Save Victoria Tower Gardens from London’s Second Holocaust Memorial


Artist’s impression of the design concept underlying David Adjaye’s Second London Holocaust Memorial. Victoria Tower Gardens is a classic nineteenth century London public park. It is the wrong site for London’s Second Holocaust Memorial. Nor should the information centre be buried.

However good the design, Victoria Tower Gardens is the wrong place for London’s Second Holocaust Memorial:

  1. It is a classic London park, made before sport became a dominant aspect of park design. It was designed for local residents to be at peace in a quiet green environment
  2. Parks should not be regarded as vacant land that can be used for building projects. They are key components of a city’s green infrastructure. The 2017 London Draft Environment Strategy calls for London’s green cover to be raised from 47% to 50%. There is no mention of it being OK to build on historic parkland.
  3. The initiative for the establishment of Victoria Tower Gardens came from a private benefactor: WH Smith (who also had the idea of placing newsagents beside railway stations). Benefactors should be encouraged. Their gifts should be respected.
  4. London has very few Thamesside parks. They should be conserved.
  5. The Westminster Area is thronged with tourists. It will not benefit from the extra 1 million/year predicted visitors to the Second Holocaust Memorial.
  6. The design brief for the competition was badly conceived and insensitive to landscape considerations. Public parks should not be ‘sombre’. They should be places of joy.
  7. As argued in the video, below, the symbolism of placing a Holocaust Museum and Information Centre underground is completely wrong. Great evil should be exposed to the full light of day, to the sun, to the wind and to the rain.
  8. The Imperial War Museum has a Holocaust section that already attracts almost 1 million visitors/year. It is opening a new wing in 2020. The IWM is highly experienced in the management of historical information.
  9. There is a section of Hyde Park called the Dell Garden. It has no public access at present and adjoins London’s first Holocaust Memorial. The Dell could be re-designed as a Holocaust Memorial Garden, relating to London’s First Holocaust Memorial.

Hyde Park’s Dell Garden could become a Holocaust Memorial Garden. At present, it has no public access.

Posted in landscape architecture, public parks Tagged with:

A day in the life of Regent’s Park

Regent’s Park is a brilliant work of landscape composition. On what must have been an unremarkable site, buildings, land, water, trees, wildlife and gardens have been composed into a place that should by on many London visitors’ bucket lists. It is one the best public places to see London’s famed expertise in gardens. The above video was taken on Sunday 5th November 2017 – Guy Fawkes Day. I have been there often but was most impressed by Regent Park’s harmony and beauty, by the late-blooming roses and by the rich variety of its wildlife. Having learned from Loyd Grossman that the park has the only breeding population of hedgehogs in a London Park I was sorry to meet one of his prickly pals. I used to work near the Park but have never been there in the dark.

30 No. hedgehogs in Regent’s Park is too few for me


Posted in landscape architecture, public parks

The landscape architecture of the London Holocaust Memorial

Government plans to make Victoria Tower Gardens (left) ‘sombre’ by installing an evocation of a shipwreck as a memorial to the Holocaust (right)

The winning entry has, in Kathryn Gustafson, a very good landscape architect who worked with winning architect, David Adjaye, on a great project for the Mall in Washington DC. So what went wrong in London? The problem lies with the choice of site and the brief. We should ask ‘why place the memorial in Victoria Tower Gardens?’ The above-ground part of the winning entry is at the west end of the gardens but, as the other finalist’s designs reveal, the entirety of the gardens was made available as a site for the memorial. So the question to ask is ‘why should the Victoria Tower Gardens become a memorial?’. There is no satisfactory answer and I hope Westminster Council will refuse planning permission. Victoria Tower Gardens is a cheerful public garden, much used for eating lunch and sunbathing. The competition brief (see excerpt below) called for the design to be ‘outstanding, ambitious’, ‘sombre’ with ‘design, landscaping and place-making to enhance Victoria Tower Gardens’ and yet ‘be a logical and harmonious addition to the existing memorials in the Gardens’. There is no logic in this: (1) why should a holocaust memorial be ambitious? (2) landscape design is placemaking, so how can it be combined with placemaking? (3) how can the Gardens be enhanced by them sombre?

Victoria Tower Gardens is managed by the Royal Parks charity and its Chairman, Loyd Grossman, is opposed to its conversion to a memorial.

I remember a conversation with Dame Sylvia Crowe about the Second World War, in which she served, and agree with her that most of what the Nazis did was on a par with other events in Europe’s blood-soaked past – but the Holocaust stands out as an act of exceptional infamy. So, at the going down of the sun and in the morning. We will remember them. But how should we be reminded of the need to remember? Memorials are something that should encourage us to remember past events in a subtle yet respectful way. Especially when the event that the memorial stands for is a sensitive one, it is important to be thoughtful. There should have been an ideas competition before writing the brief for a design competition. I might have suggested a landscape memorial. It could use the sun, the seasons, the land, the waters, animals and plants as reminders – combined with a powerful political declaration. While remembering the horrors of yesterday we could lay a symbolic platform for the dawn of better tomorrows.

Design Values for the Holocaust Memorial and Learning Centre should:

  • Be an outstanding, ambitious, sensitive design that creates an emotionally powerful place for reflection and learning.
  • Become a landmark of national significance, highlighting the importance and relevance of the Holocaust to the United Kingdom’s history.
  • Establish a place where current and future generations can come to remember the Holocaust and commemorate its victims, and which is also a focal point for annual national commemorations.
  • Affirm the United Kingdom’s commitment to stand up against prejudice and hatred, inspire reflection and compassion, and encourage visitors to respect and embrace difference.
  • Be sombre but not shocking; convey the magnitude of what happened in a meaningful and comprehensible way: give visitors a deeper understanding of the Holocaust and its victims.
  • Combine design, landscaping and place-making to enhance Victoria Tower Gardens – improving the visual and sensory experience of the green space, giving it focus and civic presence, both for visitors and existing users.
  • Be a logical and harmonious addition to the existing memorials in the Gardens, all of which can be viewed as a physical representation of the United Kingdom’s conscience and values.
  • Address the sensitivities of the historic, political and national importance of the exceptional setting, adjacent to the Palace of Westminster, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the River Thames – and in one of the most visited, and recognisable parts of London.
    Be widely accessible and communicate to all visitors – regardless of age, faith, background, nationality, language, or knowledge of the Holocaust – attracting and involving people outside the established audience.
  • Convey the enormity of the Holocaust and its impact, reflecting the centrality of the destruction of European Jewry to Nazi objectives.
  • Appropriately represent the fate of all other victims of Nazi persecutions, Roma, disabled people, Slavs, Jehovah’s Witnesses, homosexuals, and all other political opponents of the Nazi regime
Posted in public parks

The landscape architecture of healthy cities

Great to hear a landscape architect speaking about health, urban design, ecology and new towns. Graham Marshall sees essential connections between

  • people & places are bonded
  • mental health & physical health are inter-dependent

He rightly criticises James Stirling’s now-demolished Southgate Estate in Runcorn New Town and is pleased to be involved with its NHS supported rebuild as the Halton Lea Health & Wellbeing Campus. Stirling did not share Marshall’s concerns. Commemorated in the RIBA Stirling Prize, Stirling was a starchitect but much more an ‘architects’ architect’ than a ‘people’s architect’.  Jonathan Meades put it like this: ‘his buildings, like their bombastic maker, looked tough but were perpetual invalids, basket cases.’ They were bad for mental health and bad for physical health. Graham, as explained in the video, admires Lawrence Halprin’s conception of modernism. I see this as having taken the social use of outdoor space as a function that should be used in a ‘form follows function’ design process.

As argued in an eBook on LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE: What, Why, When, How, Where, Who and What Next?  landscape architecture, having its roots in urban design and garden design, owes as much to Vitruvius’ formulation of professional aims as do the other design professions. I  support Ian Thompson’s landscape architectural formulation of these aims as Ecology, Community and Delight (Routledge, 2000). And I am delighted that Graham is taking them forward. Landscape architects have a distinguished record in the planning and design of new towns. It too should be carried forward.

Graham uses the name Prosocial for a practice that takes an evidence-based approach to urban design and landscape architecture. He also works, pro-bono, with Placed Urban Education, an organisation that involves young people with the built environment.


Posted in landscape architecture, urban design

London parks, open space, landscape and green infrastructure planning 1943-2017

The term ‘green infrastructure’ was introduced to London landscape planning in the 21st century (in the 2008 revision of the 2004 GLA London Plan). The 2017 Draft Environment Strategy, which will become part of the 2018 London Plan, uses Green Infrastructure as the title of Chapter 5. It makes an interesting comparison with the famous Chapter 3 in the 1943 County of London Plan, which had the title Open Spaces and Park System.

  • The 1943 and 2017 plans both focus on public open space and both use the concept of ‘open space deficiency’. I have long regarded the old target of 1,000 acres of open space/1,000 people as unrealistic. The new emphasis on green roofs will make it more feasible.
  • The scope of the 2017 plan is notably wider than its predecessor. When discussing ‘open space deficiency’ (now called Areas of Deficiency, or AoD), ‘open space’ still means ‘vegetated space’. The glossary to the 2017 document defines ‘green infrastructure’ as ‘A network of green spaces – and features such as street trees and green roofs – that is planned, designed and managed to deliver a range of benefits. These include mitigating flooding, cooling the urban environment and enhancing biodiversity and ecological resilience, as well as providing more attractive places for people’.  Similarly, the All London Green Grid is explained as ‘a green infrastructure policy framework set out in Supplementary Planning Guidance (SPG) to the London Plan’.

The introduction to the 1943 plan refers to ‘recreation and rest’ and to ‘improving the health of the people’. As clarified in the second paragraph the emphasis was on sport.

Though London open space planning has become more sophisticated it is still confined to the planning of vegetated space. ‘Green’ can be used in this way. But it can also be used, as in the term ‘green transport’ to mean ‘environmentally good’. I regard Trafalgar Square and Covent Garden as ‘green’ spaces. Their planning, and that of similar places and interlinking green routes, should be integrated with the planning of more vegetated open spaces. My preferred categorisation for this more-comprehensive approach is ‘landscape planning’. The aim is to create a good urban landscape.

Chapter 3 of the 1943 Plan dealt with Open Spaces and Park System. The equivalent terms, in London’s 2017 Draft Environment Strategy are Green Infrastructure and the All-London Green Grid. The main difference is the 2017 inclusion of references to mitigating flooding, cooling the urban environment and enhancing biodiversity and ecological resilience. The photograph of Mayor Sadiq Khan crouching in a wild flower meadow and, it appears, talking about ecology, emphasises the difference between 1943 and 2017.

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Quaggy River reclamation in Sutcliffe Park for flood detention and habitat creation

Restoration of the River Quaggy in Sutcliffe Park has transformed a dull expanse of football pitches into a valuable nature habitat and an important contributor to protecting Lewisham from flooding

When I first visited Sutcliffe Park in 1992 it was a paradigm of dullness in parks, unless, like me, you were looking for a good example of an inter-war park designed to get a supply of fit young men in case there was another World War. This, in fact, is why I took the 1992 photograph. Today, Sutcliffe is a paradigm of  how landscape architects can reclaim engineered rivers and protect cities from floods, beautifully, sustainably and economically. This is why I went to photograph Sutcliffe Park in 2017. The Quaggy River was restored to its historic course for reasons of flood detention, infiltration and habitat creation. This has changed a flat expanse of football pitches into a beautiful example of nature in cities.

The design was by landscape architects and engineers working for the Environment Agency EA (formerly the National Rivers Authority NRA). The first design was by NRA landscape architect Kevin Patrick. He was very  disappointed when LB Greenwich refused to let the scheme go ahead and went into private practice. Later, a modified scheme was implemented by landscape architects working for the Environment Agency. Congratulations to them. But the scheme would never have seen the light of day without a political campaign run by the Quaggy Waterways Action Group (QWAG) as described in the below video.

The Environment Agency now uses the restoration of River Quaggy as an example of its enlightened approach to flood management. See Solving London’s urban flood problem – a landscape architecture approach.

Sutcliffe Park is in the London Borough of Greenwich.

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London National Park City? or Green Grid? or Landscape Strategy?

Should London become a National Park City?  I doubt it.

Reading about the idea of making London a National Park City, I assumed the idea was to establish a National Park Authority for London. As Peter Massini explained at the presentation of the 2017 Draft London Environment Strategy, it is not. So the idea is nothing but hot green air.

The national park idea began as America’s ‘answer’ to its lack of castles, mansions, cathedrals and other famous art-historical sites. Britain’s national parks were conceived as our ‘answer’ to America’s national parks. In practice, they have delivered some funds, some additional planning control, a lot of advertising and a lot of tourists. Hardly any national park land is owned by the national park authorities.

Government aims for National Parks are to Conserve and enhance natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage, and to promote their understanding and enjoyment.  In London, the boroughs and other organisations do most of this work. What the city needs is an injection of energy into open space planning, design and management. It needs volunteers and private money as well as public money. I doubt if 10% of London open space is good enough to merit ‘conservation’.  Though the Royal Parks certainly do, they are very well protected and in no need of ‘promotion’. For the other 90% of London’s greenspace, ‘enhance’ implies a feeble approach.  What’s needed is:

  • regeneration, as bestowed on Burgess Park
  • community action, as displayed at the Eastern Curve in Dalston
  • establishment of trusts, as has been done for the Crystal Palace
  • volunteer engagement, as at Chiswick Park and Manor House Gardens
  • Londonwide funding for strategic projects, as the Lea Valley Regional Park enjoys and the Crystal Palace deserves

The maps below, show portions of three open space plans for London:

Three London open space plans: (1) from NationalParkCity, (2) from the Thames Landscape Strategy, from from the GLA Green Grid (all for a section of the Thames valley between Hammersmith and Richmond)

Comments on the 3 plans, working from right to left:

  • The Green Grid shows proposals for strategic open space links, which are much needed
  • The Thames Landscape Strategy incorporates aesthetic ideas, including view corridors
  • The National Park City map is just that: a map of of what we all know exists

The 3 aims of the All London Green Grid

The aims of the Green Grid are commendably ambitious:

Aim 1: Protect, conserve and enhance London’s strategic network of green and open natural and cultural spaces, to connect the everyday life of the city to a range of experiences and landscapes, town centres, public transport nodes, the countryside in the urban fringe, the Thames and major employment and residential areas [The diagram illustrating this aim is very good}
Aim 2: Encourage greater use of, and engagement with, London’s green infrastructure; popularising key destinations within the network and fostering a greater appreciation of London’s natural and cultural landscapes; enhancing visitor facilities and extending and upgrading the walking and cycling networks in between to promote a sense of place and ownership for all who work in, visit and live in London; [It is good to include land which not public parks in the strategy]
Aim 3:  Secure a network of high quality, well designed and multifunctional green and open spaces to establish a crucial component of urban infrastructure able to address the environmental challenges of the 21st century – most notably climate change. [Connectivity is very important, because most of us want exercise in our leisure time]

Though I think it needs to be taken further, there is much to admire in the Green Grid. What could National Park status add? Not much. More could be achieved by converting the Lea Valley Regional Park Authority into Londonwide green space authority. It is funded by all Londoners so the money should be spent in all London. The GLA and TfL also need to be involved in strategic open space planning.  London has done a poor job of its cycle planning. It should be done strategically and it needs to provide for the different but overlapping objectives of commuter cyclists and leisure cyclists.

I don’t like the term ‘Green Grid’ but it does convey what London needs: a pedestrian- and cyclist-friendly landscape which interlaces the city and inter-connects town centres with parks. Landscapes are better than grids. Without having any objection to the term National Park Authority I can’t see that it brings much that is useful to London. My preferred term, as argued for the Thames, would be to set up a Landscape Agency. ‘Park authority’ implies recreation and conservation. ‘Landscape’ includes the urban and rural sections of the city. ‘Agency’ conveys the fact that there is a job which urgently to be done.

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Green infrastructure planning for London’s urban landscape

London has a proud tradition of planning green space in conjunction with urban development. As outlined in the above video, it includes (1) the choice of a riverside site by the Romans, (2) the fabulous network of parks planned by Henry VIII, (3) the incredibly far-sighted Breathing Zones proposal of John Claudius Loudon, (4) the influential Garden Cities vision of Ebenezer Howard, (5) the practical Green Belt planning of Raymond Unwin, (6) Abercrombie’s inspiring Park System, (7) the Metropolitan Green Belt as adopted by a group of local authorities in the South East, (8) the South London  Green Chain, led by LB Greenwich and the GLC (9) LPAC’s 1991 Green Strategy, (10) the GLA’s Blue Ribbon Network, (11) the GLA’s Green Grid (12 ) the Green Infrastructure proposals in the forthcoming London Plan.

It is good that the ideas have come from many different professions but this has also resulted in terminological confusion and a consequent lack of a professional focus for implementation of the policies. At borough level, green space plans tend to be simple regurgitations of older documents. At the all-London scale the focus tends to be on new names for old policies. I’d like to see:

  • landscape architects developing more expertise in green space planning while drawing on the work of engineers, architects, planners, natural scientists and social scientists.
  • the ‘green’ in ‘green space’ used to mean both (1) ‘fauna and flora’  and (2) ‘environmentally good’ (as in the phrase ‘green transport’).

And what should this category of urban planning be called? ‘Green’ is almost acceptable if used in its two senses but I doubt if this is possible and the word is too descriptive to serve as a planning objective. ‘Infrastructure’ is also a utilitarian word, which is both an advantage and a disadvantage. I think of the activity as ‘landscape planning’, because the aim is to make London a great urban landscape, incorporating a wide range of aesthetic, ecological and functional objectives. At an institutional level there is a need for an organisation with the energy and expertise to advance green policy on a citywide basis. It could be a part of the GLA, equivalent to Transport for London TfL. Or the new body proposed in the 2017 Draft Environment Strategy could be made permanent. The document states that Mayor Sadiq Khan will ‘set up a London Green Spaces
Commission to roll out new ways for the Mayor, London boroughs, community groups and others to fund, manage and value green
spaces and nature’.

Londoners have been creating green infrastructure for two thousand years

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London opens its largest new park for 470 years: Walthamstow Wetlands

Formerly known as Walthamstow Reservoirs, the Wetlands were opened to free access by members of the public on 17th October 2017.  Its area is 211 hectares and the only 2 larger parks in London were formed by Henry VIII, who died 470 years ago in 1547. Two firms of landscape architects were involved. Chris Blandford Associates did the feasibility study and Lynn Kinnear KLA did the implementation. The London Wildlife Trust is now managing the habitats. Waltham Forest Council and the HLF contributed to the cost.

The Wetlands are a surprisingly beautiful place and should be managed to further develop the aesthetic quality of London’s Lake District. I love the way the ten reservoirs snuggle together like a nest of baby rabbits or mice. It’s exciting that they’re on different levels. The serpentine walks between the water bodies put one in mind o an eighteenth century landscape park – The Serpentine itself, or Studley Royal. The whole area is calm, relaxed and un-mannered. But I would not object to the use of fountains to help aerate the water and reduce blue-green algae bloom.

For urban landscape planners, the Wetlands are a great example of landscape urbanism. The aesthetic qualities of the park derive from the satisfaction of  utilitarian objectives. In the modern world, no single-purpose park project could attract the funding necessary for such a great enterprise. In history, an ambitious king or emperor might have done it.

The Walthamstow Reservoirs were begun by the East London Waterworks Company in 1869 and made by cutting into the underlying alluvial deposits and using the arisings to form embankments. To keep the water pure they were fenced off from public access. The general introduction of drinking water treatment in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries made this level of protection unnecessary but the Thames Water Authority continued the defence of its territory and only permitted access to the reservoirs to registered members of angling and ornithological societies. The privatised Thames Water company has shown a more enlightened approach and by granting access to the Wetlands has given London a wonderful new public open space.

Walthamstow’s wetlands have become London’s Lake District

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2017 London Draft Environment Strategy for Green Infrastructure – Peter Massini

Peter Massini, as Head of Green Infrastructure at the GLA, presented the 2017 Draft Environment Strategy to a joint meeting of landscape architects and ecologists in October 2017

Peter Massini (head of green infrastructure at the GLA) explained the 2017 Draft Environment Strategy to a joint meeting of landscape architects and ecologists on  Thursday, 23 November 2017 held in AECOM’s London offices. He said its main characteristic is a high level of integration with other aspects of the London Plan, with transport planning and with London’s economic strategy. The Mayor is not omnipotent, does not have a treasure trove of resources and on most topics cannot tell the Boroughs what to do. Most of London’s funding comes from Central Government. The government is moving towards more power for cities but does not want another all-powerful GLC. The GLA aims to set out a framework in which other people can do things.

The Environment Strategy uses cartoons/infographics to illustrate what the strategy is about. It shows, for example, that green infrastructure has a close connection with climate change. Just saying ‘parks are good’ is not enough. We also need to show benefits for health, air quality, water management etc.
A leading objective is to raise London’s green cover from 47% to 50%. ‘Only another 3%?‘ you may think. But with the population zooming up, it is an ambitious target. Creating new parkland is very difficult. So most of the 3% will be achieved in the public realm and and by greening buildings (with living roofs and walls).
The great news for landscape architects is that the GLA will establish a (temporary) Green Spaces Commission. It will look for new opportunities and will help in ‘transitioning’ parks when their management is taken on by charitable trusts (as is happening to the Crystal Palace).
We need to know what the open spaces do in addition to providing for recreation their contributions to flood management and biodiversity). In Lewisham Town Centre there have been substantial increases in land values that were partly enabled by the Environment Agency’s investment in flood management upstream (eg in Sutfliffe Park and Chinbrook Meadows). We need to ‘capture’ benefits of this kind in Natural Capital accounting so that the figures can support additional expenditure on green space. It is often the case that relatively modest expenditure on green infrastructure can bring substantial benefits (as with the expenditure on habitat creation in St James Park). We need to think about the function of parks and greenspace in building green transport network. You have an argument for more investment if you have cycle routes in paths. This is a strategic vision for London infrastructure.
Peter finished with the interesting point that discussion of  the Green Belt is muddled by confusing two separate issues (1) whether or not to allow building on Green Belt land (2) how to improve use and management of the green belt (with funding from green bonds, agri-environment policy or elsewhere).
Note: The phrase ‘the Mayor will consider’ is  used in the draft strategy but will not appear in the final strategy. This is a legal requirement.
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