IS landscape architecture one of the ten most important professions?

Is landscape architecture one of the world’s most important professions? Yes.

There is an immense public demand for good urban and rural landscapes. We want to live in them. We want to visit them. We want them to exist.  So why aren’t we making more of them? One possibility that the task does not fall within the technical, conceptual and professional scope of the professions which undertake most of the work. For cities, the work is normally done by architects, town planners and surveyors. Many have a good understanding of the works of man. But their understanding of the works of nature is almost always deficient. Yet communities depend on harmonious designs for  relationships between the works of nature and the works of man: between landform, water, plants, buildings and pavings. And composing these elements to create public goods and common goods is the heartland of landscape architecture. With good design, we can have sustainable and beautiful places in which to grow food, to work, to live, to build cities, to plan for multi-objective rivers, lakes, forests, grasslands, deserts and mountains, to enjoy ourselves and to celebrate, to worship, the nature of the world.

See also: LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE: What, Why, When, How, Where, Who and What Next?

Introduction to landscape architecture Kindle eBook,  designed for use on mobile devices

Posted in landscape architecture

Carl Steinitz: On the Future of Landscape Architecture

Steinitz has worked at the intellectual heart of landscape architecture for half a century. In this 2016 lecture, he uses a single illustration to discuss The Future of Landscape Architecture. It shows three design scales: the garden, the park and the city. This helps him make points about the profession’s history:ues occur in the world’, including differences in poverty, growth, bad water and lack of food. Issues relating to the garden scale are ‘nice but less relevant’.

Carl Steinitz landscape architecture

Carl Steinitz and the three diagrams he uses to discuss the future of landscape architecture

  • The relative emphasis on the three scales has changed
  • Before the name landscape architecture came into use [in the 1860s] there were people like Peter Joseph Lenné  and John Claudius Loudon who worked ‘across these scales’. So did Frederick Law Olmsted and Warren Henry Manning after the profession’s foundation. They worked in different ways at the three scales.
  • In the 1920s the money was at the garden scale
  • In the 1930s the medium and large scales came to be called planning and were taken over by planners. The small and medium scale became ‘the territory of landscape architects’
  • In the 1960s, when Steinitz, began teaching at Harvard, landscape architects like Ian McHarg and Phil Lewis, resumed the profession’s involvement with the large scale
  • In the 1970s most landscape architecture activities moved ‘back down’ to the medium and small scales and treated ‘design and planning as different things’
  • In the  1990s there was a frontal attack on the small and medium scales by architects.  Barcelona (the 1992 Summer Olympics) ‘was a huge event in this’, with architects designing gardens and parks (as did landscape architects).
  • In recent years, landscape architects have been interested in moving back to the large scale – because this is the scale at which real issues arise.

Looking to the future, there are four major options

  1. Landscape architects could concentrate on the small scale,
  2. The landscape architecture profession could disappear, with the work being done by architects, engineers and geographers
  3. We could retain the ‘very foolish idea’ that there’s a difference between planning and design. It is foolish because all the scales are ‘design’ in the sense of proposing potential change.
  4. Instead of starting with teaching about small projects and working up in scale, we should start at the large scale of real issues and work down. The fourth option is to see the profession in the way the founders of landscape architecture saw it. We should be prepared to practice, in different ways, at each of the scales: collaboratively at the large and medium scales and individually at the small scale.

There is no reason why landscape architects should see themselves as the stewards of the landscape , or as the protectors of the landscape, or as the designers of the landscape. We are not the only ones with wisdom at any of the design scales. So we should concentrate on the scale at which society needs us the most – which is the large scale. ‘That’s my view’.


Readers will not be surprised to learn that the author of a book on Landscape planning finds himself in  70%+ agreement with Carl Steinitz. He does not mention GIS or Geodesign in the above lecture but I also agree about its importance and put a GIS diagram on the cover of my book.

  • Urban and landscape planning are,  and should be,  at the heart of our work. But I see a focus on public goods as giving more definition to this work than the issues of scale and collaboration (which Steinitz uses).
  • In the UK an increasing proportion of the small-scale work is being done by garden designer, who have a focus on private goods. Architects are more interested in competing for the medium scale work in which they have no training and little skill.
  • Steinitz is right that design is the crucial skill at all three scales. But what do we design? The term ‘landscape’ needs to be explained and this should be done by saying that we compose ‘landform, water and vegetation with buildings and pavings’. This is true each of the three scales.
  • I agree about the importance of Loudon to the history of landscape architecture but also think the history of the art pre-dates London by at least 5000 years. The landscape profession’s lack of interest in its pre-1860 history is a major cause of its failure to explain itself and understand itself.
  • I agree that use of the term ‘stewardship’, by both the ASLA and the LI is misleading and should be dropped.

Posted in landscape planning

Sustrans greenways for cycling and walking

Sustrans first project (the Bath-Bristol Path, National Route 4) was a great success. I see it as a primarily a commuter route. If using it for leisure, you would need to be a sport cyclist. It is too boring for people like me who want to see interesting places, landscapes and architecture in their spare time. WG Hoskins wrote about ‘the marvellous unexpectedness of the English Countryside’. The Bristol-Bath area has this quality, in spades, but this is not what you see from the Sustrans route. It is a valuable contribution to Sustainable Transport and when electric bikes become popular the track may have to be widened.

Sustrans logo, shown on the below video, implies its aim was to provide access from town to country. The disused railway lines at the core of its network are in fact better suited to taking commuters into towns. The image behind the logo was taken on the Crab and Winkle Way which runs between Canterbury and Whitstable. From a landscape and architecture viewpoint, it is much more appealing than the Bath-Bristol route. Once the Canterbury and Whitstable Railway, it was one of the earliest railways and much less ‘engineered’ than later routes.  Cable haulage by stationary steam engines had to be used on the hilly section through the forest.

Sustrans is a UK charity. Its name is a contraction of ‘sustainable transport’ which is what it aims to promote and facilitate. The Sustrans website further explains that ‘One third of the 10,000 miles of the National Cycle Network is traffic-free, and much of this runs along Greenways. We define these as traffic-free routes which are attractive, generally well separated from traffic and continuous over obstacles and through road junctions.’ This is a fair definition of a ‘greenway’. But Sustrans calls cycleways within towns  ‘Promenades’, if they are traffic-free and  ‘Green Steets’ if they are shared with motor vehicles. I think both these terms are wrong. A ‘Promenade’ is a place for walking and a Green Street should be free of vehicles. If the only facility provided by Sustrans is a sign post then, charitably, it could be called a cycle route. If the cycling quality is OK and environmental quality is low they should call it a cycle path. If the environmental quality is high the term greenway is just as appropriate in towns as in the country.


Posted in green infrastructure, landscape planning

The brilliant landscape architecture of Edinburgh New Town

Was Edinburgh’s new town planned by a landscape architect? Yes.  One could argue that the term ‘landscape architect’ was not invented until 1828 and could not apply to a competition design submitted in 1766.  But the term ‘architect’ did not exist when Egypt’s pyramids were built and was unknown in England when the Gothic cathedrals were built. Is anyone going to say these are not works of architecture? No.

The first phase of Edinburgh’s New Town, and the principles of its layout were the work of James Craig. He had been apprenticed to a stone mason who had helped build Adam’s Royal Exchange in Edinburgh’s High Street. But Craig was more influenced by his uncle, James Thomson, a famous landscape poet, who wrote The Seasons (and the words for “Rule, Britannia!”). Often, Thomson leads the reader on a scenic walk. After climbing a hill he likes to enjoy the view as he did in the Summer of 1726

And what a various prospect lies around!
Of hills, and vales, and woods, and lawns, and spires,
And towns betwixt, and gilded streams; till all
The stretching landskip into smoke decays.

This is the type of concept Craig applied to Edinburgh New Town. He was very concerned with prospects:

  • north from George Street to the Firth of Forth and Fife
  • south, from Princes Street to the Castle and the Old Town
  • east and west along Princes Street to the Calton Hill and the the churches
  • east and west along George Street to St Andrews Square and George Square

So we all enjoy views of  hills, and vales, and woods, and lawns, and spires, and towns betwixt – and of the Firth of Forth. Craig therefore planned the street layout and the public open spaces. His work was a composition of landform, water, vegetation, planting and building. Within this framework, which we would now call a landscape urbanism framework, he left the work of designing the buildings to many architects. Edinburgh New Town is therefore an excellent illustration of how landscape architects should work with architects on residential architecture. Much of the New Town now has non-residential functions. This shows that the working relationship works equally well for other types of urban design.

James Craig planned Princes Street with an elegant terrace to the north and what is now Princes Street Gardens to the south.

Posted in landscape architecture, landscape urbanism, urban design

Ian McHarg’s legacy to landscape architecture & landscape urbanism

Ian McHarg’s legacy to the landscape architecture profession was threefold:

  1. He wrote a brilliant book, on Design with nature (1969)
  2. He made an important contribution to the development of Geographical Information Systems and one of his students, Jack Dangermond, developed the industry-leading GIS software, ArcGIS
  3. Ian McHarg did some great projects  which demonstrate an ecological approach to Design with nature. My favourites are his Plan for the Valleys, outside Baltimore, and his firm’s design for The Woodlands new community in Texas

Despite this, few landscape architects have ‘followed in McHarg’s footsteps’ by adopting his layered approach to land use planning. Nor are landscape architects significant users of Geographical Information Systems (GIS). Part of the explanation is that the overlay method was unbalanced to the extent of being flawed. For use on design projects, it was too scientific and too determinist. The clearest illustration of this is McHarg’s statement that ‘any man, assembling the same evidence, would come to the same conclusion’. Design can’t be like this. It rests on beliefs, and on judgements and on whatever facts are considered to be most important.

Landscape architects now agree that both artistic and scientific inputs are essential. But holding the balance is difficult. As I see it, most twentieth century landscape architects neglected the sciences and Ian McHarg’s overlay method neglected human culture and the arts. But it needn’t have. I see the theory of Landscape Urbanism as way of complementing McHarg’s stack of scientific layers with a second stack of cultural layers. This approach is post-Postmodern and is, I hope, the next stage in the escape of landscape theory from blow it suffered from The Three Stakes after 1800.

Additional Notes on McHarg’s Legacy:

– Ian McHarg was born in Clydebank, which is 65 miles from the birthplace of Patrick Geddes. Geddes was the first European to use the term ‘landscape architect’ in its Olmstedian sense, and the most important influence on McHarg’s approach to landscape architecture. Beyond a doubt, they are Scotland’s most significant landscape architects.

PennDesign has set up a website and announced that  ‘In recognition of McHarg’s legacy, the department of landscape architecture at Penn is establishing The Ian L. McHarg Center: Urbanism and Ecology, a nexus of research, teaching, and advocacy for improving the relationship between cities and their landscapes, and processes of urbanization and ecosystems’.

Ignacio Bunster-Ossa, who worked for WMRT (now WRT Design and the firm that designed The Woodlands in Texas) is a leading practitioner of landscape urbanism. In a book on Reconsidering Ian McHarg (2014) he argues for

  • Green Infrastructure, as the means to integrate a ‘working nature’ in the urban midst
  • Localism, as the means to reaffirm the value of culture and community life; and
  • Public Art, as the means to exact from everyday life a measure of rooted meaning, beauty, and sublimity.

Firms and public bodies often respond to environmental problems by saying the right things while  doing the wrong things

Posted in landscape planning, landscape urbanism

Bad landscape architecture 1: Creekside non-village in Deptford, London

Inspired by James Kunstler’s Ted talk  How bad architecture wrecked cities (video above) I am planning some blog posts on Bad landscape architecture.  Much of it, of course, is designed or commissioned by architects. But you can’t blame them. They have no education in the subject. If you asked me to design a big bridge  I too might make a terrible job of it.

My first video study is of a project described by the Deptford Dame, rather flatteringly,  as a ‘leering lump of steel and glass’. The architects were Squire & Partners.

Seen from Deptford Creek, this statement on Squire & Partners website is utterly preposterous: Squire and Partners’ approach responds to the unique heritage and context of each site, considering established street patterns, scale and proportions, to create timeless architecture rooted in its location.

Posted in landscape architecture

London requires a Comprehensive Greenway Network for green transport and active leisure journeys

Greenways are a key aspect of landscape planning for London’s green infrastructure and the city has been building greenways since they were included in the 1943-4 Abercrombie Plan. They include medieval alleys, garden streets, shared streets, pedestrian streets, canal towpath walks, cycleways, bridleways, bridges, beaches, promenades, long-distance paths (like the Thames Path, the Capital Ring and the Loop) and part-time greenways (like The Mall on Sunday and the main avenue in Greenwich Park). Many of these greenway routes are wonderful. But they all suffer from not forming part of a planned network. So the time has come for landscape architects to lead the planning, design and construction of a comprehensive London Greenway Network.

The work of joining up London’s rich assortment of greenways should begin with the planning of north-south and east-west greenway routes

Posted in green infrastructure, green streets, greenways, landscape planning

You’ve got to hand it to the Grand Canal in Venice

‘Giant Hands’ at the Ca’ Sagredo Hotel on the Grand Canal during Venice Biennale 2017. The sculpture Support is by Lorenzo Quinn (an Italian and a son of actor Anthony Quinn).  The hands were modelled in resin-coated polyurethane foam and based on the hands of the sculptor’s son. Each weighs 2,200 kilograms. They show how Venice will need support when climate change raises water levels. I hope a more permanent home is found for them: they’d be welcome in the Thames.

Posted in flood prevention, landscape architecture

Cambridge greenway cycleway planning, review by Tom Turner

Cambridge tops the lists for UK economic growth and  cycle commuting. It  is near the bottom of the list for car ownership. With 29% of trips done by bike it is far ahead of other UK cities but still behind Dutch university towns (eg Groningen  37%,  Leiden 70%). So congratulations to Cambridge for its ambitious cycle way planning. The Cambridge Greenways project could make it a world leader in sustainable urban design.

The above video is of a lecture, on 21st November 2017, in which I reviewed Cambridge’s greenway plans.  The chief points are (1) it is an excellent project (2) but the network should be planned for leisure cycling as well as for commuter cycling (2) there are in fact several categories of leisure cyclist and several categories of commuter cyclist (3) it’s great that it is called a ‘greenway network’, instead of merely a ‘cycle network’ (4) the term ‘greenway’ should be used in a broad sense (meaning ‘multi-objective’) instead of the narrow sense of ‘non-motorised transport’, NMU). (5) the Cambridge greenway objectives should include, at least, scenic quality,  water management, leisure, conservation, biodiversity, physical health, mental health and social justice (6) each of the greenway routes should be localised as a work of context-sensitive landscape architecture, instead of using a standardised ‘mini-road’ formulaic design (7) the greenway network should  do more to ‘bring the country into the town’ and less to ‘take the town into the country’ (8) it should provide green infrastructure within and outwith the Cambridge city boundary.

Web links re Cambridge UK greenway planning

Nigel Brigham Cambridge Area Greenways Review

Cambridge Greenways Partnership

CamCycle response to Cambridge Greeways proposal

David Hembrow 2011 comment The Truth about Cambridge

cambridge cycling: heaven or hell?

Cambridge is in a state of purgatory. This is better than being in hell but not as good as the Cyclist’s Heaven Cambridge could become if the bicycle greenways project is well designed.

Posted in cycleways, landscape planning

Greenway and cycleway landscape architecture

These paths are all cycleways. They are not all greenways. Sustrans National Cycle Route NCN1 on the Isle of Dogs is not a greenway, not a green street and not a promenade. It is a badly conceived, planned and designed exercise is worthless signposting. Thankfully, other sections of NCN1 are much better.
Charles Little, in a 1990 book, said the term ‘greenway’ was coined from the ‘green’ in greenbelt and and the ‘way’ in parkway. He probably took greenbelt in its  UK sense to mean ‘a belt of open countryside surrounding a town or city’ and parkway, in its US sense, to mean ‘a broad arterial road planted with trees; an open landscaped highway or boulevard’. Little used  greenway to mean ‘a linear open space established along either a natural corridor, such as a riverfront, stream valley, or ridgeline, or overland along a railroad right-of-way converted to recreational use, a canal, scenic road or other route’.

The term ‘greenway’ acquired momentum from a 1995 special issue of Landscape and Urban Planning edited by Ahern & Fabos, which led to a series of conferences. The 5th Fábos Conference on Landscape and Greenway Planning was held in 2016. My short definition of the term greenway is ‘a route which is good from an environmental point of view’. As a longer definition, I like Jack Ahern’s explanation that ‘greenways are networks of land containing linear elements that are planned, designed and managed for multiple purposes including ecological, recreational, cultural, aesthetic or other purposes compatible with the concept of sustainable land use’.

Sustrans, a UK non-profit set up to promote cycleway planning, explain their use of the term greenway It includes the 1/3rd of the National Cycle Network that is traffic-free (eg along old railways, canal towpaths, riverbanks, forest roads and tongues of open space leading into urban areas). For the continuation of these Greenway routes along roads in towns, Sustrans uses the term Green Streets . For traffic-free urban routes Sustrans use the term  Promenades

Sustrans’ terminology is muddled. Non-cycleable paths are obviously ‘green’ ‘ways’.  Only some sections of the Thames Path are cycle ways but I would describe most of it as a greenway. It runs through urban and rural areas and, in the east, beside salt water. ‘Green street’ is a very useful term but, again, many green streets are not cycleways. ‘Promenade’ is a posh term. But it derives from the French promener (‘to walk’) making it unsuitable for cycle routes (the OED definition is ‘a leisurely walk, esp. one taken in a public place so as to meet or be seen by others’).

I am critical of the Sustrans philosophy of cycleway planning, but for what they don’t do rather than for what they do do. As argued in a lecture on Cambridge Greenway Planning, which was planned by a former Sustrans engineer, cycleways should not be blinkered single-purpose engineering projects.  They should be an aspect of urban and rural landscape design. In Ahern’s words, they should be ‘planned, designed and managed for multiple purposes including ecological, recreational, cultural, aesthetic or other purposes compatible with the concept of sustainable land use’.

The Cambridge cycle way planning project begun in 2017 has the name Cambridge Greeways. I believe this was used in Sustrans’s sense but am delighted that it is being implemented as a multi-objective greenways project.

Posted in cycleways