While architects are celebrated for their achievements with high-profile awards like the Pritzker Prize, the landscape architects who play a crucial role in many projects are too often overlooked. Thankfully, that’s about to change with a new international landscape architecture prize announced by The Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF).

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Renderings for the High Line in New York City

The biennial prize will bestow $100,000 USD (the same amount offered for the Pritzker) and two years of related public engagement activities on “a living practitioner, collaborative, or team for their creative, courageous, and visionary work in the field of landscape architecture.”

Underwritten by a lead gift of $1 million USD from TCLF board co-chair Joan Sharon and her husband Rob Haimes, which was matched by the rest of the board and other donors, the fund has been endowed with $4.5M to keep it running “in perpetuity.” The first award will be given in 2021, and any landscape architects, artists, urban designers, and planners with a serious portfolio of landscape-architectural projects are eligible.

A simple example of good landscape architecture.

“Landscape architecture is one of the most complex and, arguably, the least understood art forms,” says Charles A. Birnbaum, TCLF founder, President, and CEO. “It challenges practitioners to be design innovators often while spanning the arts and sciences in addressing many of the most pressing social, environmental, and cultural issues in contemporary society.”

He’s not kidding, either. While architects rightfully get a lot of credit for their proposals and designs, landscape architects contribute critical elements to many projects, helping to integrate buildings into their surroundings. And, of course, landscape architecture can even stand on its own, augmenting adjacent structures without necessarily relying on them to anchor the space.

Historical examples of excellence in landscape architecture include French Baroque gardens like the Vaux le Vicomte in Maincy, France by André Le Nôtre and New York City’s Central Park by Fredrick Law Olmstead. More contemporary examples include the High Line in New York City and the sculptural Tonga Park and Ken Genser Square in Santa Monica, California, both by James Corner Field Operations.

A fountain inside Minneapolis' newly reopened Peavy Plaza

Environmentally sensitive sites can be especially challenging, like Chicago’s community-driven “Wild Mile” partially designed by Urban Rivers and Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, or the transformation of a 17,000-acre Superfund site into the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge by Design Workshop Inc.

According to TCLF, “the honoree will be chosen in a multi-layered process, including a year-long nomination period followed with selection by a five-person jury comprised of internationally prominent landscape architects, artists, educators, designers, and others. The Prize will be administered by TCLF and overseen by an independent curator. The jury members and curator will be announced in the coming months.”

St. Louis' iconic Gateway Arch

To test their criteria, the foundation also participated in an exercise to identify possible recipients of the prize if it had been created 50 years ago, and their list included notable designers from all over the world, including modernist Brazilian artist Roberto Burle Marx, innovator Lawrence Halprin, who’s known for creating an influential design process, and Dan Kiley, who designed the St. Louis Arch and Miller Garden along with Eero Saarinen.

Learn more about landscape architecture and why it’s important at the TCLF website.