Diana founded her award-winning practice, Armstrong Bell Landscape Design in 1984 and works across the Middle East, Europe and the UK, with a focus on large scale public landscapes.Distinctive designs for urban parks and spaces have won six international design competitions and been shortlisted in a further three. Winning designs include Parco Franco Verga, Milan and Lac de Sénart, France. Diana’s background in art and the inspiration of artists particularly Kazimir Malevich and architect Zaha Hadid, have led to re-imagining the spatial arrangement of new landscapes. Hand drawing, collage and modelling are at the heart of her practice.
Diana’s book Sculpting the Land : Landscape design influenced by abstract art’was published in 2019, when she also exhibited in the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition.
2:30 pm: Event Introduction Angus Pryor
2:40 pm: Precursor interview Ying Li
3.00 pm: Lecture Diana Armstrong Bell
4:00 pm: Panel Discussion Landscape, Music and Art
Angus Pryor, Hal Moggridge, Andrew Bick and Dr. Ying Li
The granite setts below below the Royal Observatory and on the heavily used visitor route to the Maritime Museum have been replaced by bitumen macadam. Chris Churchman was the landscape architect for the walk and platform. He designed it as part of Greenwich’s celebration of the Year 2000 Millennium. All was fine for 21 years. Now the sets have gone – because someone slipped on them. I’ve often wondered if membership of the Landscape Institute should be a required qualification for managing a Royal Park. Now I know it should be. Here are a few of the points a landscape architect would have considered:
The smooth granite kerbs left in place are more slippery than the setts which have been removed
Greenwich Park has 4 million visitors/year. Assuming at least half of them pass this point, that’s 40 million people in 21 years. If one of them has slipped that is not a mass disaster and, in fact, less serious than the Covid 19 pandemic that has led to the path up the hill being closed to visitor use
Bitmac is a relatively short-life material with a high carbon content. It is less sustainable than granite and more harmful to global warming
The re-paving took about 12 man-days and involved 3 vehicles
Porous paving is better for the environment than impermeable paving – and the granite setts were not mortared in place
Granite can be sandblasted to make it non-slip
Granite can have a special coating to make it non-slip
Granite can be scored with an angle grinder to make it non-slip (as was done for the Diana Memorial Fountain in Hyde Park
The bitmac would look slightly better if coated with resin-bonded flint pebbles, like the adjoining paving
The road which runs down the hill 50m from this paved area is more slippery than the granite and should have priority for treatment
The new paving looks awful: like a mini road or a go-kart track
A cheaper solution would have been to put up a flashing neon sign warning visitors of DANGEROUS PAVING
This video asks AND ANSWERS, over 20 fundamental questions about landscape architecture, as an art and a profession. You can read them an outline for a Theory of Landscape Architecture. For more Q&A, please click the tab (top right, above)
LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE? Question1. What IS ‘landscape architecture’?Answer. Landscape architecture is the art of composing landform, water and plants with buildings and pavements to make good places.
LANDSCAPE THEORY? Question4. What is landscape theory?Answer: It’s the theory of how to make good outdoor space – and this involves giving further answers to questions about the What, Why, When, How, Where, and Who of landscape architecture.
LANDSCAPE DESIGN HISTORY Question5. What is the history of landscape architecture?Answer. It can be seen as the history of garden design before 1860 plus the work of landscape architects after 1860, or it can be seen as the long history of both garden design and urban design or it can be seen as the even longer history of design-by-humans on the natural environment (therefore including agriculture, forestry and other land uses). This would make its age either 160 years, 5000 years or 12,000 years. I favour the middle alternative and trace the written history of landscape architecture to the Epic of Gigamesh – about 4000 years ago. But I agree with Geoffrey Jellicoe that the art of landscape design goes back over 30,000 years and is therefore much older than architecture or town planning
THE TERM LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE in the UK? Question 6. Why did the UK adopt the term landscape architecture? Answer: Impressed by Frederick Law Olmsted’s work in America, Patrick Geddes, Thomas Mawson and Thomas Adams wanted a UK professional institute with a focus on public projects and public goods – as well as foe the design of private gardens.
PROBLEMS? Question7. Is there a problem with the term ‘landscape architecture’?Answer. Yes. The problem is that people find it hard to understand. Olmsted wrote that “Landscape is not a good word, Architecture is not; the combination is not”. Mawson wrote that most people understand landscape architecture as “an unwarranted interference with Nature”. Jellicoe wrote that “The landscape architect … is still surely wrongly named.” And not to be left out, I wrote, in 1997, that the term is ‘as tyrannical as it is sacrilegious as it is preposterous’. I’ll be happy to withdraw this comment when the two words which make up the term come to be used more carefully. Hence the next two questions.
LANDSCAPE? Question8. How should the word ‘landscape’ be understood in the phrase ‘landscape architecture’?Answer. Its meaning takes something from its use but by artists, poets and geographers but draws mainly upon its use, in a ‘Designer’s Sense’, in eighteenth century England. Typically, a designed landscape was, as it remains, a place where landform, water and plants have been composed with buildings and pavings for human use and enjoyment.
ARCHITECTURE? Question9. How should the word ‘architecture’ be understood in the phrase ‘landscape architecture’?Answer. It should be understood in the broad sense, outlined by Vitruvius, rather than in the narrow post-Renaissance sense of designing buildings for human occupancy. Vitruvius’ used the word to describe the activity of coordinating the skills of other experts and other disciplines. The narrower sense, in which it’s now used by building architects, makes “architecture” a subset of “landscape architecture” (just as you could see interior design a subset of architecture).
COLLECTIVE LANDSCAPE? Question10. What is the collective landscape?Answer. The term was introduced by Sir Geoffrey Jellicoe on the dustjacket of his history of the Landscape of Man. It isn’t explained in the book but its place on the cover implies that Jellicoe was using it for a central objective of landscape design: to create landscapes which match the physical and psychological aspirations of humanity.
LANDSCAPE PLANNING? Question13. What is landscape planning?Answer. It’s the first stage in the design process, with an emphasis on public goods. At the larger scale, it involves plans for areas of land, including, planning zones, geographical regions and administrative areas. At the project scale, it involves Environmental Impact Designs for land development projects.
CLIMATE CHANGE? Question14. Can landscape architects help combat, mitigate and adapt to, climate change?Answer. Yes. At the site planning scale, we can ensure development projects have as least as much vegetation cover when complete, as they did before construction began. On large sites, we can plan for carbon capture, microclimate, biodiversity, re-wilding, surface water management, local energy generation and local food production
GREENWAYS? Question15 What is a Greenway?Answer: a greenway can be defined as a route that is good from an environmental point of view. Their history reaches back to the ancient world and the idea was given its present character by Frederick Law Olmsted’s wonderful Emerald Necklace in Boston.
CONTEXT THEORY Question16 What is Context Theory?Answer: It is the body of theory which underpins context-sensitive design. Or, in Alexander Pope’s phrase, its how to consult the Genius of the Place.
LANDSCAPE URBANISM? Question18. What is the landscape urbanism design method?Answer. It’s an advance on traditional 2D plans and on 3D models. The landscape urbanism design method involves ‘design-by-layers’, with each of the layers relating to a specialised area of knowledge and skill. An 8-layer project for a town square, for example, could include layers for: painting, sculpture and music, hydrology, ecology, psychology, architecture, and green transport.
LANDSCAPEmatters: contents of Issue 1 January 2021
The inaugural edition of a new electronic magazine called LANDSCAPEmatters is now available. It aims to promote the study and general advancement of the arts and science of landscape and to serve as a medium for friendly intercourse between members of the profession and others practicing or interested. By encouraging intellectual discussion, sharing knowledge, experience and solutions, it is hoped that it will help to progress our collective agendas. The magazine is independent of any corporate ties, is not self-promotional and has accessible descriptions and analysis that should appeal beyond the core landscape readership.
The first article re-ignites the debate on the identity of the landscape profession and the need to offer something new to readers. Topically, it touches on the way forward for our countryside and green space; illustrates the importance of observational drawing and covers the international and humanitarian agendas. It has a book review that stresses the relevance to us of land economics and political ideology. There is a letters section where opinions can be freely expressed. Contributions to future editions are very welcome and should be sent to the editor at firstname.lastname@example.org
The authors have organised a debate on higher education and are planning future ones on woodland strategies and landscape and visual guidelines. If anyone wishes to be on the mailing list to join these please contact email@example.com.
An institute is “an organisational body created for a certain purpose”. So, for the Landscape Institute, what is that purpose? My preferred answer comes from our best known and longest serving president: Sir Geoffrey Jellicoe. On the cover of his book on The Landscape of Man he wrote that: ‘The world is moving into a phase when landscape design may well be recognized as the most comprehensive of the arts. Man creates around him an environment that is a projection into nature of his abstract ideas. It is only in the present century that the collective landscape has emerged as a social necessity. We are promoting a landscape art on a scale never conceived of in history.‘ It’s an inspiring proclamation – and I love it. But to whom, does the “we” refer, in the phrase “We are promoting a landscape art”? It could be Geoffrey and Susan, but I don’t think so: he was 74 when the book appeared and, though he had no wish to retire, he wasn’t planning a promotional tour. So I think we can take it that the ‘we’ on the book jacket referred to the landscape profession and that the Jellicoes were contributing to its promotion by outlining the history of the art of designing “landscapes” for human use and enjoyment. Jellicoe was president of the Institute for ten years and could have secured a change in its original constitution if he had thought it necessary. So I think we can take it that he was as happy as we should be with Clause 2 of the ILA’s original Constitution (see Wikipedia on Landscape Institute). It states that: ‘The Institute shall be formed to promote the study and general advancement of the Art of Landscape Architecture in all its branches’ (the word ‘branches’ was well chosen!)
Jellicoe founded the International Federation of Landscape Architects in 1948, and its Mission Statement begins with the words ‘IFLA will promote the landscape architecture profession”. Jellicoe was never happy with the profession’s name and with IFLA having done so much to win acceptance for the term ’landscape architecture’ this raises an issue: should the profession continue using this term – or does it need a new name? I’ll conclude this video by recommending a solution which might have satisfied Jellicoe.
Landscape Institute UK logos (as assembled by Google)
Origin of the term landscape architecture
The famous American landscape designer, Frederick Law Olmsted, is often described as ‘the father of landscape architecture’. But this, is wrong. He was the father of the landscape profession but he was born about 30,000 years too late, by Jellicoe’s reckoning, to be the father of the art of designing landscapes for human use and enjoyment. Jellicoe begins his history of landscape art with the Paleolithic cave paintings of Lascaux, in southern France, begun 30,000 years ago.
When a student, in 1969, I was taught that Olmsted had also invented the English term ‘landscape architect’. This too, is wrong. It was introduced by Gilbert Laing Meason about 30 years before Olmsted began using it. Meason was born in the Orkney Islands and used the term in the title of a book about ‘The Landscape architecture of the great painters of Italy’. Meason’s interest was in the aesthetic relationship between buildings and their contexts.
There’s also a possibility that Olmsted got the title ‘landscape architect’ from Jean-Marie Morel’s use of architecte paysagiste, but I’m doubtful about this. My view is that the term ‘landscape architect’ probably reached Olmsted from Meason, via John Claudius Loudon, Andrew Jackson Downing and Calvert Vaux.
Vaux, who persuaded Olmsted to use the term ‘landscape architect’, was brought to America by Downing to help with the design of villas, and gardens. Downing was a great admirer of Loudon and must have known the Principles for Designing Villas in Book III of Loudon’s Encyclopedia of Cottage Farm and Villa Architecture. Loudon wrote that: The Principal Defect of English Villas is in the want of a sufficient union between the house and the grounds ; or, in other words, of cooperation between the Architect and the landscape-gardener in fixing on situations, and in laying them out, ” Our parks may be beautiful,” Laing Meason observes, “our mansions faultless in design; but nothing is more rare than to see the two properly connected…. Two classes of circumstances require to be taken into consideration… The permanent considerations include climate, elevation, surface, aspect, soil, water, and the sea;” the temporary considerations “are chiefly its locality, present state, prospective improvement, and the personal peculiarities of the intended possessor. “
As set out in another video, Loudon also worked on urban planning. So, if Meason had not left for Italy and if Loudon had not devoted himself to the Arboretum Britannicum, which ruined him financially, this text could have grown into the Meason-Loudon Principles of Landscape Architecture and I wish they had.
Frederick Law Olmsted’s use of the term landscape architect
Inspired by the English Landscape Gardens of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries Olmsted used the term ‘landscape architecture’ to describe an approach to designing URBAN park systems, cities and gardens in relation to architecture. His design style included what, in the nineteenth century, were called ‘formal’ and ‘informal’ elements. The ‘formal’ elements related to architecture and the ‘informal’ elements to natural scenery. Jellicoe was thinking on these lines when he wrote about the ‘projection into nature’ of ‘abstract ideas’.
The fame of Olmsted’s great projects in New York and Boston, including Central Park and the Emerald necklace, spread to Europe, and in the UK, as in America, influenced the development of the Town and Country Planning profession.
Patrick Geddes, Thomas Mawson, Thomas Adams and others argued for Olmsted-type open space planning and for the formation of a new professional institute in the UK. Mawson published a paper in 1911, which supported these ideas. Its title was ‘The Position and Prospects for Landscape Architecture in England’ and he wrote that: ‘The proposal for the formation of a Society of Landscape Architects for Great Britain, which has been much discussed in private circles lately has now been publicaly mooted in an article by Mr. Abercrombie’ . Patrick Abercrombie favoured the name ‘town planning’ for the new body. Mawson thought it better to use the American terminology and explained that ‘I would draw a clear distinction between garden design, whether called” Garden Architecture” or” Landscape Gardening,” and Landscape Architecture as practised in America. The first relates, for the most part, to the creation of those private gardens of which Englishmen have every reason to be proud; while the latter, though it certainly includes the design of gardens, is more concerned with works of a public nature, including, as Mr. Adams says, the planning of cities”.
Criticism of the term ‘landscape architect’
Mawson was however troubled that in Britain, ‘the term “Landscape Architecture,”… suggests to most people either unwarranted interference with Nature or a childish attempt to introduce her grandeurs into our towns by little patches of futile gardening.’ Olmsted and Jellicoe were also troubled by the term ‘landscape architect’. Olmsted wrote that ‘”I am all the time bothered with the miserable nomenclature” of landscape architecture. “Landscape is not a good word, Architecture is not; the combination is not – Gardening is worse”. Jellicoe declared that “The landscape architect, who was first called a landscape gardener, is still surely wrongly named.” Not to be left out, the London Times declared in 1948 that ‘The term “landscape architecture” is perhaps not altogether apt. It suggests classical temples and triumphal arches, nobly laid out and “improved” by landscape gardeners in the tradition of William Kent, Capability Brown or Humphry Repton.’ Not to be outdone, I wrote, in 1997, that if misconstrued, the term ‘landscape architecture’ is ‘as tyrannical as it is sacrilegious as it is preposterous’.
So what should we do?
Foundation of the UK Landscape Institute UK
In 1914, with Thomas Adams as first president, and with T Mawson and P Geddes as founder members, a new professional institute was established. Mawson had lost the argument so, instead of it being called the Institute, or Society, of Landscape Architects, a much newer term was selected. It became the Town Planning Institute and is now the Royal Town Planning Institute. Mawson became its president in 1923 and the Institute helped promote the art of Civic Design, on which, in 1911, Mawson had written a lavishly illustrated book. My guess is that Mawson and Adams were disappointed by the Town Planning Institute’s relative neglect of the art of planning parks, gardens, streets and other open spaces.
In 1927 Mawson had written, in an autobiography called The life & work of an English landscape architect, that ‘if I were asked which of my dreams I would like to see realised I would unhesitatingly place the school of landscape architecture first’ adding that ‘it ought to be located at either Oxford or Cambridge’, because they had botanic gardens.
In 1929, the garden designer, Stanley Hart, convened a meeting, in a tent at the Chelsea Flower Show, which decided to create a Society of Garden Designers. Then, in 1930 (according to Brenda Colvin) Thomas Adams persuaded the founders to change its name to the Institute of Landscape Architects and Thomas Mawson, ailing with Parkinson’s disease, was invited to become its first President.
Mawson saw the market for designing country house gardens as being in terminal design and thought the new body should focus on public projects as well as private gardens. The work of its members was promoted in a glossy magazine edited by Richard Sudell and called Landscape and Garden – and in the Institute’s first decade most of the work was private gardens. By the end of the 1930s, under Thomas Adams’ presidency, the ILA began to shift its centre of gravity from private gardens to public projects.
The outbreak of the second world war in 1939 accelerated this trend. Geoffrey Jellicoe, who had also been lucky not to be called up in 1918, at the age of 18, managed to keep the young institute alive while most of its members went to join the war effort.
Promoting and expanding the scope of landscape architecture
Jellicoe visited America in 1942, sent by the British government, and, greatly impressed by the wide range of work being done by members of the ASLA, the American Society of Landscape Architects, sought to emulate their achievement. This broadened the focus of the ILA to take on the range of projects with which the landscape profession is now involved. Jellicoe did this in several ways
by writing articles for what he and Susan re-launched as the Journal of the Institute of Landscape Architects
by publishing policy documents on future areas of work, such as roads, forestry and new towns
by inviting well-known designers and other famous people to join the Council of the Institute
by holding meetings with secretaries of state, civil servants and other public figures
In later life Jellicoe recalled a meeting at which he had been telling a cabinet minister about the many good things members of the ILA could do for society at large. Then, travelling in a taxi back to his office in Gower Street, he realised that one hand would pretty well suffice to count the number of British landscape architects then available to do the work.
The success of Jellicoe’s meetings with ministers left him convinced that the Institute should have an office near the Houses of Parliament. The ILA left his 12 Gower Street office and, after several moves, settled in 12 Carlton House Terrace. It was a great location overlooking two of the most important landscape design projects in Britain (for St James’s Park and for the ‘Processional Route’ which runs via Regent’s Street to Regent’s Park). Their designer, John Nash didn’t call himself a landscape architect but, with help from the Reptons, did design landscapes.
In the 1970s Jellicoe was saddened when the ILA moved its HQ to a less central location. So was I. It would have been better if the Institute had moved its ‘back office’ to a peripheral location and kept its ‘front office’ in St James’s . This principle was supported by the Reform Group, which was formed after the LI’s 2009 financial crisis, and was set out in its response to the LI President’s consultation on Future Visions for the Landscape Institute.
One of Jellicoe’s last acts as president, in 1948, had been to found IFLA, the International Federation of Landscape Architects, and it is entirely right that its highest honour is called The Jellicoe Prize. With 77 of the world’s 195 countries now having IFLA member associations, the future of the term ‘landscape architecture’ is secure but also in need of more clarity.
In 1949, Thomas Sharp took over as President of the ILA, four years after being President of the Town Planning Institute. Sharp loved what he called the ‘townscape’ of historic towns, just as he loved English villages and the man-made landscapes in which they were set.
Sylvia Crowe and Brenda Colvin, who became presidents of the ILA in their turn, were great friends with the Jellicoes and did much to take his vision forward with the books they wrote, including Land and Landscape, The Landscape of Power and The Landscape of Roads.
Frank Clark’s lament
The first ILA president I met was Frank Clark. He interviewed me when I applied for a place on the landscape architecture course at Edinburgh University and at the end of the interview he said ‘Well, if you’d like to join the course, we’d love to have you’. Frank was full of great stories but what I most often think of is these two recommendations:
Frank told us that ‘Landscape architecture is a wonderful profession. But “nobody understands us”. So it needs a new name – and if someone asks, at a party ‘what line are you in?’ tell them you’re a garden designer. You’ll see a happy glow appear on their faces, as they think of sunny afternoons, roses, tea and cucumber sandwiches.’
My dad was of the same view and advised ‘Don’t call yourself a landscape architect, Tom, – it’ll make people think you’re one of those awful people who put up tower blocks in grassy fields’. This reminds me of Auberon Waugh’s advice that ‘if you meet anyone in a pub, or at a party, who says he’s an architect, punch him in the face.’
The other recommendation of Frank Clark’s I have in mind, was that the ILA should not run examinations and should invite distinguished people to join – even if they had not even studied landscape architecture. He was surely thinking of the men Jellicoe had invited to join, including Lord Reith, Lord Holford and Sir Patrick Abercrombie. He knew how much they had done much to help the new Institute find its way.
Public perception of garden design and landscape architecture
Frank thought the Institute should leave exams to the universities, so that it could concentrate on promoting and developing landscape architecture. The Institute, at that time, ran a four-part examination covering planting, construction, design and professional practice. Today, it only examines professional practice and this too could be done by the universities. The landscape course Frank ran had a module on professional studies and I remember being told that the ILA was ‘half trade union and half learned society’. I don’t think this was correct but its quite a nice idea.
Frank died in 1971 and in the mid-70s concerns about the small size of the ILA led to a change of name, to the Landscape Institute, and to the formation of ‘divisions’ for landscape designers, managers and scientists – not garden designers, not landscape planners and not urban designers.
The ILA becomes the Landscape Institute UK
I was at the meeting when this decision was taken and wrote a note, for myself, to record that there seemed to be three main motives for the expansion, which I associated with three of its protagonists:
1. to increase the size of the ILA, which Bill Gillespie wanted,
2. to increase the influence of the ILA, which appealed to Cliff Tandy,
3. to bring in landscape managers, which appealed to Brenda Colvin.
Her concern was that people who learned about horticulture without learning about design, would not be able interpret design intentions. She recalled that a garden she’d designed in Poland had been fought over by the Germans and the Russians during the war. And this was, she said, the sort of thing that happened to a garden design without good managers.
My own concern about the decision to expand the ILA was that the concentration on landscape architecture as a design discipline would be diluted, as indeed it has been. I don’t think I voiced this concern, but I do remember making a point about Gilbert Laing Meason and the importance of the term that was about to be de-emphasised.
Remembering Frank Clark’s complaint, and that of and many others, that ‘nobody understands us’, I spent several years trying to think of an alternative to ‘landscape architecture’ as a name for the profession. Eventually, I concluded that it’s too late for a change but that we need to be very precise in our use of the key terms. With clarity on this point we will be able to understand our own aims and able to explain them to others, including fellow-professionals, those who commission work and the general public. So here’s my 3-point summary:
First. Landscape architects use the word ‘landscape’ in a specialised sense which developed in the eighteenth century. So we don’t use it in the senses given to it by painters, geographers, printers or poets. We use it, in a designer’s sense, to mean a place where landform, water and plants have been composed with buildings and pavings to make ‘good places’ for human use and enjoyment.
We therefore compose five primary elements to make designed landscapes much as architects compose walls, floors, roofs, openings and stairs to make buildings.
Second. We use the word ‘architecture’, in the same sense as Vitruvius, to mean the activity of bringing various technologies together to making places which have ‘Commodity, Firmness and Delight’. In today’s terminology, we want them to have good functional, ecological and visual qualities.
Third. Like Gilbert Laing Meason and Frederick Law Olmsted, we use the phrase ‘landscape architecture’ to express a special concern with public goods and with the relationship between our designs and the environmental contexts in which they are built.
Future prospects for the Landscape Institute LI
So what about the LI’s future? Well, most institutions are in need of reform and few more so than those approaching their 100th anniversary – which is where the Landscape Institute will be in 20-29. So I’ll end this video with some thoughts about what our Institute could do to get ready for a fresh start in our second century. Here are my suggestions.
One way or another, we need to resolve the ‘terminological’ problem identified by Olmsted, Mawson and Jellicoe – and summarised in Frank Clark’s Lament – that ‘nobody understands us’
Second, We need to learn as much as we can from Sir Geoffrey Jellicoe – particularly about the great antiquity of the art we practice, about the need for it to be promoted, and about the centrality of what he called the Collective Landscape. It can extend across the inter-related spheres of beliefs, art and action.
Third, and at the level of practicalities, I recommend more discussion of the points raised by the Reform Group, in our 2013 article on a ‘Future Vision for the Landscape Institute’. It included recommendations
for Electoral Reform, Participation and Devolution
for the Institute’s Committee Structure and Administration,
for Resource Allocation to institutional objectives,
for information and publishing policies
and for a vigorous programme of Jellicoe-style Policy Initiatives.
There’s much to do. So we can look forward to eight busy years before our 2029 Anniversary.
LI Landscape Institute Future Vision (Painting by Edward Hutchison FLI)
Future Vision for the Landscape Institute UK
This article by Robert Holden, Edward Hutchison and Tom Turner was written in response to a general request from the then president of the LI for articles about the its future. It was submitted to the journal Landscape in 2013 but was not selected for publication. The article is published here for record purposes and as a contribution to present debate about how the LI might evolve. Landscape_Institute_Future_Vision_06.11.2013-. The content of the article arose from many debates about the LI’s future by Reform Group members. The group was set up after the Institute had suffered a financial crisis in 2009, convened and chaired by Edward Hutchison. It comprised two former presidents of the LI (Hal Moggridge and Brian Clouston) and approximately 30 senior members of the Landscape Institute.
Landscape Institute LI Reform post-2009
There was also a discussion about LI Reform the LI on the members forum (Talkinglandscape.org) to which I submitted An agenda for changing the LI on July 13, 2009. It is only accessible to LI members on TL so here are the recommendations which I made on, approximately, the 40th anniversary of my joining the Institute of Landscape Architects (which became the Landscape Institute) – so I have now been a member for ‘half a century’:
Lets be positive. After the useful discussions on Talking Landscapes, I offer the following agenda for changing the Landscape Institute:
1. The first and foremost requirement is to convert the LI into an effective participatory democracy.
2. All candidates for Council should stand for election on manifestos (expressed as texts, podcasts or videocasts)
3. Elections to all posts should be free, with no longevity restrictions on who can stand.
4. Those who are elected should take up their positions immediately (not after 2 years).
5. Significant decisions under consideration, by Council and by the Branches, should be aired on the TL Forum, inviting members to comment
My hope is that these measures will increase the number of candidates and the number of voters at Council and Branch elections, thus reducing the LI’s democratic deficit.
Any LI financial data which does not have to be confidential should be made accessible to members online, so that everyone can share in the responsibility for scrutiny, and the consequences of decisions, particularly with regard to resource allocation and expenditure data (both fixed and variable).
1. When taking on new employees, the LI should give preference to qualified landscape architects with a deep understanding of, and hopefully a long-term commitment to, the well-being of the landscape profession
2. The Central London office should be closed as soon as possible, and plans made for low cost accommodation at a location central to the British Isles (eg Nuneaton, which has low rents combined with good rail, air and road connections).
3. We should aim to become as much of a ‘virtual’ (web-based) organization as we can, with as little as possible spent on staff and offices.
4. Full consideration should be given to outsourcing business processes and using Skype-type video conferencing instead of physical meetings
5. One council meeting/year should be held during the Chelsea Flower Show (eg in a hospitality tent) to show our ongoing commitment to the theory and practice of the discipline from which our profession has sprung: garden design.
The LI should allocate fewer of its resources to ‘status symbols’ (eg a prestige address, a large staff and a glossy journal) and more of its resources to influencing public debate and decision-making. We should explain how the landscape of town and country can be conserved and improved – and how the landscape profession can contribute to this mighty task.
Since we are a knowledge-intensive and skills-intensive profession, we should allocate more money to the Library, to the Archive and to other Information Resources. Books and other information should be made available by post, in digital format and via the web. This is how we can become a highly-skilled profession. The LI’s offices should have a green roof and should contain extensive information resources, to encourage it to act as a Think Tank. All our publications should be edited from this resource base – they should not be produced by specialists in company reports. We should review all books of potential interest to landscape architects – so that their publishers get into the habit of sending us free copies for our members to read as postal loans.
1. We should make publishing a major aspect of the LI’s activities, as it once was.
2. The paper journal, Landscape, should be replaced by a range of high quality online publications, mostly written and mostly edited by landscape architects. There can be provision for Print-On-Demand (POD) for those who prefer print editions.
More resources and more responsibility should be devolved to the Branches, particularly for policy making, because context-sensitive design (by Consulting the Genius of the Place) is at the absolute heart of landscape design.
1. We should resolve the ‘problem of the specialisms’ immediately and do everything we can to support, for example, landscape planning, environmental assessment, garden design and urban design. Educational programmes should be accredited and work experience should count on the Pathway to Chatership.
2. Landscape Management should require the same length of education as the other specialisms.
3. Consideration should be given to incorporating an element of voluntary work, for the benefit of landscape architecture, in the P2C programme. It could be for the LI or for local communities.
As large a proportion of the membership as possible should become involved in writing, illustrating and promulgating policies relating to the landscape of town and country.
Is Jordan Peterson’s philosophical position Modern, Postmodern, post-Postmodern or Metamodern?
Jordan Peterson and Geoffrey Jellicoe both have a post-Postmodern enthusiasm for myth, symbols, narrative and a ‘something somewhere’ belief in God
Politically, the left castigates Jordan Peterson as ‘right-wing’ and even ‘alt-right’1. Sections of the right do admire him. But Peterson sees himself, reasonably in my view , as a classical liberal’2. His intellectual position is best described as post-Postmodern. When a student, he espoused religious scepticism, socialism and scientific Modernism. Today, he is a scientist who holds that religious beliefs have a central place in our psyches and in the conduct of our lives. Since he accepts Modernism and goes beyond it, one could see his position as ‘Postmodern’ without an extra ‘post-‘. But there are reasons for not applying this label (1) Postmodernism connotes ‘skepticism, irony, or rejection toward what it describes as the grand narratives and ideologies associated with modernism’ (2) since Peterson defines his own position in steadfast opposition to Postmodernism, he is likely to reject the classification, just as he would not want to be described as post-Nazi or post-communist or post-something else. ‘Metamodern’ is an alternative, discussed below.
Jordan Peterson’s religious beliefs
Peterson might agree that the argument of his 1999 book (Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief3) positions his views after modernism. And his use of the word ‘belief’ highlights a key difference from the religious scepticism that grew, with the scientific method, from Enlightenment rationalism4. It caused Ruskin to lament, in 1851, that ‘if only the Geologists would let me alone, I could do very well, but those dreadful Hammers! I hear the clink of them at the end of every cadence of the Bible verses.’5 Then Nietzche proclaimed, in 1882, that ‘God is dead’6 and Richard Dawkins wrote, in a book on The God delusion7 that ‘To succumb to the God Temptation in either of these guises, biological or cosmological, is an act of intellectual capitulation’8. Peterson and Dawkins both turned against Christianity in their teens, for scientific reasons, but Peterson has turned back.
Consensus on what constitutes an era can not be easily achieved while that era is still in its early stages. However, a common theme of current attempts to define post-postmodernism is emerging as one where faith, trust, dialogue, performance, and sincerity can work to transcend postmodern irony.
Peterson was raised in a Catholic family and relates that when a young man ‘I asked the minister, at one point, how he reconciled the story of Genesis with the creation theories of modern science. He had not undertaken such a reconciliation; furthermore, he seemed more convinced, in his heart, of the evolutionary viewpoint’9. Peterson therefore abandoned his childhood faith. But he is now sympathetic to religious faiths and persuaded of their importance to acting in the world. As well as Christianity, he references other faiths: Mesopotamian, Jewish, Greek, Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, Taoist and more. In a 2019 interview about his beliefs, Peterson’s answers included the statements that:
‘To speak the truth and act it out, that’s what it means to believe.’
‘Unless you act it out you should be careful about claiming it.’
‘And so I’ve never been comfortable saying anything other than I try to act as if God
These answers are good evidence of Peterson having an intellectual position which, as the Wikipedia article on post-postmodernism phrased it, rests on ‘faith, trust, dialogue, performance, and sincerity’10.
Jeffrey Nealon, in a book on Post-Postmodernism, acknowledges that the term is ‘just plain ugly; it’s infelicitous, difficult both to read and to say, as well as nonsensically redundant’. Yet he goes on to explain that ‘For my purposes, the least mellifluous part of the word (the stammering ‘post-post’) is the thing that most strongly recommends it’11. I agree, though the abbreviation PoPoMo is more chummy.
Some of the alternatives to post-postmodernism were collected by Alison Gibbons for an article in the Times Literary Supplement. Its title was ‘Postmodernism is dead. What comes next?’ She wrote that: There are many terms for this new supplanting cultural logic, this shift in the ruling belief system: to name a few – altermodernism, cosmodernism, digimodernism, metamodernism, performatism, post-digital, post-humanism, and the clunky post-postmodernism.’
From this list my second choice would be ‘metamodernism’ and the Google Ngram, indicates that it has a 2020 lead over ‘post-postmodern’, with the declining trajectory of ‘postmodernism’ showing that it could be overtaken by either of the newer terms.
Ngrams showing Metamodernism+Post-Postmodernism (above) and Postmodernism+Post-Postmodernism+Altermodernism+Cosmodernism+Dijimodernism+Medamodernism+Permormatism (below)
The first use of metamodern was by Mas’ud Zavarzadeh, in 1975. He saw recent fiction as moving ’within the framework of a comprehensive private metaphysics, towards a
metamodern narrative’12. The kinship of ‘metamodern’ with ‘metaphysics’ is appealing (to me) and the term is well-supported, and promoted, in a 2017 book with the title Metamodernism Historicity, Affect, and Depth after Postmodernism. Seeking to periodise the 2000s, the authors point to a range of aesthetic phenomena which are ‘characterised by an attempt to incorporate postmodern stylistic and formal conventions while moving beyond them’, and adding that ‘for us, this language is metamodernism. There, we’ve said it.’ 13
My reservation about metamodernism is that, though the authors of the book see it primarily as a ‘language’, its adoption as the name for a period could happen and would depend on another period name, Modernism. And this term is beyond its use-by date. Surely, cultural historians cannot long persist in their use of ‘Modern’ for a period which began before 1900. It’s ridiculous. So for me the built-in absurdity of ‘post-postmodern’ is an attraction. It dramatises the need for historians of art and culture to settle on a new set of period names, remembering, of course, that a lot of water had to flow under a lot of bridges before Renaissance, Baroque, Neoclassical and Romantic gained the relatively settled status they now enjoy14. Another problem with ‘Metamodern’ could be that it accepts too much of Postmodernism’s cynical political baggage. For the present, I think ‘post-postmodern’ is a good name for a group of ‘after-modern’ and ‘after-postmodern’ cultural trends.
Peterson, narrative, myth and design theory
For garden history, which is what I have written most about, my 2013 suggestions for periodising garden design in the twentieth century were: Arts and Crafts Style, Abstract
Style, and Post-Abstract Style. I included a diagram for ‘sustainable gardens’ but didn’t call it the ‘Sustainable Style’. Then, in 2019, I suggested ‘Belief Style’ as an alternative15. ‘Style’ is not a popular term with designers but design historians can scarcely avoid its use. A style is something which you can see when you look back but which should not guide the creative process.
Instead of mentioning styles, as their eighteenth and nineteenth century predecessors would have done, current designers tend to overuse the personal pronoun. They say ‘I want…’, ’I like…’ and ‘I’m going to…’. And when they do this, my thought is ‘Come on folks. It’s not about you. It’s about the site, about the times you live in, and about your clients’. If the designers are students, I might then recommend Roland Barthes essay on ‘The Death of the Author’16.
The aspect of Peterson’s work of most interest to designers is his treatment of narrative and myth17. Ninian Smart, an analyst of faith traditions, saw mythology as one of the seven dimensions of religion but he writes of ‘a widely shared sense that myths are dead, mere curiosities of the past, and that the truly modern person has rid himself of symbolic forms, except in the arts, where they are carefully kept in a ghetto’. Modernists tend to see themselves as ‘author-gods’.
Modernism celebrated The Designer as an Author God
Peterson uses the Ten Commandments as examples of ‘myths’ which ‘we still act out… although we can no longer justify our actions’18. He sees science as a way of understanding the material world and myth as a way of understanding subjective worlds. The Commandments are psychological ‘maps’ which are useful for worldly action, just as cartographic maps are useful for finding your way from A to B. They show where you are and, like design drawings, where you want to get to. Peterson’s own Twelve rules for life became an international bestseller and a Youtube sensation19. Though appealing, especially to young men, they are idiosyncratic and lack the tested, timeless authority of The Ten Commandments.
Jordan Peterson, seen against Claude Lorrain’s Landscape with the Flight into Egypt (c1646, Nivaagaards Malerisamling, Denmark) showing the Holy Family fleeing from King Herod.
In his approach to myth, Peterson was inspired, like Geoffrey Jellicoe, by Carl Gustav Jung’s concept of the collective unconscious. An interest in the structure and meaning of myth is also associated with Mircea Eliade (who Peterson admires), and with Sir James George Frazer, Claude Lévi-Strauss, Vladimir Propp and many others. Their work led to the structuralist’ ambition ‘to uncover the structures that underlie all the things that humans do, think, perceive, and feel.’20 Peterson summarises his argument in this way:
The world can be validly construed as a forum for action, as well as a place of things. We describe the world as a place of things, using the formal methods of science. The techniques of narrative, however – myth, literature, and drama – portray the world as a forum for action. The two forms of representation have been unnecessarily set at odds, because we have not yet formed a clear picture of their respective domains. The domain of the former is the “objective world” – what is, from the perspective of intersubjective perception. The domain of the latter is “the world of value” – what is and what should be, from the perspective of emotion and action.21
Designers, like clinical psychologists, engage with the world both as ‘a place of things’ and as ‘a forum for action’. They must analyse and understand the often invisible physical and biological ‘structures’ which underlie the individuality of places (the genius loci). Then
they must recommend courses of action. It’s a complex task which can gain much from ‘the techniques of narrative’. They are of value in developing and explaining concepts – and in persuading clients of their worth. Geoffrey Jellicoe was a master of this craft, and the three volumes of his Studies in landscape design22 are, for this reason, the most significant of his books, and the twentieth century’s best examples of how to develop and explain sophisticated landscape architecture proposals.
With his design for the Kennedy Memorial at Runnymede, Jellicoe developed a particular interest in ‘the invisible world’ (I’ve tried to explain this in a Youtube video). For him it was the world of ideas. For the design approach known as landscape urbanism, it is more to do with the landscape structuralism: geology, ecology, hydrology, climatology and so forth23.
In 1994, I classified Jellicoe’s design approach as ‘postmodern’24. Later, having read more about postmodernism and critical theory, this was modified and I wrote in a blog post that ‘You could see it as a progression from Renaissance to Modern to Postmodern. Or, like me, you can take the view that [Jellicoe’s] approach was always postmodern: using the term in the sense given it by Canon Bernard Iddings Bell. One could take the same view of TS Eliot’s poetry. It was forward-looking and modern while also traditional. As Winston Churchill said in 1944:”I confess myself to be a great admirer of tradition. The longer you can look back, the farther you can look forward” (often misquoted, rather well, as ‘the farther backward you can look, the farther forward you can see’).’ Jordan Peterson uses this principle.
In his 1926 book, Postmodernism and Other Essays, Iddings Bell argued that religious fundamentalism is unacceptable, because of the advance of science, and that a full Modernism is also unacceptable, because science only takes you so far. Equating Modernism with the Liberal theology of George Tyrrell and Alfred Loisey, Iddings Bell put forward a Postmodernism which welcomed the insights of science but held firm to the core principles of Christianity. Here are some quotations25:
The Bible can no longer be regarded as an inerrant touchstone, the wholly infallible gift of the Eternal to struggling man.(p.4)
Modernism is, properly, a way of looking at religion which originated with Loisey and Tyrrell, two eminent and deposed Roman Catholic priests. (p.7) [Both were
There is no art for art’s sake. All art exists for the sake of Truth. (p.13)
The scientific intelligentsia now realizes, and for the most part freely admits that, merely by scientific methods, nothing of basic importance, of primary
importance, of ontological importance, can be discovered. (p.21)
Fundamentalism is hopelessly outdated. Modernism has ceased to be modern. We are ready for some sort of postmodernism. (p.54)
Insofar as he exists at this moment, the Post-modernist is apt to be a man without a Church. Protestantism, Modernism, and Romanticism alike seem to him to miss
the point. (p.65)
Peterson and Jellicoe can be placed in Bell’s category of ‘men without a church’. They respect modern science and they respect the myths which have guided humans throughout the ages.26 My great aunt, who lived through the religious debates of the early twentieth century, would have classified their beliefs as ‘something somewhere’. I classify them as post-postmodern.
Inspired by Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life, I will end with two conclusions, which might be described as 2 Rules for Design which involve myth and allegory (1) urban and landscape designers should use what Peterson calls Maps of Meaning (2) we should all adopt Jellicoe’s narrative approach and to developing and explaining design proposals. This is what I attempted for the Druk White Lotus School, which will be the subject of a future podcast.
Notes and references
1 A film on The Rise of Jordan Peterson provides ‘an intimate portrait depicting the rise to fame of beloved and reviled best-selling author and professor Jordan Peterson’ and a review by Quilette sees the film as ‘particularly notable’ because ‘
it neither shies away from the political controversies surrounding Peterson, nor allows itself to be defined or limited by them.’ Peterson is very popular on Youtube. The mainstream media acknowledges him as a ‘leading public intellectual’ but, particularly from the left of centre, he is much criticised (eg by VoxHaaretz and the Guardian). David Brooks, began an opinion piece the New York Times by writing that ‘My friend Tyler Cowen argues that Jordan Peterson is the most influential public intellectual in the Western world right now, and he has a point’.
3 Peterson, J., Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief Routledge 1999
4 Daniel Fusco has urged the church to embrace post-postmodernism but, to my surprise, found a greater enthusiasm for its predecessor. He wrote that ‘Modern evangelicalism is obsessed with postmodernism. There are books being written by the thousands on the subject. A recent search of an online website for a major Christian bookstore revealed almost six hundred titles with the word postmodern in it.’ (Fusco, D., Ahead of the Curve: Preparing the Church for Post-Postmodernism Tate Publishing, 2011 p.14) The main influence of pos
5 Ruskin, J., Works 36:115 Letter to Henry Acland, 24 May 1851
11 Nealon, J., Post-Postmodernism: or, The Cultural Logic of Just-in-Time Capitalism Stanford University Press 2012 p.ix
12 Zavarzadeh, M. (1975). The Apocalyptic Fact and the Eclipse of Fiction in Recent American Prose Narratives. Journal of American Studies, 9(1), 69-83
13 van den Akker, R., (Editor), Gibbons, A. (Editor), Vermeulen, T. (Editor), Metamodernism Historicity, Affect, and Depth after Postmodernism (Radical Cultural Studies) Rowman and Littlefield International Ltd., 2017 p.3
14Stephen Knudsen, in a brilliantly written and illustrated article, expresses a preference for metamodernism to ‘the hideous term post-postmodernism, let’s pray that it is simply a place marker’. ( ‘Beyond postmodernism. Putting a face on metamodernism without the easy clichés’, Artpulse Magazine 2013)
16 Barthes, R., Image music text Fontana 1977 p.142ff
17 I have written more about story patterns in Chapter 3 of Turner, T., City as landscape, Spons, 1996. ‘In the days when stories were passed on by word of mouth, from generation to generation, details became blurred and
structural patterns were laid bare. Vladimir Propp initiated the structural analysis of wonder tales, or fairy tales, which others have taken up. An amazing worldwide uniformity has been found in such tales. Their themes are hope and tragedy. Paradise is lost and paradise is found again. Cinderella is a classic example. She lived in paradise until her mother died. Then came trials, tribulations, mysterious happenings and, eventually, a happy ending’ (p.31) This chapter is also available as an illustrated Youtube video with the title Landscape Architecture Ideas: design process and as an unillustrated podcast.
18 In Maps of meaning (p.19) Peterson writes that ‘The great forces of empiricism and rationality and the great technique of experiment have killed myth, and it cannot be resurrected – or so it seems. We still act out the precepts of our forebears, however, although we can no longer justify our actions. Our behavior is shaped (at least in the ideal) by the same mythic rules – thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not covet – that guided our ancestors, for the thousands of years they lived, without benefit of formal empirical thought… If myths are mere superstitious proto-theories, why did they work? Why were they remembered?’
19 Peterson, J.B., 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos Penguin 2019
21 Peterson, J., Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief Routledge 1999 p.xxi
22 Jellicoe, G.A., Studies in landscape design, Oxford University Press Vol 1 1960, Vol 2 1966, Vol 3 1970.
23 It would be interesting to know how landscape urbanism theorists, like Charles Waldheim and James Corner, classify their views: Modern? Postmodern? Metamodern? Post-postmodern? Please ask them if you have the opportunity.
24 Turner, T., British gardens: history, philosophy and design Routledge 2013, p.389
25 The page references in brackets are to: Bell, I.B., Postmodernism And Other Essays Morehouse Publishing Co. 1926
26 Ninian Smart, grouped the ‘Narrative and Mythic’ dimensions of religion as ‘stories (often regarded as revealed) that work on several levels. Sometimes narratives fit together into a fairly complete and systematic interpretation of the universe and human’s place in it’. His approach to comparative religion is described as phenomenological. With regard to his own beliefs, Smart told an interviewer that ‘I often say that I’m a Buddhist-Episcopalian. I say that partly to annoy people…. I like to annoy people who think that a religion can contain the whole truth. No religion, it seems to me, contains the whole truth. I think it’s mad to think that there is nothing to learn from other traditions and civilizations. If you accept that other religions have something to offer and you learn from them, that is what you become: a Buddhist-Episcopalian or a Hindu-Muslim or whatever.’ I have not come across a reference to Smart by Peterson but it seems likely that he is familiar with Smart’s work.
Victoria Tower Gardens UK National Holocaust Memorial
Following the refusal of planning permission by Westminster City Council, an inquiry into the applicant’s appeal starts on Tuesday 6th October 2020 and is expected to last for 4 weeks. Here is my letter of objection (with apologies for my trumpet blowing, which is said to be valued by assessors). You can email an objection with the subject line Appeal 3240661 Victoria Tower Gardens to Helen.firstname.lastname@example.org ] Here is my letter:
Dear Helen Skinner
Proposed Holocaust Memorial in Victoria Tower Gardens
I wish to object to the proposed memorial for the reasons detailed in this letter and summarised at the foot of the letter. They arise from my having lived in London and known Victoria Tower Gardens for 50 years, from being a professional member (now retired) of the Royal Town Planning Institute and the Landscape Institute, from having written a report on Urban Parks (1992), with Robert Holden, for the Landscape Institute, from having produced a report on A Green Strategy for London, (1990, for the London Planning Advisory Committee, a predecessor of the GLA), from writing an article on ‘Open space planning in London: From standards per 1000 to green strategy’, Town Planning Review, Vol. 63, No. 4 (OCTOBER 1992), pp. 365-386, from having published 6 books (on urban design, landscape planning and garden history), and from having made two Youtube videos about the current proposal [ https://youtu.be/JNKtPuKkSc8 and https://youtu.be/mfWH7_SWoZM ]. I also edit the Landscape Architects Association website. My reasons for objecting to the proposed Holocaust Memorial follow.
Insufficient thought was given to the choice of site for the proposed memorial. The proposers’ seem to have reasoned that because the site is in public ownership the responsible department can do whatever it wishes with its own property.
The consideration of alternatives is an integral aspect of the environmental assessment procedure and for a high profile proposal of this nature special attention should have been given at the initial planning stage, to the landscape and visual impact of building the Memorial in different locations. The UK Landscape Institute publishes a book on how to do this. As mentioned in one of my videos, the Garden Bridge proposal was rejected largely because it was in the wrong place. Members of the public have much knowledge and strong views on contextual factors, including heritage, scenic quality, ecology, hydrology, sensitivity to change, pedestrian movements, views and related issues.
Surveys of contextual issues have been an aspect of British town and country planning since its inception in the first decade of the 20th century. Sir Patrick Geddes, one of the profession’s founders and leading theorists, argued for thorough surveys and for decisions to be taken in the context of regularly updated Cities Exhibitions.
In the 1960s this aspect of planning became known as public participation. Today, it is practiced as consultation which often amounts to little more than giving the public a say before proceeding with the original plan. This appears to be what happened for the proposed development in Victoria Tower Gardens. The public should also have been told what alternative locations were considered and given an opportunity to participate in the decision making. Public projects must have public support.
The heritage importance of Victoria Tower Gardens
The Gardens are one of the few examples in London of a Victorian public garden to have survived with few changes to their classic simplicity. It has great trees, public walks (often described as ‘promenades’ when they were made), soothing grass, some flowers, some statues and some other features.
In 1833 a House of Commons Select Committee on Public Walks was charged to “consider the best means of securing open spaces in the immediate vicinity of populous towns, as public walks calculated to promote the health and comfort of the inhabitants.” This led to Britain becoming the first country to make public parks for public use, as distinct from the continental practice of making royal gardens and granting public access under certain circumstances – male visitors had to wear a sword when visiting Versailles. There can be no better place for a well-conserved heritage public garden than beside Britain’s Parliament.
The visual quality of Victoria Tower Gardens
The planners of the Holocaust Memorial may have seen Victoria Tower Gardens as ‘just grass’ and with visual quality comparable to that of a football pitch (which, in the years after the First World War became a common use of public parks). Should this be what was thought, it was a fundamental mistake.
The Gardens are a brilliantly romantic composition of buildings, trees, other planting, other structures, walks, steps, sculpture and the Buxton Memorial, which formerly stood in Parliament Square and which celebrates the successful campaign for slavery to be abolished. This was a very great achievement and nothing should be done to encroach on its splendour.
Views in to the site
Seen from Westminster Bridge, the visual context of ‘the mother of parliaments’ includes the line of London planes arching over the Thames, with the Victoria Tower a link between ‘urb’ and ‘rus’. Should any of the trees die because of the underground development it would be a blow to London – and a slur on the Memorial. Whatever assurances may be given by arboriculturalists, it is not a risk that should be taken.
Views out from the site
The views out from Victoria Tower Gardens are as romantic as they are rich in solace. Seen through the branches and leaves, the Thames has something of its pre-Roman glory. The proximity of Westminster Hall, marked by the Gothic character of the Victoria Tower, is a reminder that when the Normans began the development of Westminster it was a country retreat, well away from the City of London. Henry VIII appreciated this aspect of Westminster when establishing what are now London’s Royal Parks. Victoria Tower Gardens, though not part of his hunting reserve, is now managed by the Royal Parks Agency and has more of its late medieval character than St James’s Park.
Unlike the Central London Royal Parks, Victoria Tower Gardens does not form part of London’s pedestrian circulation network: people do not use the Gardens as a direct route to somewhere else. They come for physical and spiritual ‘health and comfort’.
Its two ‘public walks’ offer the quiet solace of views over grass and views over water. As shown on the development proposal submitted by the applicants, the main feature of the Gardens will become a ‘pedestrian superhighway’ with wide grass verges. With the projected traffic of 1 million visitors/year, the solace of the gardens would be destroyed. Mothers would be in fear of losing their children. Sunbathers would become too self-conscious to relax. MPs would not find a private place for sensitive discussions or TV interviews. The old and the unemployed would lose their retreat. The raised river-view seats would be dominated by tourists taking selfies of each other.
As one of the most-visited tourist destinations in Europe, Westminster has become a very busy place, its bustle itself an attraction. Victoria Tower Gardens is a most-welcome contrast to the crowds and should be protected from being overwhelmed.
The perspective drawing submitted by the design team is significantly misleading with regard to pedestrians. It shows approximately 100 people using the greenspace and 10 people on the new path to the Memorial (and they look more like local residents and local workers than visitors from afar). If the Memorial attracts 1 million visitors/year the percentage of local users is more likely to be 10% than the 90% shown on the illustration.
Building a Holocaust Memorial in Victoria Tower Gardens would change the public image and character of the space from green to grey.The distinction is set out as follows in Chapter 16 of my 1996 book, City as landscape:
Grey space is solemn. It surrounds tombs and memorials, encouraging us to reflect on the transience of human life and the glory of the departed.
Green space is made by mixing yellow with blue, to calm the diversity of the yellow and restrain the sublimity of the blue. It should be relaxing in every way. City dwellers love green space, of course. Amid the noise and stress of city life, it’s wonderful to come across an island of green. But one does not want every public open space in every city to be green.
The space outside the Palace of Westminster can be characterised as Red Space:
Red space is exciting. As blood is red, the colour symbolizes excitement in every country.
There is a danger that space between the entrance to Victoria Tower Gardens and the obelisk on Lambeth Bridge would become red space instead of the somber grey space which befits the terrible tragedy it commemorates. Tourists enjoy eating, drinking, joking and buying things.
Respect for the donors
In 1879, WH Smith, of newsagent fame, gave £1000 and parliament gave another £1400 for ‘enclosing and laying out for the use of the public the ground to the south of the Houses of Parliament which has recently been embanked’. Previously, the land was unembanked and in commercial use. The original design was modified in 1914 and 1955 but it remains very much as the original donors intended and should not be purloined for a use which has no connection with promoting the ‘health and comfort of the inhabitants”.
Respect for the local community
Victoria Tower Gardens was planned and designed as a community space, as it is still used. Members of the community welcome visitors and are proud to be guardians of the very special character they come to enjoy.
The Holocaust was a horrific event of world significance, filling us all with irremediable sadness. Building a Holocaust Memorial on this site would forever change its character from a community space into a world space. It would change a place of joy into a place of sorrow.
We all have sadness in our lives but Horace’s advice to “seize the day” (carpe diem) is written on garden sundials for good reason.
The architecture and landscape architecture of the proposed memorial
Both are of high design quality. Yet both are hostile to the context of Victoria Tower Gardens.
Design historians will probably classify the design character as Postmodern. Its neighbours have a Gothic character (the Palace of Westminster) a Neoclassical character (the apartment blocks) or a Modernist character (the North Wing of St Thomas’s Hospital). I am not suggesting the design should adopt these styles but the designers should explain how the style was chosen, what it symbolises and in what respects their design approach is intended to fit in with neighbouring structures.
Much of the proposed accommodation is underground, which has its own symbolism, but the parts which are above ground have a strong character, which I would describe as ‘snarling’. The Corten steel teeth at the entrance to the underground chambers can be seen as aggressive.
The grass mound which, like gums, slopes down from the “teeth” threatens to engulf the Buxton Memorial. There is also a serious arboricultural concern that however much care is lavished on these ‘gums’, and on the structures they conceal, some of the great London plane trees will suffer terminal damage. Their roots cannot grow south, because of the impermeable paving and granite Embankment. They are dependent on the grassed area for their nutrition. Building an underground structure will be harmful and raising the level of the grass will be harmful.
The ‘sombre’ character referred to in the design brief is intrinsic to the nature of a Holocaust Memorial and very well expressed by the Caprice (by Atar Arad – Ron Arad’s brother) used in the design team’s video presentation of the Concept behind UK Holocaust Memorial. But the choice of music is as misleading as the perspective sketch of the design. Placing a memorial in the Gardens would confer tension and darkness, especially with the accommodation raising an angry face from a hidden lair.
Victoria Tower Gardens provide Central London with a romantically calm greenspace with a lawn, sculpture, children’s play, two great avenues of London plane trees, beguiling views of the Thames and a spectacular view of the Palace of Westminster. They are appreciated by tourists and much used by office workers and local residents.
Though opposed to building ever-more memorials on Royal Parks’ land, I accept that building underground is better than building above ground.
For this project, there are arboricultural risks, the symbolism is poorly judged and the landscape/heritage context has been completely ignored.
My personal view is that the evil of the Holocaust should not be buried. It should be exposed to the light of day, to the four winds and to the purity of falling rain. The organisers should look for an appropriate site.