CS6 North-South Cycle Superhighway – review of first section

The first section of CS6, the North-South Cycle Superhighway, opened in October 2015. It is an 800m section and it is not yet open at both ends so it is not getting much use – yet. The video review is by two landscape architects (Tom Turner and Robert Holden) who, between them, have 80+ years experience of cycling in London. The main points are:

  • Thank you very much to whoever was responsible: the cycling campaigners, Boris Johnson, Andrew Gilligan and everyone who helped give Londoners such a welcome 2015 Christmas present. We have had a few crumbs in the past 78 years but for the most part London cyclists have been starved, injured and killed. Things got off to a great start with Hore Beleisha’s 1934 cycle track (from Hanger Lane to Greenford) but after that we had years of decline followed by years of broken promises.
  • Though fantastic, brilliant and wonderful compared to everything else London cyclists have been given since 1934, London’s first real cycle superhighway also has some disappointments.
  • The first big disappointment is the design standards. They are below Dutch and Danish cycle design standards. Since the Dutch CROW design manual is available in English there is no excuse for this. By far the most sensible course of action would have been to give the design and planning job to experienced Dutch experts in cycle infrastructure planning and design. TfL are amateurs in this specialism.
  • The second big disappointment is the single-purpose design for the CS6 Cycle Superhighway. It is being treated as an exercise in traffic engineering. Cycle lane design should be fully integrated with other aspects of multi-user, multi-objective street design. Other professionals (eg landscape architects) should have been involved.
Posted in cycleways

London Skyline to be wrecked by 22 Bishopsgate skyscraper?

This is how the 22 Bishopsgate skyscraper would change London's skyline

This is how the 22 Bishopsgate skyscraper would change London’s skyline


Peter Hitchins wrote this week (at the foot of a blog post) that ‘Approval has now been given for the building of a vast new concrete slab in the heart of London, 22 Bishopsgate. You may like this sort of thing or not. But once it is built, it will be hard to tell London’s skyline from that of Chicago. This doesn’t seem to me to be a gain. In a generation, Christopher Wren’s lovely forest of spires and domes, which belonged to Britain and the world, has been shouldered aside by temples of greed. I am astonished that this has happened with so little protest’.  London’s 18th century skyline has indeed been destroyed and PLP’s design for 22 Bishopsgate does look as though it belongs in Chicago. The design is anodyne and has attracted little praise or opprobrium from critics. It is more glass than concrete and its profile does not make the City skyline worse, as the Walkie Talkie did.   The most important point to make is that the City of London is in desperate need of roofscape and landscape design strategy to make its skyline BETTER. The previous City Planning Officer, Peter Rees, let it become ridiculous.
22 Bishopsgate by PLP Architects does not make the City of London Skyline worse

22 Bishopsgate by PLP Architects does not make the City of London Skyline worse

Posted in skyline policy

James Corner answered my question about landscape urbanism and the QE Park

The figure-ground drawing on the cover of Colin Rowe's Collage City shows the city as coherent open space (left) and the city as a spatter of objects (right)

The figure-ground drawing on the cover of Colin Rowe’s Collage City shows the city as coherent open space (left) and the city as a spatter of objects (right)

James Corner gave a very good lecture to a 300+ audience at the University of Greenwich yesterday. I went with a question, which was answered in the course of the lecture and did not need to be put. The question was this: ‘I came across a website which gave the 2012 Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in London as a prime example of landscape urbanism. Please could you say whether you agree with this and explain your reasons.’ Corner’s answer to the first part of the question was a resounding ‘YES’ (see LAA discussion of Queen Elizabeth Park).

‘Of course he said yes’, you may think. So why did I want to ask the question? The reason is that I think of landscape urbanism as a design method. I believe Charles Waldheim does too.  I am not identifying a disagreement between Waldheim and Corner but last night’s answer to the second part of my question was in terms of planning procedure rather than design methodology.  He identified the QE park as an example of landscape urbanism because it ‘puts landscape at the heart of the development process’. In this connection, Corner pointed to Colin Rowe’s figure-ground theory as being as important now as when Collage City was published (1978). As the cover of the book shows, city planning can start with the design of  objects or it can start with the design of the space between the objects.  This argument can also be found in Corner’s book Recovering Landscape: Essays in Contemporary Landscape Architecture (Princeton Architectural Press, 1999) and in the below video (1995) which has contributions from James Corner, Alan Balfour and Denis Cosgrove.

Denis Cosgrove was a widely admired geographer with a special interest in the importance of  landscape  in western culture. Like Corner, Cosgrove saw landscape as much more than a pastoral dream. It is not something which can be processed, bottled and used as a green sauce to make development projects less objectionable. Cosgrove understood landscape as a ‘ harmonious balance of nature and culture’. This is the sense in which ‘landscape’ needs to be ‘recovered’. As Corner also emphasised, ‘landscape’ is also more than ‘open space’: it has ecological, hydrological and instrumental roles. ‘Instrumental’ in this context seems equivalent to ‘functional’ and includes both amenity and commercial functions.

Posted in landscape urbanism

University of Greenwich Masters Landscape Architecture exhibitions 2015 + 2013 + 2012

2015 Greenwich landscape architecture exhibition

2013 landscape architecture exhibition

2012 landscape architecture exhibition

Posted in landscape architecture

London’s water, waterscape and flood landscape

The Architectural Review published an article on Architecture and Water, in 2014, supported by three videos which are embedded below. It’s great to see architects having a concern for these issues and many good points are made by the interviewees. The videos are about London, despite their titles, and they raise important issues. The points I noted are: (1) ‘Water’ is too limited as a headline term for a debate which must include ecology and people: Herbert Dreiseitl’s ‘Waterscape’ would be better (reading it as a contraction of water+landscape) (2) the term ‘gentrification’, used in the title of Part 2, is a sociologist’s sneer: instead, the debate should be framed in the mainstream landscape architectural vocabulary of ‘creating and conserving public goods’ (3) the word ‘park’, as used in the title of Part 3, is wrong: a park is an enclosed space; London’s waterways should be unenclosed landscapes (4) the videos are too much about creating opportunities for developers and their architects: public investment in green infrastructure is also necessary (5) the greenway concept is of key importance in the inter-generational task of recovering the Lost Rivers of London – the small rivers, like the River Quaggy in SE London, are as important as the River Thames. They suffer from a far greater level of neglect and have been very badly treated by generations of river engineers.
Part 1: A river runs through it

Part 2: Gentrification machine?

Part 3: Water park

Posted in flood prevention, green infrastructure, greenways

Landscape Urbanism: definitions and history

Landscape urbanism definition

Landscape urbanism definition

The definition of landscape urbanism which informs the above video is that: LANDSCAPE URBANISM is an approach to the design of cities, and their components, which aims to make good places through a creative integration of natural,  human and cultural process layers (Tom Turner, 2015).

Notes on the terminology used in Tom’s definition of landscape urbanism

‘Landscape’ is used in the designers’ sense to mean ‘a good place’. As in the phrase ‘landscape design’, this usage is distinct from, but related to, the ways in which the word ‘landscape’ is used by artists and geographers. The five primary components of the landscapes we design are land, water, vegetation, buildings and pavings.

‘Urbanism’ is used primarily in the sense of ‘urbanization’. This usage comes, via French, from the Catalan engineer Ildefons Cerda (who laid out Barcelona’s Eixample in the nineteenth century and published a  Théorie générale de l’urbanisation in 1867). Cerda’s approach was that of an engineer. The American Heritage Dictionary gives three definitions of urbanism: (1) the culture or way of life of city dwellers, (2) urbanization (3) the theory of city planning.

‘Good places’ is used to mean places which have the Vitruvian virtues of utilitas, firmitas and venustas (translated into English in 1624 as commodity, firmness and delight).

‘Cities and their components’ is used to encompass places which range in size from large to small (city regions to small open spaces in urban areas).

Creative integration‘ is used to signal that landscape urbanism is a creative process which brings together ideas and analysis from many disciplinary fields.

Approach‘ is used as a reminder that ‘landscape urbanism’ is situated within ‘landscape architecture’ as a design field to which several professional groups contribute.

‘Layers’ refers to information drawn from  related disciplines and often represented as  3D models with attributes held in Geographical Information Systems (GIS).

‘Natural process layers‘ is used to include a broad spectrum of natural process information (eg about geology, soils, hydrology, ecology etc). Ian McHarg used transparent overlays to represent this information and it is now managed using Geographical Information Systems and Geodesign software.

‘Human process layers’ includes data about human processes (circulation routes, enclosure, ownership, spatial types, land management systems, views, viewsheds, cultural constructs, land use activities and zones).

‘Cultural process layers’ is used to mean layers ‘relating to culture’ in the two senses of (1) relating to intellectual and artistic pursuits (2) relating to the culture of a particular society, people, locality or period.

Other definitions of landscape urbanism

Definition of landscape urbanism by  Charles Waldheim
Urbanism describes a disciplinary realignment currently underway in which landscape replaces architecture as the basic building block of contemporary urbanism. For many, across a range of disciplines, landscape has become both the lens through which the contemporary city is represented and the medium through which it is constructed.

Definition of landscape urbanism by James Corner
[Landscape Urbanism] ‘brings together two previously unrelated terms to suggest a new hybrid discipline. Not unlike the combination of biology and technology to spawn biotech, or of evolutionary science with business management to produce organizational dynamics, the merging of landscape with urbanism suggests an exciting new field of possibilities’.

Definition of landscape urbanism by the Architectural Association  2015
[Landscape Urbanism] ‘aims at developing instruments, proposing responses and investigating potentials emergent from the developmental pressures that regional networks exert on localities today. The understanding of landscape is central to this project, both for the degree of spatial control it offers to large-scale urbanism and for the way in which it allows the integration of natural processes and urban development into a sustainable artificial ecology. The landscape offers the double opportunity to reframe urban problems and recontextualize the practice in general’.

Definition of landscape urbanism  by Sarah Kathleen Peck
Landscape urbanism is a mode of thinking about the design and functioning of cities that places landscape architecture as one of the first steps in urban development, rather than the last.

Definition of landscape urbanism by Christopher Grey
Landscape urbanism is the approach to the design and planning of open space where landscape is the structuring medium. Landscape urbanism considers the horizontal field over the vertical figure-ground and secondly, it describes a move from the pictorial to the operational; in other words process (both in analysis and design synthesis) is favoured over a static end form.

Definition of landscape urbanism by Julia Czerniak
The notion of site propelling landscape design work interfaces with the emerging amalgam of practices known as landscape urbanism, a phrase taken here to be the conceptualization of and design and planning for urban landscapes that draw from an understand of, variously, landscape’ discipliniarity (history of ideas), functions  (ecolgies and economies), formal and spatial atrributes (both natural and cultural organizations, systems, and formations), and processes (temporal qualities) impacting many scales of work.

Definition of landscape urbanism  by Ignacio Bunster-Ossa
[Landscape Urbanism is an] ‘inside-out reversal of the city/landscape relationship… placing open space concerns at the core of planning and design of urban areas’.

Posted in landscape urbanism

Theory in landscape architecture


I use the word theory, in one of the senses defined in the Oxford English Dictionary, to mean ‘A conception of something to be done, or the method of doing it’. Landscape architecture theory is therefore concerned with what to do and how to do it. Landscape Urbanism is a theory of how to undertake urban design projects – by starting the design process with the landscape. The landscape profession has one aim, three objectives and five sets of techniques. ‘Landscape architecture is a 1-3-5 profession‘.
• the primary aim is to create a good public realm
• the three objectives are to create places which are useful, beautiful and well-made (following Vitruvius statement of design aims as Commodity, Delight, and Firmness)
• the five compositional elements are land, water, vegetation, buildings and pavements

Each of these points raises additional theoretical issues and involves the older disciplines of garden design and town design.
When landscape architecture was evolving, in the late nineteenth century, practitioners wanted to distinguish themselves from garden designers and to become more involved with public projects.
Thomas Mawson, who became first President of the UK Institute of Landscape Architects (now the Landscape Institute) wrote separate books on The Art and Craft of Garden Making and on Civic Art. He saw both subjects as part of landscape architecture but by treating them separately he widened the gulf between the new profession and its ancient theory and practice.

Landscape and garden design remain excellent places to develop spatial concepts and many of the best urban designs derive from parks and gardens. History provides many examples:

  • Amarna, in Ancient Egypt, was as much a garden plan as it was town plan
  • Beijing was based on the traditional planning of China’s royal estates, which integrated dwellings with gardens and parks
  • Isfahan was based on the classical planning of Persian gardens, dating from a thousand years before the birth of Islam
  • Baroque Rome was planned on the model of Sixtus V’s own garden in Montalto
  • Georgian London’s parks, squares and streets were based on Renaissance and Neoclassical garden plans, as was Edinburgh’s New Town
  • Nineteenth century Paris and Washington DC were based again on Baroque garden plans with focal points and radial avenues

Modernist cities, regrettably, were not based on spatial ideas which had been tested at the scale of landscape and garden design. So they’re dead dull.

Posted in landscape urbanism

Tom Turner discusses landscape architecture with University of Greenwich students March 2015

Tom Turner was interviewed by Lalla Hussain on 24th March 2015. She was a first year BA Landscape Architecture student at the University of Greenwich in London and had qustions about about: the definition of landscape architecture, the theory of landscape architecture, the history of landscape architecture – and its future. In trying to answer these questions, Tom discusses the origin of the term landscape architecture, international influences on UK landscape architecture, famous examples of landscape architecture (including Hatshepsut’s Temple at Deir elBahari in Egypt, the Temple of Delphi in Greece, the Villa Lante in Italy, Chateau Courances in France, Stourhead and Studley Royal in England, Edinburgh New Town in Scotland, Olmsted’s design for Central Park, NY, USA, Mies van der Rohe’s Barcelona Pavilion in Spain and Charles Jencks’ landform design for the Scottish Museum of Modern Art. Theorists include Ian McHarg, Bernard Tschumi, Rem Koolhaas, Charles Waldheim, James Corner, Charles Jencks and Kongjian Yu. Design theories discussed include Renaissance, Baroque, Neoclassical, Modernism, Postmodernism, Landscape Urbanism, Sustainability and Post-Postmodernism.

Posted in landscape architecture

‘Should Oxford Street be pedestrianised?’ Landscape architects say ‘yes’

Landscape architects Tom Turner and Robert Holden debate whether Oxford Street should be pedestrianised as a shared street. ‘Yes’ is their answer. Oxford Street is an environmental disaster zone which claims to be ‘Europe’s premier shopping street’.

  • Oxford Street has the highest rate of air pollution in the world
  • Oxford Street has 35 times the average accident rate for London streets (more than 300 bus-pedestrian accidents since 2006 with over 77 people killed or seriously injured)
  • Oxford Street has average noise levels above 75 dB (which is the noise level of a vacuum cleaner or a toilet flushing or a loud voice)

TfL, which has responsibility for managing the Oxford Street Disaster Zone, knows these facts but, so far, has chosen not to act. The video makes comparisons with pedestrian streets in Istanbul, Shanghai, Edinburgh and other places where shared streets have been a great success.

TfL forgets that shopping is one of the chief leisure activities in a consumer society. The The New West End Company (formerly the Oxford Street Association) has not pushed hard enough for a change which would benefit the people of London and have a significant positive impact on NWEC revenues, and also help prevent the need for people to call a Pedestrian Accident Attorney when an accident occurs, as they would be lessened without the driving down the road.

Oxford Street was made by the Romans, as the Via Trinobantina. In the Middle Ages it was the infamous road to Tyburn Gallows – called the Tyburn Road. To forget this grim history, when the road became residential, the name was changed to Oxford Street. Should we revert to the old name, now that Oxford Street has become such a dangerous place to visit?

Who can doubt that Oxford Street will be pedestrianised? It’s a case of ‘when, not if”.

Posted in green streets Tagged with:

The origins of landscape architecture a professional title and an art

I really enjoyed Charles Waldheim’s lecture, above, and it inspired me to reconsider our profession’s name. I plan to review Waldheim’s book on Landscape as Urbanism – a general theory when it appears and will comment here on the section of the lecture in which he discusses  the term landscape architecture. In 1982 I attributed its origin to Gilbert Laing Meason (‘Scottish origins of landscape architecture’  Landscape Architecture May 1982 pp 52-55). Waldheim accept’s Joseph Disponzio‘s attribution to Morel, which was new to me.  Disponzio wrote a PhD thesis on Morel and, taking a particular interest in where Olmsted’s  term ‘landscape architect’ might have come from, has uncovered much useful evidence.

See: scottish_origins__of_landscape_architecture

The French term architecte-paysagiste is at least 24 years older than the British term ‘landscape architecture’, having been used in in the Almanach de Lyon in 1804 and in Morel’s obituary in 1810. It was not used in Morel’s Théorie des jardins, or his subesequent books, but other French designers used the term, including Louis-Sulpice Varé, when he was superintendent of the Bois de Boulougne. Olmsted visited the Bois in 1859 and met Varé’s successor, Adolphe Alphand, who may have mentioned the term architecte-paysagiste. An architecte-paysagiste was an architect who designed gardens in the English landscape style. Disponzio’s views are explained in this lecture

The British term ‘landscape architect’ was first used by Meason in 1828. It was welcomed by John Claudius Loudon and used in the title of his collected edition of Repton’s works. Andrew Jackson Downing, who greatly admired Loudon, used ‘Landscape or Rural Architecture’ in his Treatise on the Theory and Practice of Landscape Gardening, Adapted to North America.  Olmsted refers to Humphry Repton and probably knew his work from Loudon’s edition, since the original books have always been scarce and expensive.

Disponzio comments on Meason that ‘The book had nothing to do with landscape architecture, but rather with the architecture in landscape paintings of Italy.‘  The second point is correct. The first point is incorrect: Meason’s focus, like that of the profession Olmsted founded, was on the relationship between buildings and settings. Meason wrote that:

In recommending to architects to study the picturesque effects of buildings, the site adapted for them, and those accompaniments of terraces, gardens, and other decorations, to set off their architectural designs, we are influenced by the desire to raise and extend the theory and the practice to what we consider belongs to the art. It was thus in Italy, when the fine arts were in perfection, in laying out great villas by artists who often combined the practice of painting and architecture; and until it be adopted in Britain, the designs of the architect never will have justice done to them in the execution. Our parks may be beautiful, our mansions faultless in design, but nothing is more rare than to see the two properly connected. We need not repeat the just remarks of Sir Uvedale Price on this subject. Let the architect, by study and  observation, qualify himself to include in his art the decorations around the immediate site of the intended building, and the extended taste among the gentry of England will second him.

City as landscape, by Tom Turner, was published in 1996

City as landscape, by Tom Turner, was published in 1996

This paragraph could have a place in a founding charter for the landscape profession but does not constitute evidence for Olmsted having read Meason’s book or known of its existence.  Meason also had a deep concern for the public interest – which became a distinguishing characteristic of the profession Olmsted founded. Quoting Macculloch, Meason wrote that:

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.

[Macculloch, J. Highlands of Scotland, vol. i. p.359 the book is addressed to Sir Walter Scott]

Loudon used this quotation in his  Architectural Magazine and elsewhere. Mark Laird is right that Loudon ‘anticipated most facets of an embryonic landscape architecture’.

Olmsted could have acquired the term ‘landscape architect’ from Morel or from Meason or from both or of them – or from Calvert Vaux or A.N.Other. Vaux, who met Downing in 1851, may well have known that William Andrews Nesfield described himself as a landscape architect when designing a garden for Queen Victoria (see biography of Nesfield and details of his garden designs). I hope new evidence will be found but it will not affect the definition of landscape architecture or its antiquity as a design profession. Meanwhile, the origins of landscape architecture are outlined in the below video:

Was William Andrews Nesfield the father of landscape architecture?

John Dixon Hunt, in an essay on ‘Early landscape architects who weren’t ”landscape architects”‘ reflects that ‘what we today call landscape architecture – was practiced without that title in the past’. After writing about Kent, Brown and Repton he notes that ‘if we push back further into the seventeenth century and even earlier, we encounter creators of “landscape architecture” who emerged from a whole cluster of professions, skills and trades’. Hunt believes that landscape architecture is ‘not a happy term, but it suffices, despite more recent attempts to coin phrases like landscape urbanism and even ecological urbanism as the appropriate terminology. As regards these recent re-nominations, it is, in the end, interesting to observe that “landscape urbanism” succeeded in dumping the term ‘architecture”, and then that ‘ecological urbanism’ also got rid of the term “landscape”, so that the two emphases on landscape and architect have simply disappeared’.

Charles Waldheim (from 49:34 in the video) dates the advent of landscape architecture from the start of the sixteenth century and makes a good case for Landscape as Urbanism – which is the title of his book (to be published by PUP in 2016). I view landscape and ecological urbanism as design methods, not as candidates for replacing ‘landscape architect’ as our professional title. Waldheim quotes Geoffrey Jellicoe who, writing as founding president of the International Federation of Landscape Architects (IFLA), declared that: ‘The landscape architect… is still surely wrongly named’ (Crowe.S., ed Space for living, 1960).

Charles Waldheim lecture on Landscape as Urbanism

Charles Waldheim lecture on Landscape as Urbanism: A General Theory (Princeton University Press, 2016). [click image to see video]

Here is a more of the Jellicoe quotation: ‘The landscape architect, who was first called a landscape gardener, is still surely wrongly named. Apart from a confusion of professions, his art is distinct from architecture and should be so recognized by definition. Since the scope of his work has not previously existed in history, it is not surprising that a wholly new and single word is required.’

I did not know of this comment before seeing Waldheim’s video but remember asking Geoffrey for his opinion of  ‘landscape architect’ as a title. As I recall, Jellicoe’s  reservation was about the word ‘architect’ which, he thought, over-emphasised our concern with geometry and under-stated our concern with biological processes.  My question was probably put to him when writing an essay on landscape architecture and ‘The blood of philosopher kings’. The essay (available for download) includes an account of  my concerns about the title ‘landscape architect’ and relates that : ‘I then spent some time trying to devise a better title for the landscape profession. My favoured proposal was “topist’ (one who makes places). But then my historical investigations resumed, now into the meaning of the word “landscape’. I found that it had dropped out of Middle English but had been re-introduced from Dutch in the sixteenth century, as a painters’ term, linked to the Ideal, Neoplatonic, theory of art. A “landscape’ was a special kind of place: an ideal place. The theory derives from Plato, who, believing the Form of The Good is the proper goal of human endeavour in life as in art, argued that philosopher kings are the people best suited to rule society. Plato’s Theory of Forms, or Ideas, led directly to the Neoplatonic axiom that “art should imitate nature’.’ Though my confidence about Olmsted borrowing the term from Meason has diminished somewhat, I have not changed my mind about the revitalisation of landscape theory and I have become optimistic for landscape urbanism as an approach to dealing with relationships between buildings and their surroundings. Landscape urbanism  is, as a design method, applicable both at the large scale of city planning and the small scale of site planning.

As explained in the below video, I see the University of Greenwich landscape design for a Dragon Garden at a height of 3,500m in Ladakh as an example of a landscape urbanism design process. It integrates cultural layers (the extended mandala and other symbols from Buddhist culture) with functional layers (circulation, security etc) and with natural process layers (geology, soils, vegetation etc).

 

Posted in landscape urbanism