Garden streets in London

Garden streets are a very special type of green street. They are effectively traffic calmed by local residents extending their gardening activities into the public realm. Such initiatives tend to come from individual activist gardeners who show what can be done. Neighbours admire their efforts and follow their example – so that the whole street becomes a public garden.

Posted in green streets

Landscape architecture, Ian McHarg and green environmental ethics

Ian McHarg included a chapter ‘On Values’ in Design with nature. It sets out his views on the beliefs and historical ideas which guided his approach to landscape architecture. His discussion is short and unsatisfactory, but many important issues are raised. McHarg’s main themes are:

  • The American landscape before humans arrived was ‘rich beyond the dreams of avarice in everything that man could desire’
  • The pantheism, animism and paganism of the American Indians resulted in ‘a most harmonious balance of man and nature’  with a modest ecological impact
  • The Christian beliefs of the European settlers, derived from the Book of Genesis, had a disastrous ecological impact: ‘the ransacking of the world’s last great cornucopia has as its visible consequence the largest, most inhumane and ugliest cities ever made by man’

McHarg saw Renaissance and Baroque gardens as symbols of the Christian ‘conquest’ of nature and Neoclassical (‘English’) gardens as symbols of a pre-Christian desire to live in harmony with nature. Substantial points underlie his argument but much of his rhetoric is negated by the simple truth that the ‘French’ and ‘English’ approaches to landscape architecture rested on conceptions of ‘Nature’. It is a slippery word with many related meanings. A. O. Lovejoy identified sixty-six different senses in which ‘nature ‘ is used. Landscape architects need to consider which of McHarg had in mind. If you are going to ‘design with nature’, you have to be clear on this point. Though McHarg did not advocate a Buddhist approach to environmental design, his advocacy of ‘Design with nature’ and his use of Lynn White’s argument against the Christian attitude to nature, associates McHarg with Buddhist Environmentalism.

In a print book on City as landscape, I argued that

  • Modernist Design Theory implies a unitary approach. It was  based on the principles of reason and they were taken to apply equally in every land – so modernist buildings tend to look the same wherever they are built
  • Postmodern Design Theory implies a multivalent approach. It was based on a post-structuralist philosophy which argued against over-reliance on reason but failed to put anything in its place. This led to an ‘anything goes’ attitude, freeing architects to do whatever they want wherever they want.
  • post-Postmodern Design Theory should integrate reason with belief

I would regard a sustainable approach to design as post-Postmodern. The rational aspects of the approach should come from science. But the approach also needs to incorporate aesthetics, functions and beliefs which are outside the realm of science. They are matters of ‘personal belief’, except that beliefs are both complicated, contradictory and tend to evolve over very long periods of time. We all have beliefs which can’t be proved by science but which need to change ‘when the facts change’. Some world religions have formulated beliefs into immutable systems. Others are more open and, while I am all in favour of the world faiths becoming ‘environmental’ (as outlined in the Wiki article on Religion and Environmentalism), I think this will be easier and better for Buddhism than for the other major religions. The potential for Buddhism on Environmental Ethics is discussed in an eBook.

Posted in environmental ethics

The landscape architecture of tall buildings in London

When the Walkie Talkie (20 Fenchurch Street) was nearing completion it attracted publicity for its capacity to fry eggs on the pavement. Rafael Viñoly’s great facade behaved like a solar mirror, as shown in the below video. The sun shade added £10m to the £200m cost of the Walkie Talkie Scorchie

Now that the building is complete, attention is focussing on how the building impacts the wind environment. The environmental impact on trees, pedestrians, hair and skirts is shown on the below video.

Any sensible architect, after looking at these video clips would conclude ‘next time we do a tall building we’ll pay great attention to landscape impacts on skylines, microclimate and the street environment’. And next time a planning department gets an application for a skyscraper the staff should say ‘if we must give permission for this building, because our bosses want the business rates, at least we can get the developers to commission a good firm of landscape architects for the initial planning and for the detail design’. A good firm of landscape architects (Gillespies) was commissioned for the Walkie Talkie but, it seems to me, they did not have a significant involvement in the initial site planning of the Walkie Talkie.
Landscape architecture should never be commissioned as ‘urban cosmetics’ = ‘green lipstick’.

Posted in skyline policy

London needs an integrated network of green streets

Streets are said to be green when they are dominated by vegetation and/or when they are green in the environmental sense (as in ‘green politics’). London’s Regent Street has never had tree planting but was designed, by John Nash, as a civic amenity. It had fine colonnades to protect its aristocratic shoppers from sun and rain.

Posted in green streets

Greenwich Peninsula skyline landscape architecture London

Greenwich Peninsula proposed skyline landscape and architecture 2015

Greenwich Peninsula proposed skyline landscape and architecture 2015

This witty and perceptive cutting is from the Friends of Greenwich Park Newsletter (No. 70 Summer 2015). The underlying problem is that neither the newly-Royal Borough of Greenwich nor the Greater London Authority has anything which a serious commentator would regard as a Skyline Landscape Policy. Either or both authorities should follow Edinburgh City Council’s example and commission a firm of landscape architects to produce a skyline landscape strategy. A copy of the Council’s 2006 report on the Edinburgh Skyline Study can be downloaded here. It was produced by landscape architects Colvin and Moggridge and illustrations from the study can be found on the C&M website.

In the absence of a landscape skyline and high buildings strategy London’s skyline is likely to become more and more like that of Sao Paolo – which needed a skyline landscape plan 50 years ago, and still needs it. See the end of this video:

Posted in skyline policy

All London Green Grid – landscape and open space planning

Creating networks of long-distance walks, like the London Loop, the Capital Ring and the Jubilee Greenway is an aspect of landscape and open space planning for London and should be integrated with landscape planning for and cycle routes.

The All London Green Grid is a less-than-ideal name for a really important idea. ‘Grid’ suggests something rigid, man-made and often harsh: traffic is said to be ‘grid locked’, race tracks have a ‘starting grid’; the UK’s National Grid has pylons marching across the countryside; you can have a grid of networked computers. Related terms for related concepts include: emerald necklace, park system, open space system, green chain, green network, greenway system. For free downloads and a historical perspective on how Londoners have planned this type of route please see Reports on London landscape, open space, greenway and green infrastructure planning. The green grid should be used as a landscape planning framework for London’s walking and cycling networks.

The All London Green Grid (illustration from the supplementary guidance to the 2011 London Plan)

The All London Green Grid (illustration from the 2012 supplementary guidance to the 2011 London Plan)

Posted in green infrastructure, greenways, landscape planning

Public access to green roofs and roof gardens

Cities are becoming denser and busier and higher and more polluted. This tends to make ground level space less attractive, because it is becoming noisier, windier, more shady and more polluted. But it also makes rooftop space more attractive, because it is quieter, sunnier and less polluted. So there is a good case for providing new public open space in the form of roof gardens and green roofs. It will be interesting to see how the green roofs cope with adverse weather in the coming months. My suspicion is there will be a few frantic visits to websites like once the hailstorms start to make their presence known.

The rooftop gardens are usually built after restoration and redesign of the commercial rooftop, in consultation with experts like the ones at Precision Roof Crafters (you could visit them here). These rooftop gardens provide shelter for wildlife such as birds and depending on the space can be used to raise honeybees as well. Designers of public buildings, like libraries and theatres, should regard a publicly accessible roof garden as the norm. Owners of private and corporate buildings may agree to public access as a ‘sweetener’ to persuade authorities to let them build higher. Homeowners and residential building owners may want to consult with a roofing company like 99Roofers to see if it’s possible to convert part of their existing roof into a garden.

As with all landscape architecture projects, very careful thought should be given to the functional, visual and ecological aspects of roof garden design. Each contributes to character. The above video looks at the character of two green roofs with public access on the South Bank in Central London: the Weston Terrace and Bank of America Merrill Lynch Terrace, also known as the National Theatre Roof Garden, and the Queen Elizabeth Hall Roof Garden Café. My view is although both are ‘green space’, the former leans towards being ‘white space’ and the later leans towards being ‘red space’.

Posted in green roofs

Patrick Geddes and the origin of UK landscape architecture

Geddes' view from Kinnoull Hill

Patrick Geddes fascination for the relationship between landscapes and architecture was inspired by the views from Kinnoull Hill in Perthshire, Scotland

Wikipedia (2015) describes  Sir Patrick Geddes FRSE (2 October 1854 – 17 April 1932) as a Scottish biologist, sociologist, geographer, philanthropist and pioneering town planner.’ Geddes was also the first European to use the term ‘landscape architect’ as a professional title in its modern sense. When the term originated in 1828 it referred to the art of relating buildings to landscapes, rather than landscapes to buildings. It was then used, by William Andrews Nesfield in the mid-nineteenth century, for  the art of designing gardens to relate to landscapes and architecture. Geddes, inspired by Frederick Law Olmsted’s use of the term landscape architect for his work on Central Park New York and Boston’s Emerald Necklace of public open space, used the term in his correspondence with the Carnegie Dunfermline Trust leading to his 1904 book City development, a study of parks, gardens, and culture-institutes; a report to the Carnegie Dunfermline Trust.  The term was then taken up by his fellow competitor, Thomas H Mawson. Mawson became the author of a book on Civic Art, a founder member of the Town Planning Institute and the first President of the UK Institute of Landscape Architects.

Patrick Geddes was an imaginative scientist. As well as being the first British citizen to use the term landscape architect, he introduced the concept of  a ‘region’ to the built environment professions and coined the term conurbation. He became a profound influence on Lewis Mumford, American regional planning – and Ian McHarg. Geddes was born in Perth, Scotland, 26 miles from Gilbert Laing Meason‘s home. Geddes enjoyed many walks to Kinnoull Hill as a boy and said they inspired his subsequent fascination with the relationship between cities and landscapes.

Posted in landscape architecture

Welcome to

new_lives_new_landscapes_nan_fairbrotherWelcome to the website of the Landscape Architects Association We aim to help the public find out more about the work of landscape architects and how than help design and manage the many different types of landscape required by the 21st century. They include historic landscapes and ‘new landscapes for our new lives’ (New Lives, New Landscapes, 1970, Nan Fairbrother).
‘In town and in country there must be landscapes where we can walk in safety, pick fruit, cycle, work, sleep, swim, listen to the birds, bask in the sun, run through the trees and laze beside cool waters. Some should be busy; others solitary. Rivers should be prized out of their concrete coffins and foul ditches. Quarries should be planned as new landscapes. Forests should provide us with recreation, timber and wildlife habitats. Wastes should be used to build green hills. Routeways should be designed for all types of user, not just for motor vehicles. Old towns should be revitalised and new villages made. In growing food, farmers should conserve and remake the countryside. Buildings should stop behaving like spoilt brats: each should contribute to an urban or rural landscape’. (Landscape planning and environmental impact design, 1998, Tom Turner)

Posted in landscape architecture

The Dragon Garden in Ladakh, India

The Dragon Garden is being made for a school at 3,500m in Ladakh – a remote part of India’s Himalayan region often known as ‘Little Tibet’. The  design is influenced by Buddhist ideas with the buildings arranged to form a mandala. Sustainable design is a high priority. Water is raised from a dynamic aquifer by PV-powered pumps. The garden is planted with local plants, fruit trees and vegetables. It is designed for teaching, learning, sport and children’s play. The design is all done on a pro bono volunteer basis, mostly by London-based landscape architects.
Landscape architects: University of Greenwich
Client: Druk Padma Karpo Educational Society
Architects: Arup Associates
Engineering: Arup
Posted in school grounds