Who was the most important landscape architect of the 20th century?

greatest landscape architect

 One of the above or A.N Other?

For me, the choice is between four great landscape architects:

  • Ian McHarg (1920-2001) had a major influence on landscape and environmental planning through his book Design with nature and through the innovative projects described in the book. He continues to inspire work on GIS-based planning, landscape urbanism and environmental assessment. McHarg probably has the widest name-recognition of any 20th century landscape architect and received the US National Medal of Arts in 1990.
  • Geoffrey Jellicoe (1900-1996) was an innovative designer, a distinguished historian, an imaginative theorist, a founder member of the ILA and the founder of IFLA.
  • Dan Kiley (1912-2004) was an inspirational designer and a leading exponent of modernist landscape architecture. Kiley received the National Medal of Arts in 1990.
  • Roberto Burle Marx (1909-1994) was an artist, an ecologist and the equal of Kiley as a modernist landscape architect.

The answer to my question turns on how ‘important’ is interpreted. As designers, the world rates the achievements of Kiley and Burle Marx above those of Jellicoe and McHarg. As an environmental planner, and in book sales, McHarg comes out on top. But as an all-rounder with significant achievements in design, literature, planning and institutional creativity, I see Jellicoe as ‘the most important landscape architect of the 20th century’. He also seems to have been the kindest and most generous – though I only encountered the other three as lecturers.

Jellicoe made seven key contributions to the landscape architecture profession:

  1. his many books shaped the history and theory of landscape architecture – most notably his Studies in Landscape Design and his history of the Landscape of Man
  2. his personal generosity, in passing on jobs, helped many of the landscape architects who became established in the 1950s, including Sylvia Crowe, Brenda Colvin, Peter Youngman and Derek Lovejoy
  3. he anticipated the principle, now associated with landscape urbanism, that urban design should rest more on landscape architecture than on architecture or engineering
  4. he was a brilliant teacher
  5. he helped found the Institute of Landscape Architects (ILA) in 1929 and was our president from 1939-1949. Through his advocacy, Jellicoe made an enormous contribution to establishing the UK profession
  6. he was the founding president of the International Federation of Landscape Architects (IFLA) in 1948

Who is shaping up to be the most important landscape architect of the 21st century? Comments welcome.

See alsoGeoffrey Jellicoe videos

Posted in landscape architecture

Environmental impact design EID

EID Environmental Impact Assessment

Environmental Impact Design follows logically from environmental assessment procedures

I first came across the term Environmental Impact Assessment in 1974. Bill Gillespie had been part of a four-firm consortium which won a UNDP contract to produce a plan for the Suez Canal Zone. He sent me (with Paul Taylor) to work in Cairo and we used an EIA approach for the landscape volume of what became the Suez Canal Zone Regional Plan (SCZRP).

The experience was a ‘baptism by fire’ for me, because many famous planning consultants were involved, and I spent the next decade thinking about the relationship between landscape architecture and town planning. This led to a 1987 book which was re-published in 1998 with the title: Landscape planning and environmental impact design. I can’t say that that the concept of Environmental Impact Design has been widely used (though I was pleasantly surprised last week to find that you can now buy the book from Sainsburys!). I have not changed my mind about EID’s conceptual relevance.

The SAD (Survey->Analysis->Design) method is much better suited to Environmental Assessment (EA) than to ‘landscape design as an art’. For a project like the Loch Kishorn Oil Rig Yard, the necessary steps are:

  • EIS Environmental Impact Survey/Environmental Impact Statement
  • EIA Environmental Impact Analysis/Environmental Impact Assessment
  • EID Environmental Impact Design


Posted in landscape planning, landscape urbanism, urban design Tagged with:

Roadside planting for beauty and biodiversity

Roadside tree planting can be beautiful. But should be done with native or exotic species?

Roadside tree planting can be beautiful. But should be done with native or exotic species?

In his introduction to a book on Roadside planting (Country Life, 1930) the Chief Engineer for the Ministry of Transport’s Roads Department (C.H. Bressey) wrote that ‘The services which the Roads Beautifying Association is in a position to render… will be more and more widely sought, with results that will add immeasurably to the pleasure of road users’. The book’s authors state that ‘ We have got to remember that at the moment we have a glorious opportunity, which will not recur in the future as far as we can see, of planting ht roads of England on a comprehensive scale, and, therefore, it behoves us to hand down to posterity a scheme which shows that at any rate someone at this date did take sufficient interst to think out beautiful ways of planting, and not just go in in the same rule-of-thumb method as in the past.’
William Jackson Bean (1863-1947) Curator, Kew Gardens William Dallimore (1871-1959), also of Kew, and Lionel Nathan de Rothschild (1882-1942) are named contributors to the book. With regard to planting policy, they mention the theory that ‘only trees which are indigenous to the British soil should be planted’ but evidently favoured the alternative idea that ‘it is perfectly good taste to make use of trees and shrubs, no matter what the country of their origin, provided they grow well under the conditions to which they are subjected’.
A contemporary book on roadside planting would be more likely to emphasise locally sourced native species, in order to biodiversity.

Posted in green streets

San Francisco threat to green roofs?

President Barack Obama wth Vice President Joe Biden speaks with CEO of Namaste Solar Electric, Inc., Blake Jones, while looking at solar panels at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science in Denver, Colorado 2/17/09. Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

Solar roofs can be ‘green’ in the sense of good for the environment without being ‘green’ in the sense of ‘vegetated’.

The San Francisco Examiner reports that ‘Beginning January [2017], new commercial and residential buildings of up to 10 stories in height will have to install rooftop solar systems for heat or electricity under legislation unanimously approved by the Board of Supervisors.’ You have to read down to discover that ‘In addition to the rooftop solar effort, The City is expected to debate in the coming months follow-up legislation related to the creation of living roofs on new buildings, which supporters say create such benefits as reducing stormwater runoff into the sewer system, reduce pollution and help residents connect to nature.’ This was a mistake: a single law should have required roofs to have either solar panels, or vegetation or both. But why limit the legislation to walls? It is just as important for vertical walls to be either solar or vegetated.

Posted in green living walls, green roofs

The knights of landscape architecture who planned the British New Towns

Thank you to FOLAR for holding a seminar on the landscape architecture of Britain’s New Towns. The above video, which was my contribution to the event, celebrates the contributions of the Four Landscape Knights (Sir Patrick Abercrombie, Sir Frederick Gibberd, Sir Geoffrey Jellicoe and Sir Peter Shepherd were members of the ILA, two of them as Presidents of the ILA) and ends with my observations:

  • the new towns were very successful at the large scale of landscape planning and at the detailed design scale
  • but the new towns were disappointing at the intermediate scale of site planning
  • the landscape architecture of the new towns was much better than other town development projects of the same period.

Concepts from the history and theory of landscape architecture also had a profound influence on the planning of Britain’s Garden Cities and post-1946 New Towns:

  • low density housing with private gardens – ‘a villa for everyman’
  • the use of green belts to control urban sprawl, both outside London and beyond the boundaries of the designated new towns
  • the use of open space networks to separate neighbourhoods within the boundaries of the new towns, while also providing land for parks, footpaths and cycleways

The video includes:

  • a sketch of the 19th century origins of the landscape concepts used in planning the British new towns
  • video clips of Patrick Abercrombie explaining  these ideas, as part of the 1943-4 County of London and Greater London Plans
  • video clips of Frederick Gibberd and Geoffrey Jellicoe explaining  the landscape planning of Harlow New Town and Hemel Hempstead New Town

Peter Shepheard has the rare distinction of having, effectively, designed 32 British New Towns by the age of 30. Shepheard was born in 1913 and worked on the London plans in 1942-3. Ongar, a sample new town which Shepheard designed for the Greater London Plan, determined the landscape planning of all 32 new towns.

The Landscape Institute should join forces with the Town and Country Planning Association to argue for the re-activation the 1946 New Towns Act. It is a much better policy than encouraging the  creeping expansion of our villages, towns and cities onto green belt land.

The British New Towns, as compositions of landform, water, and vegetation with buildings and pavings, were planned by members of the Institute of Landscape Architects, ILA (now the Landscape Institute, LI)

The British New Towns, as compositions of landform, water, and vegetation with buildings and pavings, were planned by members of the Institute of Landscape Architects, ILA (now the Landscape Institute, LI)

Posted in landscape architecture, urban design

Three Geoffrey Jellicoe videos to be published

Three Geoffrey Jellicoe videos to be published in 2016

Three Geoffrey Jellicoe videos to be published in 2016

The LAA is preparing three videos for publication to remind everyone of Sir Geoffrey Jellicoe. The 20th anniversary of his death will be on 17 July 2016. Jellicoe made six key contributions to the landscape architecture profession:

  • Jellicoe helped found the Institute of Landscape Architects (ILA) in 1929, which became the Landscape Institute in the 1970s.
  • Jellicoe was President of the ILA from 1939-1949
  • Jellicoe was the founding president of the International Federation of Landscape Architects (IFLA) in 1948
  • Jellicoe’s many books shaped the history and theory of landscape architecture – most notably the Landscape of Man in 1975
  • Jellicoe ‘s personal generosity, in passing on jobs, helped many of the landscape architects who became established in the 1950s, including Sylvia Crowe, Brenda Colvin, Peter Youngman and Derek Lovejoy
  • Jellicoe anticipated the principle, now associated with landscape urbanism, that urban design should rest more on landscape architecture than on architecture or engineering

Note: the videos were published in July 2016:

  • On Draughtsmanship – a 1982 lecture to Thames Polytechnic/University of Greenwich
  • The Relationship of Landscape to Architecture and Urbanism  – a 1984 lecture to Thames Polytechnic/University of Greenwich
  • Motopia – a 1959 design for a new town in West London (commentary by Tom Turner)
  • Loch Kishorn – an environmental impact design (commentary by Tom Turner)
Posted in landscape architecture

Beijing tackles air pollution by shifting the muck around.

Beijing air pollution corridors

Beijing is planning a network of “ventilation corridors” to promote air flow and blow smpg away. Five main corridors will be 800 m wide and minor ones will be 80 m wide according to Wang Fei, deputy head of Beijing’s urban planning committee. Five main corridors are proposed.  Peng Yingdeng, air pollution expert at Beijing Municipal Research Institute of Environmental Protection, advised the Beijing News that the plan was not for large-scale demolition or construction, but it was more an adjustment of current regulations to limit building heights and densities in specified areas. Beijing’s plan is to reduce air pollution levels by 40% by 2020.

source: http://www.bjnews.com.cn/news/2014/11/21/342614.html


Posted in green streets, public parks, urban design

Ancient and veteran oaks and natural capital

Ancient_Oak_Tree,_Fowlet_Farm,_Hollybush nr Bedstone, Shropshire, England (photo. Jerry Fryman, wikicommonsThere are more veteran and ancient oaks in England than the rest of Europe. Currently 115 ancient oaks are recorded in England and only 97 elsewhere in Europe (including Ireland, Scotland and Wales). An ancient oak has  a girth of greater than nine metres.

All this according to Aljos Farjon, the authority on conifer trees, for whom this is a major current study of broadleaved oak trees. He has plotted records of all veterans and ancient oaks (Quercus robur and Quercus petraea) in the country. Veteran oaks are those over six metre girth, and in total he has recorded 3,012 veteran and ancient oaks in England. Elsewhere in Europe there are concentrations in Sweden and Romania.

He is investigating the reasons for their survival in England, and not elsewhere and one of the major reasons is the absence of large scale forestry in England. Forest conifer plantings shade out old oaks and eventually kill them. And large scale royal and state forests began later in the UK than elsewhere, and so in Germany and France there were royal forest plantings from the sixteenth century. While in the UK the Forestry Commission was set up in 1919, following the Great War.

But why England, well one reason is the establishment of Royal Forests by the invading Normans as royal hunting grounds. Soon entire counties such as Essex became royal forests. 7.3% of ancient oaks survive in Royal Forests. The original Royal Forests were not wooded by the way, but signified deer. Forest laws were designed to protect venison and vert, notably red and then the introduced fallow deer and also wild boar and the green undergrowth or moorland which were their food. So Royal Hunting Forests need have no trees at all, e.g. Dartmoor, while many of the lowland forests had open savanna-like grassland or parkland like Richmond Park, Oliver Rackham termed this wood-pasture.Windsor_Great_Park_oak

The oaks grew naturally and were not planted, and were protected from felling by the forest laws. But most were pollarded because the forest laws permitted that (but not coppicing). Similar were the chases created by nobles and they determined similar laws: 4.6% of the ancient oaks are associated with chases such as Sherwood Forest. Then there are medieval deer parks, in 1086 there were 40 deer parks and by 1485 there were 3000. And so 34.6% of ancient oaks are in former medieval deer parks as shown in Leonard Cantor’s Gazetteer of Medieval Deer Parks (1983). There are also Tudor deer parks (founded 1485-1601) which host a further 13%. Farjon also identified common land which supports 6.5% of surviving ancient trees. Finally there is ancient pasture landscape without deer herds and these form19.6% of surviving ancient oaks. Incidentally coppiced trees are excluded from Farjon’s survey, given the uncertainties of accurate measurement. But one overall conclusion is that it is the continuity of private land ownership which has ensured the longevity of these tree.

ancient oak trees in UK source http-::www.ancient-tree-hunt.org.uk:news:oak-data (accessed 21.2.2016)

Aging trees is not accurate, The Woodland Trust tree age ready reakoner gives 9m girth as 900 years and 6mm as 400 years, but other ready reckoners give figures out by hundreds of years. And typically these large oaks are hollow, because the dead heartwood rots and so tree rings cannot be counted.

Everyone knows that oak support large numbers of insects, but the figures Farjon gave were astounding, Keith Alexander, who is contributing a chapter on invertebrates to Farjon’s book,  reckons 7000 invertebrate species can live on one ancient oak.

Threats to ancient oaks include overshading by conifers, deep ploughing within the crown of the tree spread, fire and vandalism and horses rubbing their shows against the tree.

However, what is remarkable in England is the lack of protection. In Sweden and Germany such trees are protected, as natural monuments (naturminne in Sweden and Naturdenkmalen in Germany ). Could it be that the English are blasé about the real value of ancient and veteran oaks, given we have more of them compared with other European countries? Farjon argues for SSSI status for individual ancient trees. Landscape architects should lobby for UNESCO natural monument status for Britain’s ancient and veteran trees.

Dr Aljos Farjon FLS FRGS is working on a book on the subject with colleagues and lectured on the subject at the Linnean Society of London on Thursday 18 February 2016.




Leonard Cantor, Forests, Chases, Parks, and Warrens: 1983

Posted in landscape architecture

The world’s richest landscape architect

Jack Dangermond and Carl Steinitz have extended ArcGIS into a design method known as Geodesign. I'd like to see them extend it further, as a computer-powered approach to landscape urbanism.

Jack Dangermond and Carl Steinitz have extended ArcGIS into a design method known as Geodesign. I’d like to see them extend it further, as a computer-powered approach to landscape urbanism.

Forbes Magazine is running an article on, so far as I know, the only landscape architect to have joined the billionaire club.  Describing him as The Godfather of Digital Maps, Forbes reports that ‘Dangermond was raised in Redlands, Calif., a town of roughly 25,000 at the time, about 60 miles east of Los Angeles. His father was a gardener who had emigrated from Holland, and his mother was a maid. They started a plant nursery, partly to earn enough to send their five kids to college. Dangermond met his future wife, Laura, in high school, and the two went together to Cal Poly, where Dangermond studied environmental science and landscape architecture. After they married, Dangermond went to the University of Minnesota to study urban design and in 1968 to Harvard, in part for the opportunity to work in a lab that combined computer graphics and spatial analysis and whose members had developed some of the first mapping software. “I had some notion of applying computer mapping to my profession,” he says, “but frankly I was just very excited by the technology and curious how it could be made useful.”’ After studying with Ian McHarg and Carl Steinitz, Jack Dangermond founded ESRI and developed ArcGIS. More recently, he has worked with Steinitz on the design method and technology they call GeoDesign. I guess it will succeed but regret that it has not ‘made friends’ with landscape urbanism.

GIS is the only significant software category developed by landscape archictects and is the software tool most likely to help with the twin tasks of giving the public the service it needs and fending of professional competition from architects, planners and urban designers.

Posted in landscape urbanism

Charles Waldheim Landscape as Urbanism: A General Theory, review by Tom Turner

Charles Waldheim Landscape Urbanism

Charles Waldheim Landscape as Urbanism: a general theory  (Wiley/Princeton 2016) reviewed by Tom Turner

This is an important book.

Teachers should read it to place their pedagogy on a theoretical basis. Practitioners should read it to improve their design projects.

Even now, too many landscape architects base their work on outdated Modernist principles. A sizable group, convinced their methodology is sound, are unaware of its Modernist character. Their design method is ‘outdated’ not because it is wrong but because  it is inadequate; it does not go far enough.

Mies van der Rohe, for High Modernism, declared that ‘Less is more’. Robert Venturi, for Early Postmodernism, responded that ‘Less is Bore’.  Both were architects and both spoke truths. Landscape architects largely ignored the debate, which was a great mistake. Charles Waldheim has entered the debate and, in my view, made a contribution which the architects, planners and urban designers should take on board. The video, below is a London example. The approach Waldheim advocates is explained as a fusion of Ian McHarg’s ecological method, which was modernist, with the ‘design culture’ launched by Bernard Tschumi and Rem Koolhaas, which is postmodern. When their winning entries for the 1982 Parc de La Villette competition were announced, most landscape architects, including me, failed to understand their importance. For many landscape architects, this remains the case.

Landscape urbanism rests on two pillars:

  • Ian McHarg’s layered approach to ecological design
  • The Parc de la Villette layered approach to de-authored design (de-authored because the physical form resulted from the interaction of autonomous layers)

McHarg’s approach was inspiring but suffered from a lack of design culture. The layering proposed by Koolhaas and Tschumi was inspiring but suffered from ecological ignorance. Bringing the ecological and cultural layering together can re-invigorate landscape architecture. Waldheim also argues, bravely and convincingly, that the ideas associated with landscape urbanism have the potential to lead the practice of architecture, planning and urban design – out of the concrete jungle. I joined the landscape profession thinking of it as having a focus on projects of intermediate scale between architecture and planning. This was not entirely wrong. But it missed the important point that the profession has important intellectual affinities with its sibling professions. In this respect, it is both ‘architecture writ large’ and ‘planning writ small’.

Another concern of Waldheim’s is with the origin and definition of the term ‘landscape architecture’. He sets out the evidence for the two alternatives origins. Olmsted’s adoption of the term could have come:

  • via Alphand, from La Théorie des Jardins (Paris 1776) by Jean-Marie Morel (1728 – 1810)
  • via Loudon and Downing, from Gilbert Laing Meason’s 1828 book on The landscape architecture of the great paintings of Italy.

Waldheim supports the first theory and I, for reasons will be explained in a future blog post, favour the second explanation. The issue has more theoretical importance than one might think and I was pleased to find it aired in this book.

I was also pleased to find Waldheim pushing the history of the landscape architecture profession back from the mid-nineteenth century to the mid- sixteenth century. This may break some of the intellectual log-jams which have hitherto constrained the growth of landscape architecture. The standard histories of the profession, by NT Newton, GA Jellicoe and others situate the profession’s design origins in the ancient world. Far too little work has been done on its theoretical origins. Waldheim takes us back 300 years. I look forward to it being taken further back, to include the early days of settlement and civilization. Another 10,000 years would be a good start.

I spent 3 hours in a cold car, waiting for a friend, reading Waldheim’s book, looking at this ‘new square’ outside the Waldron Health Centre, and thinking ‘it’s a complete “waste of space” – what it needed was a landscape urbanism design approach’. The architects, Henley Halebrown Rorrison HHbR, wrote that ‘The square and west façade are framed by a canopy, concrete arcade and screen, all of which invite proximity and provide a counterpoint in scale and material to the greater building mass. Resting on the canopy are storey high super graphics WALDRON, HEALTH and CENTRE. Seen together they constitute a useful sign, but, seen apart, as they often are, they play a part in the composition of each elevation and in the sculptural and material character of the whole. There are two key ideas at play in the design of The Waldron: the reciprocity between the social logic of the interiors and its capacity outwardly to shape or frame the allotments, square and adjacent streets; and, the dialectic between the homogenous largely timber elevations, in which the fenestration is evident and from certain viewpoints concealed by the fins; and the superimposition of the heterogeneous, both literal and abstract, counterpoint of the super graphic letters.’ Waldheim is right that architects, town planners and urban designers have much to learn from landscape urbanists. See also: Creekside Village and King’s Cross Plaza for further examples of Kookhaas-inspired striped-geometry.

Posted in landscape urbanism