Publishers are trained to ask ‘so who is your book aimed at?’ when considering a proposal. My usual thought, if not my answer, is ‘everyone’. Claire, I assume, gave a better-targeted answer: ‘practicing landscape architects’. This is good. The landscape architecture profession has suffered from too few skills, too little knowledge and too little ambition. Our focus has been on what Elizabeth Beazley described in the title of her book as The design and detail of the space between buildings.
For practitioners, Claire Thirwall’s book opens a door to new techniques, new approaches, a wider conception of the landscape profession’s role – and how to do it. Every landscape office should have a home on its bookshelf for Thirlwall’s ‘project guide to creating better landscapes’. It is available direct from the publisher.
Side boxes and case studies reinforce the text, as do reflections from the author’s practice. She is attracted by ideas, which is significant. As a student, I was taught the Survey > Analysis > Design (SAD) method. It had no place for ideas at the inception of a project. One had to be content with a small ‘creative leap’ towards the end.
Claire draws on her own practice. Very wisely, she advises practitioners that a single point of contact between the client and a lead consultant is not a good idea. The RIBA Plan of work is rightly criticised for virtually ignoring the client. On this issue, I stand with Hassan Fathy and believe that the best designs result from 3-way cooperation between the client, the builder and the designer. It’s essential, but the author is also right to advise that attendance at meetings should be billed as per item fee.
‘Case Study 1.1 reviews the Living Building Challenge, run by the International Living Future Institute and described as ‘the world’s most rigorous proven performance standard for building’. Interestingly, the assessment method centres on targets, described as ‘imperatives’ and ‘petals’, instead of on ‘criteria’. The eight imperatives are Place, Water, Energy, Health & Happiness, Materials, Equity and Beauty. For example, the target for water is ‘Creating developments that operate within the water balance of a given place and climate’.
I was particularly taken with Case Study 2.2: Cloud Point Scans of Historic Broads Drainage Mills on which Claire worked as an expert adviser to the National Lottery Heritage Fund. It involved 3D laser scanning to generate 3D digital models. The wind mills are fascinating and one can’t gain a full appreciation of the Broads without understanding their role and that of the peat-diggers who created the Norfolk Broads. I hope there will be another Lottery project to map and model the underwater landscape. Prior to the work Joyce Lambert in the 1960s the Broads were viewed as natural features rather than the medieval peat excavations they in fact are. Cloud scans could map the peat excavations. Drones could model the existing landscape. A 3d model of thousands of years of landscape change could be created.
Digital models and photographs of the mills and the Broads
Here is a video with more on the use of drones and cloud point software in landscape architecture
Podcast on climate change mitigation through landscape planning
Landscape factors, both human and non-human, influence climate change and can be managed to mitigate adverse consequences. Human factors include agriculture, forestry, urbanisation, power generation and transport. Natural factors include changes in the sun, volcanoes, the Earth’s orbit and the composition of the atmosphere.
Climate scientists investigate the physics, chemistry, geology, biology etc our changing climate. Landscape architects should focus on practical measures relating to land planning, management and design. There is much that can be done and more that may become possible. To date, there has been an imbalance between the necessary research on why our climate is changing and the equally necessary research on how urban and rural landscapes can be adaptated to mitigate the the consequences of climate change.
The examples of multi-objective landscape planning discussed in this podcast are in Upland Britain, London, Egypt and Ladakh. There is a transcript of the text below and a Youtube video will follow in due course. The landscape measures will, I believe, be significantly more effective than a ban on single-use plastic shopping bags. But for other reasons I am a great believer in recycling plastic and designed Gyre Island as a contribution to the de-plasticization of the ocean environment.
A landscape planning approach to mitigating climate change: transcript of the podcast + links
There’s widespread scientific agreement that human use of fossil fuels has become a primary cause of global warming – and that a transition to renewable energy is therefore necessary. We need to reduce the overall demand for energy and we need to increase the supply of non-carbon fuels. I agree with this. But if carbon dioxide is not the only cause of global warming, which it isn’t, then other solutions, will also be necessary.
William Ruddiman, a geologist and palaeo-climatologist, put forward the Early Anthropogenic Hypothesis and it’s been raised to the level of a Theory. He argues that human influence on climate change began at least six thousand years ago and was caused by emissions of the three main greenhouse gases:
Levels of Carbon Dioxide, CO2, were raised by forest clearance in the ancient world and by the use of the cleared land by early farmers
The release of Methane, CH4, was increased by livestock rearing and rice cultivation, also in the ancient world
The release of Nitrous Oxide, N2O, increased with the use of artificial nitrogenous fertilizers, particularly after 1960. Nitrogen now pollutes rivers, lakes and water supplies
William Ruddiman’s theory of anthropogenic climate change is based on graphs showing cooling and warming in previous interglacial periods. The graphs show that, geologically, the Earth is nearing the end of a warm interglacial period, called the Holocene, which followed the Pleistocene glaciations. Also known as The Ice Age, the Pleistocene lasted for 2.6 million of the Earth’s four and a half billion year lifetime. That’s not much. Previous extinction events are associated with geological processes, including plate tectonics, volcanoes and meteors.
Earth’s climate was much hotter before the Pleistocene and in 90% of the preceding 500 million years, the north and south poles had no permanent ice.
Typically, a Pleistocene glaciation lasted for 90 thousand years, and interglacial periods for about 10,000 years. The cycles, of glacials and interglacials, coincided with changes in the Earth’s orbit known to geologists as eccentricity, obliquity and precession. Since the current interglacial period began about 12,000 years ago, we are believed to be approaching the next glacial period – and global temperatures ‘should’ be falling. But human activity appears to be delaying the advance of the ice.
The geological era in which we live is therefore described as the Anthropocene, derived from the prefix ‘anthropo’, meaning ‘human’. It is defined as: ‘the period during which human activity has been the dominant influence on climate and the environment’. If Ruddiman’s Theory is correct, the Anthropocene results:
in part from the Neolithic Revolution, when agriculture began
and in part from the Industrial revolution, when we came to rely on fossil fuels
We therefore need measures to deal with the adverse side effects of two revolutions on the Earth’s climate.
The measures discussed in this podcast are examples of Sustainable Landscape Planning. Humans could migrate from coastal areas and the tropics towards the north and south poles. But if global warming continues, and we want to stay where we are, then in both urban areas and rural areas we will need plans:
For reducing our use of fossil fuels
For reducing the output of methane and other greenhouse gases
For sequestering the carbon we have already released into the atmosphere during the past 6000 years
The examples I’m going to discuss of how to plan for this come from areas where I have lived and worked: three are in Britain, one is in Egypt and one is in India.
1. Let’s start with the landscape planning Britain’s Uplands
By international standards, they’re not high. Most of the area is under a thousand meters in elevation. It’s character is bare hills with expanses of heathland and blanket bog. These Uplands constitute 38% 38% of Britain and are much influenced by public policy. Without human intervention most of the upland area would be woodland, as indeed it used to be before we cut down the trees for fuel and replaced them with hill sheep farms.
Today, we subsidise sheep farming, which stops trees growing on the hills, and we subsidise conifer plantations behind high fences, to keep out sheep and deer.
With climate change objectives now centre stage, we need landscape plans for redirecting public investment in the uplands to public goods. These plans are likely to centre on multi-objective land management, including rewilding, reinstating woodland habitats, accumulating biomass in trees scrub and soil, detaining water, and managing livestock in woodland pastures. IQ2 hosted a great debate on this issue with arguments for and against re-wilding.
2. Landscape planning for London’s Green Belt.
There are several videos and blog posts about this on the Landscapearchitecture.org.uk website.
The original Green Belt idea, as put forward by Ebenezer Howard, had two main aims: to constrain London’s growth and to create a public amenity for residents of the metropolis. In practice, the first aim has greatly outweighed the second.
As it exists today, the Green Belt is a mainly rural area three times the size of London. Its small towns and villages are dominated by the metropolis and getting permission for new building is really difficult. Agriculture survives without prospering. The belt has a lot of horses and horse grazing, a wealth of golf courses, many small badly managed woods, some country parks, not very well managed, and a few good routes for walking and cycling.
Most of the Green Belt is not in public ownership and provides few public goods. But this could change, and the feasibility of managing the London Green Belt to help combat Global Warming should be thoroughly investigated.
Medieval castles and palaces were surrounded by great hunting parks, which belonged to their rulers. 21st century cities could have comparable green belts in which public money is used to create landscape public goods.
Natural capital should be developed with a full awareness of its potential contribution to climate change objectives. The Wikipedia entry on Natural Capital explains the idea as follows:
“It is an extension of the economic notion of capital to goods and services provided by the natural environment. For example, a well-maintained forest or river may provide an indefinitely sustainable flow of new trees .. or fish… Natural capital also provides people with essential services, like water catchment, erosion control and crop pollination by insects, which in turn ensure the long-term viability of other natural resources”
In the Green Belt, public money should be used to develop natural capital, instead of giving financial support to intensive agriculture. This would contribute to the costs of carbon sequestration, wood pasture, foraging, rewilding, aquifer recharge, water supply, recreation, scenic beauty and other public goods.
With regard to food supply, the quantity would be reduced and the quality increased. Wild food provides a wider range of nutrients than the products of industrial agriculture and intensive food processing. This fits with the dietary advice to eat less meat, but higher quality meat. Other nutritious possibilities include the use of woodland to supply Walnuts, Hazelnuts, Chestnuts, Berries, Fruit and Fungi – including Truffles. Their prices are rising because they are important to vegans and veganism is growing. The Sweet Chestnut, Castanea sativa, is well suited to London’s green belt. I did an optimistic post about this on the Gardenvisit.com website in 2011 but now see collecting chestnuts is more of a healthy hobby than a commercial enterprise.
Brazil, said to have the world’s best Dietary Guidelines, advises everyone to ‘Make natural or minimally processed foods the basis of your diet’. Green belts rich in natural capital can help improve our diets.
3. My third set of examples of planning to combat climate change, are for Greater London
‘Could landscape planning reduce the city’s impact on global warming?’
Like other cities, London can become more sustainable by reducing its inputs and reducing its outputs. Stuff needs to be recycled and reused.
There’s a diagram to illustrate this principle in the book from which I took the title for this set of podcasts: City as landscape. It’s on page 91. Water, energy and materials are shown as examples of inputs to be reduced. And as examples of outputs to be reduced, I used water, wastes and pollution.
Let’s take water first, because it’s both an input and an output.
I first read about the need and potential for aquifer recharge in Ian McHarg’s book on Design with nature. Later, I discussed it in a book Landscape planning and environmental impact design. This quotation is from Chapter 9 on Rivers and Floods:
“In all the industrial countries, rivers have suffered from forest clearance in the uplands, farm drainage in the lowlands and water-proofing in urban areas. Forest clearance took place on the hills, in the valleys and on the plains. This accelerated water runoff. Ploughing and drainage took place in agricultural areas. This accelerated water runoff. River channels were deepened, widened, straightened and fixed. This accelerated water runoff. Large new urban areas were rendered partially impervious, with roofing and paving materials. This accelerated water runoff. The capacity of washlands and flood plains to accommodate peak volumes was diminished by building upon them. Accelerated water runoff raised flood peaks. It then became necessary to place urban rivers into underground culverts or concrete canals, or to supplement their capacity with ‘flood relief channels’. The net effect of all the changes was a dramatic increase in peak storm discharge. Embankments had to be built to prevent overtopping by floodwater. When these works are viewed together it is clear that they do not constitute a good use of public or private expenditure.”
Large sums of money and megawatts of energy were spent on concreting flood defenses and pumping water from one place to another.
In London, the egregious current example of this approach is the Thames Tideway Tunnel. It’s a vast new sewer being built under the River Thames with the design aim of accelerating the flow of storm water from the land to the sea. The sustainable and climate-friendly solution would have been a low-impact drainage scheme, known in the UK as Sustainable Urban Drainage.
The principle is that storm water should be detained, infiltrated and evapo-transpirated on or near the ground on which it falls. With storm water returned directly to the aquifer, London’s sewer network would not be overburdened in periods of heavy rain and the new tunnel would be superfluous.
What London really needed was a reclamation project for its lost rivers. Engineers buried them. Landscape architects should daylight them.
To feed its rivers and aquifers with clean fresh water, London also needs a network of swales, ponds, channels, rain gardens, living walls and living roofs.
Compared to surface water sewers, they are cheap to build and a welcome addition to the urban landscape.
From a global warming perspective, they would save on the use of fossil fuels to build, operate and extend the stormwater sewer network. The Thames Tideway Tunnel alone will cost £4 billion pounds. Then there will be running costs for ever and ever.
Cycle infrastructure and climate change
Transport is another issue. This sector was responsible for 33% of UK CO2 in 2018. Though being reduced, this is happening at a much slower rate than that achieved by the residential, business and energy supply sectors.
By far the most effective and greenest way for the transport sector to reduce its use of energy is to plan and design for a switch: from motorised commuting to commuting by bicycle and on foot. I’ve made a number of Youtube videos about cycling policy.
In the UK, over 80% of the people live in urban areas and over 60% of the trips they make are done by car. Most of our cycling infrastructure is dreadful and less than 2% of all trips are done by bike. In Denmark and Holland, the cycling infrastructure is good and the urban cycling mode share is approaching 50%. This saves a lot of money, a lot of fuel and a lot of air pollution.
The greenhouse gas emissions from mass bicycle transport are below one eightieth of the emissions from travelling the same distance by car.
And the Benefit:Cost Ratio for building Cycleway Networks is between 2 times and 20 times higher than the typical 2:1 BCR for motorised transport projects.
Cycling is the fastest, cheapest, healthiest, safest and most sustainable transport mode for half of all urban trips.
To get more people travelling by bike, cities should build good cycleway networks. Quantity and quality matter. The key principles are:
First, cycleways must be safe and must look safe. This includes protection from accidents and from air pollution. After dark, cyclists feel safest when there is good lighting and good visual policing.
Second, cycleway routes must be based on desire lines, as they are understood by landscape architects. Commuter cyclists want fast A-to-B connections and are much influenced by the quality of the route. A well-designed greenway, though longer, can attract cyclists from shorter but heavily trafficked routes.
It’s not enough for a cycleway to be ‘engineered’ as a mini-road, using standard design criteria. To attract users Cycleways should also be works of landscape architecture: useful, beautiful and sustainably context-sensitive. The design aim is to design a cycle network routes that persuades cyclists not to use motorised transport modes.
Climate-friendly building is a third issue.
With their acceptance of the Modernist design principle that form should ‘follow function’, architects began making exteriors a consequence of internal use of buildings. So contextual issues were ignored. This was a wrong turn.
Buildings should look green, in the sense of vegetated, and they should be green, in a broad environmental sense. NO DEAD SKIN is a good climate-friendly policy for relating buildings to contexts. In addition to their traditional roles, exteriors should support vegetation, detain and transpire water, generate energy and let buildings make friends with their neighbours, socially, aesthetically, climatically and ecologically.
Most building skin should be designed to support vegetation. Plants and substrates can insulate interiors from heat loss and from heat gain. Vegetation sequesters carbon, supports wildlife, absorbs noise and lessens surface water discharge. Living roofs can be gardens, open to the sun, isolated from traffic noise, free from fumes. Or they can be wildlife habitats, contributing to biomass and biodiversity.
Other parts of the building skin should allow for interiors to be naturally lit and naturally ventilated. This is sweeter and healthier than energy-consumptive heating and ventilation systems. South-facing walls are good places for solar arrays to generate electricity.
Tall buildings should be designed with special attention to their impact on microclimates. Towers can reflect sunlight into dark corners and gloomy alleys. In hot countries, buildings can provide shade and ventilation, as they did in the ancient South, East and West Asia. In cold countries, groups of buildings can be designed to provide shelter from strong winds.
Singapore has a really good ‘landscape replacement’ policy for vegetating buildings and their surroundings. Launched in 2009, it requires all new developments to provide: “Landscape Replacement Areas which in total are at least equivalent in size to the development site area.” So a hundred square meters of land must have at least a hundred square meters of vegetation. In 2017, the policy was extended
To include vertical greenery and green roofs
To support rooftop urban farming, and other sustainability-related features; and
To set Green Plot Ratio standards for private developments
Singapore has a great acronym for its policy: LUSH. The letters stand for Landscape for Urban Spaces and Highrises.
Most cities need to do much more than ‘replace’ habitats destroyed by current development and redevelopment projects. They also need to replace the natural habitats which were built over when the land was first urbanised. Their pre-industrial lushness can and should be restored.
4. My fourth example of landscape planning to combat global warming is from Egypt.
I worked there in 1975 on a UNDP financed Regional Plan for the Suez Canal Zone. The project team leader was Jac Smit, who later became known as ‘the ‘Father’ of ‘Urban Agriculture’. My responsibility was for the environmental section of the plan.
Having studied landscape architecture at Harvard, where he was inspired by Jaqueline Tyrwhitt and Patrick Geddes, Jac Smit was a great believer in landscape planning. With a broader view than mine, he argued that Egypt’s agricultural land should be protected and that its fast-growing population should be housed on the desert land which fringes Egypt’s delta. His policy was not followed. Instead, Egypt has reduced its carbon sequestration by building on farmland, destroying topsoil and removing vegetation. This is also being done in India, China and most of the developing world. It’s a climate-unfriendly and most unwise policy.
In 2015, forty years after publication of the Suez Canal Regional Master Plan, Egypt took Jac Smit’s advice and began construction of a new city in the desert between Cairo and the Suez Canal. In design terms, the plan looks like an unhappy marriage of northern Baroque and Modernist design principles. Who would ever guess that this is a desert city in a hot arid environment? It looks as though it was designed by a Chinese company – and it was.
5. My fifth example of landscape planning to combat global warming, is from Ladakh
It is a part of Northeast India where I’ve been helping to make a garden for a Buddhist-influenced school. It illustrates the point that different places require different approaches to planning for climate change.
Ladakh is a Himalayan region. It borders Tibet, with a similar language and even less rain – about 100mm per year. The elevation of the garden is three and a half thousand meters above sea level. Without water from melting snow, agriculture would not be impossible. Its glaciers are retreating and its snowfields contracting. The weather is always sunny, warm in the summer and very cold in the winter. Geographically, it’s classified as a cold desert and it’s river valleys are oases.
Ladakh has been called ‘the canary in the coal mine’ for global warming. When the snowfields have melted the region will become uninhabitable.
The region’s travel sector is booming but tourists are less environment-friendly than the local people. They like their hotels to be built on Ladakh’s very-scarce agricultural land. For everyday living, they use much more water and much more energy than the Ladakhis.
The Druk White Lotus school was built, as Jac Smit would have liked, on desert land. This saves agricultural land from being lost but exposes the school community to extremes of heat, cold and wind-blown dust.
The architects, Arup Associates, applied sustainable principles to the building design and have won many architectural awards for their work. The building stone, granite, was locally sourced and squared by hand. The heating is passive solar, using Trombe walls. Electricity is generated by solar panels and used to pump water from, we think, a dynamic aquifer. After use, the water seeps into the River Indus.
All the toilets are composting. The planting policy is based on hydrozones and soil development zones. Local plants are being used to establish shelterbelts as protection from dust storms and to shade outdoor areas. Building on deserts is much more sustainable than building on farmland.
The land surrounding the school is being made into a Dragon Garden. The design strategy is secular but Buddhist-influenced. Dragons symbolise compassion and gentle power. The Lotus, as used in the school’s name, is a symbol of enlightenment. It’s a climate-friendly garden – and there’s a good deal of information about it on Youtube. See playlist of Youtube videos on Druk White Lotus School landscape and garden.
Interim conclusions on landscape planning in an era of climate change
Well, having looked at examples of how landscape architects can help combat global warming, I’ll finish with some general thoughts about climate change.
The fundamental point is that you can’t argue with thermometers. If sufficient records say the climate is changing then as far as I’m concerned, the climate IS changing. And if this is going to lead to the flooding of densely populated coastal areas, then effective action should be taken.
Now for a short digression. I remember looking out of an aeroplane window on my first night-flight, in the 1960s, and being amazed at the quantity of artificial lighting in urban areas. My thoughts were that ‘This can’t be good’ and that ‘This can’t last’.
In the 1970s I didn’t need the Club of Rome to persuade me that, one day, the oil will run out, though I was sceptical about when this might happen.
In the 1980s, as a London cycle commuter I became ‘interested’ in the air pollution, noise and road safety arguments for reducing car transport.
I should therefore have been an early adopter of the climate change argument for transitioning away from fossil fuels. But I was put off by three aspects of the campaign.
First, I heard too little discussion of the influence of Nature on climate change. Everyone who’s studied geology knows its importance. Though man’s impact on climate may be greater at present, the influence of non-human factors will surely be greater in the longer term and we are, of course, part of nature
Second, I dislike the comparison with holocaust deniers implied by the phrase ‘climate change denier’. The comparison is insultingly ill-judged.
Scientists should be sceptical and should welcome criticism. They have weakened their case by becoming politicians and by saying so little about the historic and the non-anthropogenic causes of climate change
Third, too many proposals for dealing with global warming are un-researched, unrealistic and trivial. I remember asking the checkout lady who first refused me a polythene bag for my shopping if she thought her employer’s policy would ‘save the planet’. ‘Oh no, she said, but it may gie us a few extra minutes’.
These factors have weakened the case for taking effective action on climate change.
My own assumption is that William Ruddiman’s Theory of Anthropogenic Climate Change is correct. So I think man’s influence on climate began with the Neolithic Revolution, became more significant with the Industrial Revolution, and became even more significant with the Oil Power Revolution of the 20th century. Ruddiman’s graphs show that from a geological perspective the past 10,000 years have been most unusual for their relative climatic stability. We’re over-warming the planet now and it could be a wise policy to hold back hydrocarbon reserves until global warming is needed.
Avoiding global cooling without an excess of global warming will require Climate Management, Geo-Engineering and CaLP. That’s Climate and Landscape Planning. The present need is to reverse global warming. But when we have exhausted the world’s hydrocarbons, an opposite policy may be required, just as we switch between central heating and air conditioning between winter and summer.
For this to be possible, we will need much more information on the consequences:
of a transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy
of changes in the size of the world’s population
of landscape planning policies, as discussed in this podcast
small-scale policies which get a lot of publicity, like banning single-use plastic bags,
Research on the costs, effectiveness and acceptability of policy alternatives should proceed in step with research on the causes of climate change. Policy changes should be evidence-based.
Brexiteers have called for London to become a ‘Singapore-on-Thames’ and one aspect of this is very attractive. Singapore has seen itself as a Garden City for many years and it agreed a landscape replacement policy in 2009. LUSH 2.0 is a policy for Landscaping Urban Spaces and Highrises. The aim is to create ‘a green and lush living and working environment’ for everyone.
The Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) explains that ‘Through an incentive program, we replace greenery lost on the ground from development with greenery in the sky through high-rise terraces and gardens. This adds another layer of space for recreation and gathering. In Marina Bay, all developments comply with a 100 percent greenery replacement policy. The Pinnacle@Duxton, the tallest public housing development in the world, has seven 50-story buildings connected by gardens on the 26th and 50th floors. You can even jog around a track on these levels, which are also equipped with exercise stations’.
Singapore Landscape Replacement Policy
London has always thrived by attracting talent, from the UK, Europe and the World. To continue doing this it has to create a high quality environment for living and working. This involves green transport, green living, and green working. So let’s make London a lush city. Henry Steed, who appears in the above video is a member of the Landscape Institute. So is Andrew Grant, who explains his design for Singapore’s Gardens by the Bay in the below video.
Once upon a time all our ancestors were nomads. They had neither houses nor gardens. But they had a keen understanding of landscapes. They knew where to hunt, where to gather and where to hide.
The first buildings they made were tombs and temples. They needed to keep moving, to find food, so they couldn’t build settlements. But in the landscapes through which they roamed, certain places became significant. Stonehenge, in southern England is a great example. There’s evidence of the site having been in use 10,000 years ago and the first stone circle dates from 5,000 years ago. It was a a place where people gathered on ceremonial occasions, including cremations and burials.
The beliefs of the time, described as animist, centered on features in the landscape, including objects, animals and places associated with spiritual qualities and unseen powers, including hilltops, riversides, forest edges and crossings. It’s probable that these landscapes were culturally significant long before they became sites for building temples. Gobekli Tepe, a hill in the south of Turkey is ,thought to have the world’s oldest surviving temples, begun about 12,000 years ago. They are inside mounds on top of a hill. There are expansive views in every direction, to the south over what is now a rich agricultural plain. Gobekli Tepe doesn’t count as a work of architecture, because it wasn’t built for human habitation. But it is a work of landscape architecture.
The world’s oldest literary work, the Epic of Gilgamesh, contains what reads as an account of landscape architectural composition. It is a story about a Mesopotamian king who lived about 4,000 years ago. Its authors invite the reader to: “Go up on the wall of Uruk and walk around. Examine its foundation. Inspect its brickwork thoroughly. Did not the Seven Sages themselves lay out its plans? One league city, one league palm gardens, one league lowlands, the open area of the Ishtar Temple, three leagues, and the open area of Uruk the wall encloses.” A league was about two and a half thousand metres.
The landscape of cities
Uruk, which may have given its name to Iraq, was one of the earliest cities. At later dates, the Egyptians, Greeks, Romans and North Europeans learned from West Asia how to make cities with palace gardens and temple gardens. These cities became centres for civilization. The words civilization and city derive from the Latin root civitas meaning a community which had learned how to build cities and live in cities and enjoy what we call the arts.
Cities and gardens probably developed independently in several parts of the world, as did agriculture. There were surely currents of influence but their histories are separate and I won’t try to deal with them in this podcast.
In Europe, the many arts involved in making cities, gardens and landscapes declined and fell, when the Roman Empire declined and fell. But they were revived during the Renaissance and spread to northern Europe the Americas and elsewhere. For the creation of public goods, municipal authorities took over the leadership role from princes and bishops. This fostered the development of specialised professions, including surveyors, engineers, architects and landscape architects.
The term ‘landscape architect’
The English term ‘landscape architect’ first appeared in the title of a book, published in 1828. It was then used by an English garden designer, William Andrews Nesfield, and by an American gardening author, and designer, Andrew Jackson Downing. Downing much admired John Claudius Loudon, who had used the term ‘landscape architect’ but not with its present meaning.
Frederick Law Olmsted, founder of the landscape architecture profession
Frederick Law Olmsted was the man who gave ‘landscape architect’ a fresh meaning. In the 1860s he used for the work of creating a really great public good: Central Park in New York City. The fame of this project, and of the ‘Emerald Necklace’ of parks and greenways, he planned for Boston, led to the creation of what is now a worldwide profession.
The landscape profession specialises in the planning and design of municipal public goods, including greenways, parks and other public open spaces. They’re great projects. But specialising in them led to landscape architects being thought of, primarily, as greenspace people. Even today, the Encyclopedia Britannica definition of landscape architecture opens by stating that ‘Landscape architecture’ is ‘the development and decorative planting of gardens, yards, grounds, parks, and other planned green outdoor spaces’. This is a limited and restricted view. It makes no mention of urban design, city planning, forestry, ecological planning, hydrological planning or garden design (see blog post on definitions of landscape architecture).
Geoffrey Jellicoe, founder of the International Federation of Landscape Architects IFLA
Sir Geoffrey Jellicoe, who founded the International Federation of Landscape Architects, in Cambridge, in 1948 had a broader view. Both a historian and an imaginative designer, Jellicoe exemplifies Winston Churchill’s belief that ‘the farther backward you can look, the farther forward you can see’. Jellicoe wrote:
“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.”
Definition of landscape architecture
My own definition of the art is that ‘Landscape architects compose buildings and pavings with landform, water and vegetation to create places which satisfy the three Vitruvian objectives’.
In Classical Latin, the three objectives were utilitas, firmitas and venustas. Henry Wotton translated them into English as Commodity, Firmness and Delight.
They derive from the ancient world and have guided all the design professions since then. For their use by landscape architects, Ian Thompson has suggested the terms Ecology, Community and Delight. They are design objectives for good outdoor space. It should be useful, beautiful and sustainable.
A longer, but still short, history of landscape architecture may be found in this eBook.
Images of Brentwood Country Club in Los Angeles, Humphry Repton’s before and after of Brondesbury Park, in London, and of Brondesbury Park Station
Repton, who was by far the most important landscape architecture theorist of the nineteenth century, used images (left, above) to make the case for opening the view of Brondesbury Park to the public.
Malcolm Gladwell, in a Revisionist History podcast on A good walk spoiled, makes the same point about the luxurious Brentwood Country Club in Los Angeles. He says the club gets gargantuan tax breaks but provides no public goods in return. Walkers and joggers suffer from the traffic and the chain link fencing. His podcast, once you get past the ads, is powerfully argued. My only point of disagreement is with his view that golf courses are beautiful. Very few are and they most are anti-ecological.
The public at large has a claim over the architecture of a country. It is common property, inasmuch as it involves the national taste and character: and no man has a right to pass himself and his own barbarous inventions as a national taste, and to hand down to posterity, his own ignorance and disgrace, to be a satire and a libel on the knowledge and taste of his age. Against this, we have all an interest in entering our protests; and thus, for the present, ends the explosion of my architectural anger. Do, my dear Scott, put yourself in a passion for once, like Archilochus, and write some Iambics against these people.
The podcast, I’m pleased to say, has a contribution from a landscape architect.
The video refers to important stages in the development of Jellicoe’s approach landscape architecture and design theory. You could see it as a progression from Renaissance to Modern to Postmodern. Or, like me, you take the view that his approach was always postmodern: using the term in Canon Bernard Iddings Bell’s sense. 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’).
Jellicoe’s design method deserves much more attention than it receives. Following Vitruvius, he had a deep concern for functional, technical and aesthetic issues and a brilliant way of fusing them under the auspices of a design concept. Here is my interpretation of Jellicoe’s design method:
Consider the client’s needs and wants
Make the acquaintance of the genius locii
Investigate the technical opportunities
Use conscious and subconscious inputs to formulate a design concept
Produce diagrams and/or models to explain the concept
Use diligence to sort out all the details
Write a design account of the project, explaining how the Vitruvian objectives have been satisfied [I do not think Jellicoe referred to Vitruvius but he certainly balanced Commodity, Firmness and Delight in his his design approach]
born in Chelsea
gained a love of Latin literature and classical civilisation
studied at the Architectural Association
visited and studied Italian gardens
designed the Caveman Restaurant in the Cheddar Gorge, with Russell Page. The design style was Abstract Modern but the design approach Post Modern: it was context-sensitive and it told a story (about man’s evolution from the ‘miasmal mire’).
included a serpent (formed with trees) as part of his design for the Cadbury factory in Moreton
included another serpent (formed with water) in his design for the Water Gardens in Hemel Hempstead New Town
Hal Moggridge is giving a lecture on his life and work, preceded by a short interview (by Ying Li). Thursday 17 October 2019 18:00 – 20:00 BST, Lecture Hall (Room: TC001), Francis Close Hall Campus, University of Gloucestershire, Cheltenham, GL50 4AZ. Tickets from Eventbrite.
Hal Moggridge OBE PPLI VMH FIHort RIBA was principal of Colvin & Moggridge, the oldest surviving British landscape practice, from 1969, when he joined the late Brenda Colvin who founded the practice in 1922, until 1997 when he became consultant, a position he still enjoys. He was President of the Landscape Institute 1979-81 and LI delegate to IFLA 1980-90 & 2002-06. He served on the Royal Fine Art Commission 1988-99 and the National Trust Architectural Panel 1991-2009. He has illustrated the wide scope of his landscape work, countryside, industrial, historic restoration, urban parkland, etc in his book ‘SLOW GROWTH on the art of landscape architecture’
Landscape architects care about cycling for 3 main reasons:
many of us are cyclists, because we know it’s the fastest, healthiest, most sustainable and most economical transport mode ever invented
we all care about a creating good urban/rural environments, saving the planet and combating climate change
we know, as professionals, that we can make a valuable contribution to the planning and design of cyclepaths, cycleway networks and related infrastructure
For these reasons, I’ve been helping with organising the UK National Cycling Protest that will be held on Saturday 7th September 2019 in London. Mostly, I’ve been making videos for Youtube and posting on Twitter and Facebook. We’re going to ride from Lincoln’s Inn Fields to Parliament Square. It would be great to have more landscape architects come along. The headline call is for investment in UK cycling infrastructure to be raised from 72p/head/year to the UN-recommended 20% of the transport budget. For the UK, this would be £112/head/year. The reasons for this being such good value for money are set out in the in the above video. With the man who made the case for Central London’s excellent cycleways (Andrew Gilligan) now the government’s transport adviser, the timing of the Protest is fortuitous. The Protest is organised by Stop Killing Cyclists in partnership with XR Extinction Rebellion.
So what skills can landscape architects contribute to cycling infrastructure? Three things.
First, a focus on the cyclist’s user experience. This is intrinsic to landscape architecture – and not to transport planning or highway engineering. We know how to assess urban landscapes and plan routes that cyclists will want to use; an understanding of desire lines is part of the landscape profession’s DNA.
Second, we know that different types of user require different types of cycleway. There are separate requirements for commuter cyclists, leisure cyclists, sport cyclists, off-road cyclists and young cyclists. One size does not fit all. Cycleways are an aspect of street design, park design, greenway design and urban design.
Third, since our first introduction to landscape architecture we have known that use must be combined with beauty. As Stephen Switzer put it, in Christopher Hussey’s translation
He that the beautiful and useful blends,
Simplicity with greatness, gains all ends.
Really good news, I hope. Andrew Gilligan is to join the Prime Minister’s team as transport adviser. Previously, Gilligan was Johnson’s cycling commissioner at the Greater London Authority GLA. His new duties must including cycling and I believe that, with timely pressure from Stop Killing cyclists (at the 2012 TfL cycling protest) Gilligan was the prime mover in the switch from Phase 1 Slippery Blue Paint Superhighways to Phase 2 Segregated Superhighways.
Let’s hope that, with more pressure from 2019 National Cycling Protest on 7th Sept, we can have a UK-wide Cycleway Network programme funded at the UN-recommended rate 20% of the transport budget. This would be 155 times higher than the present UK rate of investment in cycle infrastructure (72p/head) But at £112/head/year, would only amount to the cost of three London cappuccinos per person per week for a year.
There is a real opportunity for change and we all need to support Gilligan in his coming battles with the Department for Transport. Gilligan opposes HS2. The new Minister of Transport (Grant Shapps) owns his own plane and may not have a deep committment to funding cycle infrastructure. We need Gilligan to focus on cycling. Compared to all other mechanised transport modes it is faster, cheaper, healthier, quieter and much more sustainable. Cycling is the mass transit system of choice for the cities of the twenty-first century.
Summary of the benefits from investing £6.2bn/year in cycling infrastructure for bicycle mass transit
(1) Every town in the UK will have a safe and segregated Cycleway Network of the kind being built, far too slowly, in London
(2) The proportion of urban trips done by bike will rise from under 2% to over 40%, as it is in the cities of Denmark and Holland
(3) There will be a 20% reduction in UK emissions of greenhouse gases so that climate change will be slowed.
(4) Air quality in cities will be greatly improved, with less nitrogen oxide, carbon monoxide, and particulates to damage your lungs
(5) People will be healthier with less obesity, diabetes, cancer, heart disease and depression
(6) With less money being wasted on hydrocarbons, the UK balance of payments will be improved and household expenditure on transport will fall from its current £62/week
(7) Cities will be quieter, with the roar of traffic giving way to the sounds of birds, bees and breezes
Note: the UN Environment Programme advises countries to spend 20% of their transport budgets in Non Motorised Transport. For at least a decade, the best value opportunity in the UK is investment in cycle infrastructure, including cycleways, bicycle parking, home zones. For 2019-20, 20% of the UK transport budget is £6.2 billion #6Billion4Cycling .
The Benefit:Cost Ratio (BCR, aka Cost:Benefit Ratio CBR) is much more favourable for bicycle infrastructure than for road or rail infrastructure projects. A £2 return for £1 invested (2:1) is considered OK for road and rail. For cycle mass transit BCR ratios range between 5:1 and 50:1 (more research is required to collect information). My calculations (as a time-expired economist) are that for cycling infrastructure in London the direct transport benefits are about 20:1 and the health and environmental benefits are also 20:1. If correct, this offers a total Benefit:Cost Ratio of 40:1. See also: Invest 20% of the transport budget to raise the cycling mode share by 2.5%/year
Public investments in road and rail typically have a BCR of 2:1. For cycle mass transit the ratio can be 40:1.