prompts to develop various scenarios, people profiles, and idea generation around multiple issues they face. More designers are using it to generate imagery from midjourney and DALL-E for conceptual ideas.
Generative AI has appeared in many applications in 2023, including Photoshop and other image editing programs. CAD programs are also integrating various AI functions such as real-time analysis, markup assist, generative design, and augmentation.
Artificial Intelligence is starting to change the design workflow as people seek to find efficiencies or increase project ideation (options). However, there is still a learning curve on which prompts to use and how to get the best out of the software. In the short term, we will only use a small percentage of the AI capabilities until we understand the possibilities of Artificial Intelligence.
Governments have realized during 2023 that there is a need for collaboration and agreements between various levels of government, including countries, regions, and departments. However, it is often related to energy (agreement between ASEAN nations), infrastructure (rail, roads), and less to do with natural systems. I wish we could see more agreements and understanding between governments. Still, we will have to wait in a time of heightened tension due to alliances around the current conflicts. However, it is also an opportunity for landscape architects and associated professionals to come together to highlight the benefits of cross-boundary collaboration.
Energy – systems and charging
The increase in electric car sales across many countries is seeing a change in infrastructure with more charging stations installed. However, this trend seems largely unplanned, with several suppliers rolling out individual charging networks in new or existing carparks. We all hope this can be better planned and managed as no city should have duplicate charging networks, thus increasing the areas of paving and car parking, which is an inefficient land use. City planners should seek to create charging network master plans (such as the City of Aspen [pdf]) in collaboration with utility companies, landholders, and charging providers to develop an efficient network and guidelines for siting stations.
Community batteries with solar arrays are being installed in various rural and remote communities; sadly, they are being placed in public open space rather than on private land. Guidelines for siting community batteries are key to maintaining public open space and ensuring that cities do not become an unruly array of charging stations, batteries, and other electrical infrastructure.
Anecdotally, more people are spending money on their outdoor living areas and installing outdoor kitchens, fire pits etc. These trends will continue into 2024 as people seek more work life balance and spend time with family and friends.
The use of lawns is reducing; however, synthetic grass appears to have become the go-to of time-poor families. However, this trend is facing some headwinds because governments and housing authorities (government and private) have banned synthetic grass due to microplastics. I hope that we see a trend to less lawns and more biodiversity in residential gardens, through education and greater understanding of the importance of biodiversity in residential landscapes.
As predicted, most universities are back to face-to-face teaching with some video-streaming teaching. Sadly, my hope that more universities would broadcast presentations and events has not occurred, with many not having the resources to stream events. There has been another trend in enrollments, but I will discuss that in my 2024 trends in early January.
Flexibility in Working
This COVID-based trend continues as design firms seek to retain people and allow the life-work balance many seek. The ability to shift work hours (earlier or later) or work from home is great for parents or caretakers who need to manage their personal lives. Remote work continues; however, it is unclear whether this trend will continue as teams often like to meet face-to-face to collaborate, and design firms can’t afford to pay for regular intercity travel.
Landscape Architect shortage
A shortage of landscape architects has been a trend for over a decade as the profession gains more responsibilities to lead design projects. However, we continue to face two issues: course enrollments declined during COVID, and some landscape architects are leaving the profession due to the cost of living or wanting to explore something new. Professions are no longer for life; people make career changes every five to ten years. This is an issue that many professions (design, legal, accounting) will face as many people are considering a career change at a time when they are at their peak. This is another issue I will seek to address in my coming 2024 landscape architecture trends article.
I hope you have enjoyed my review of 2023 predictions and the various projects, news, opinion articles, and more from World Landscape Architecture in the past year. This year has been good for the profession, with more opportunities through projects and research. I look forward to publishing more projects, news, and research in 2024.
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Top Left – Lexica AI text generated image with”Wetland and New York Skyline”
Top Middle – ASLA Climate Action Plan – Image: Hunter’s Point South Waterfront Park Phase II: A New Urban Ecology. Long Island City, NY. SWA/BALSLEY and WEISS/MANFREDI with ARUP / copyright Vecerka/ESTO, courtesy SWA/BALSLEY and WEISS/MANFREDI
Top Right – Louisiana Coast Land Change – Image Credit – Coastal Protection and Redevelopment Authority
Bottom Left – Bathurst Spatial Digital Twin – Image Credit: Spatial Services (NSW Government Department of Customer Service)
Bottom Middle – Carbon Conscience Tool – Image Credit: Sasaki
Bottom Right – Greenwich Park, London – August 2022 – Image Credit: Flickr User – Alisdare Hickson
DISCLAIMER: This article is for educational purposes only. The content is intended only to provide a summary and general overview of matters of interest. It’s not intended to be comprehensive nor to constitute advice. You should always obtain professional advice appropriate to your circumstances, before acting or relying on any of that content. This advice is general in nature.