What’s in a name?

I’m a fan of etymology If you’re wondering what that means, it means the meaning of words. Or more accurately, it studies the route of words. If you know where a word has come from, you might have a better understanding of what it represents. For instance the etymology of ‘Landscape Architecture’ can tell us a lot about Landscape Architects.

The word ‘Landscape’ has extremely ancient origins, from the word ‘lendh’ (from the 5,500 year-old proto Indo-European language), and the Old English word ‘sciepe’ (which also evolved from the proto Indo-European language).

The meaning of ‘Lendh’ is along the lines of ‘a division of the earth’s surface to which somebody claims ownership’. ‘Sciepe’ means ‘a condition of being’, with its root (derived from earlier Germanic words) in the sentiment of ‘creating something’.

‘Architecture’ is broken down to the Greek word ‘Arkhon’, meaning ‘chief’ (as in Arch-bishop, or arch-enemy), and the second part being the Greek word ‘Tekton’, which in simple terms means ‘carpenter’, from proto Indo-European origins meaning ‘to make’. An equivalent word in Old English means ‘to craft’.

So, if you put all that together it means that Landscape Architects are the chiefs in crafting the parcels of our planet that mankind has created ownership of. The Landscape Institute’s Royal Charter says much the same thing (but in a long-winded kind of way). 

Landscape Archtecture according to Ken Fieldhouse
This illustratration by my former mentor, the late Ken Fieldhouse shows his understanding of the breadth of Landscape Architecture

A lot of people don’t really know what a Landscape Architect does. In-fact, there are quite a few Landscape Architects who have different ideas about what Landscape Architects do. It’s easy to get lost in the detail of what day-to-day tasks we undertake. For me, it’s great to remember the fundamental principles of how we are, as defined by the words which make our name. Whilst Landscape Architecture covers a multitude of specialities executed in a multitude of different ways, we’re unified in our common purpose of turning a plot into a place. 

I’ve heard Landscape Architects described as ‘jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none’. Considering the Etymology of our name, it’d be more accurate to say ‘master-of-all-trades’, as far as the landscape is concerned at least!


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