Please stop killing London’s cyclists and pedestrians – give them good landscape architecture

by Tom Turner @ 6:43 pm November 24, 2014 -- Filed under: Cycle planning   


Here is a video of the recent Stop Killing Cyclists protest march in Oxford Street. It was very well organised, with a theatrical dash, but did not get the media coverage it deserved. There was a massive police escort. The officers were very friendly to the marchers but I wonder if the relationship has become too cosy. The police would not have liked it but we might have achieved more if the die-in had taken place in Oxford Circus and if we had waited for the police to remove each and every demonstrator in a police van.

Tower of London Poppy Art Installation / Landscape Architecture

by Tom Turner @ 2:49 pm November 11, 2014 -- Filed under: public art   


Here is the text of the above video reviews of Paul Cummins and Tom Piper’s Blood-swept lands and seas of red, where angels fear to tread.
The poppy installation at the Tower of London is by Paul Cummins, a ceramic artist, with help from Tom Piper, a stage designer. Its name comes from a Derbyshire man who died in Flanders. He wrote of The blood-swept lands and seas of red, where angels fear to tread. There are eight hundred and eight-eight thousand two hundred and forty six poppies: for each British and Colonial death in the First World War.
The Prime Minister, David Cameron, told the House of Commons it was a stunning display, and extremely poignant.
The Washington Post described the installation as ‘a must-see on the tourist trail.
CNN John McCrae’s famous poem, which launched the poppy metaphor: In Flanders fields the poppies blow, Between the crosses, row on row, That mark our place.
The Professor of the History of War at King’s College, observed that : Since the war is still generally misunderstood, such popular interest is encouraging, and the more people who have an opportunity to visit the poppies the better.
The Mayor of London called for the installation to be kept in place a bit longer. A spokesperson from the Historic Royal Palaces responded that The transience of the installation is key to the artistic concept, with the dispersal of the poppies into hundreds of thousands of homes marking the final phase of this evolving installation’.
The actress, Sheila Hancock, suggested that the poppies should be mown down by a tank to commemorate the horror of war.
Jonathan Jones, an art critic with The Guardian, also wanted more horror. He argued that In spite of the mention of blood in its title, this is a deeply aestheticised, prettified and toothless war memorial,
Robert Hardman, for the Daily Mail, responded by calling him a Sneering Left-wing art critic.
So what do I think? Well, as an art installation, it’s hard to fault. As a war memorial, one might think it lacks pathos. But the 1-for-1 symbolism and the fact that the poppies are frozen in time save it from being floral bedding.
For pure pathos a moat-filling tank of red liquid, inspired by Richard Wilson’s installation at the Saatchi Gallery, would have been more telling – and could have evolved into the water-filled moat the Tower needs. But I doubt if this would have raised any money for soldiers’ charities – as the poppies most certainly have done.

The Manali to Leh Highway & Landscape Change in Ladakh


Taking the footage for this video, in September 2014, was a good opportunity to reflect on landscape change in a hitherto remote region of India: Ladakh. There are many considerations:

  • Ladakh was an important sector on the of the Silk Road Network, particularly for north-south trade and travel between India and China. The video uses quotations from European travelers who undertook the journey c1850-1950.
  • Travel between Ladakh and Pakistan ended with the partition of India in 1947.
  • Travel between Ladakh and China ended with the closure of the border, by China, in 1949.
  • India responded by closing Ladakh to all travel and tourism
  • From 1949 until 1974 Ladakh was cut off and isolated as rarely in its history
  • Since 1974 Ladakh’s economy has become dependent on the army, which invests in roads. The military population of Ladakh is now greater than the civilian population but the army keeps its personnel largely separate from the local people.
  • Ladakh’s other post-1974 economic prop is tourism. In summer there are more tourists than locals in the regional capital, Leh.
  • Westerners, in the main, want Ladakh to remain an undeveloped and traditional region.
  • Ladakhis, in the main, want to experience the ‘luxuries’ of western civilization.

So what should be done? I think Ladakh would have done better, if it could, to have followed the development path of Bhutan. This involves a very cautious approach to development and a concentration on the luxury end of the tourism market.
As things stand, the best approach is probably the adoption a forward-looking development policy as firmly rooted as possible in the principles of context-sensitivity and sustainability. This policy is exemplified by the Druk White Lotus School and its Dragon Garden.
Romesh Bhattacharji, an Indian who knows Ladakh very well, wrote in 2012 of the new roads which will open up Zanskar that ‘Many people, all outsiders typically, I have met, however, also moan about the loss of the traditional way of life of the people of Zanska. The latter want a better way of life than just being museum relics for tourists’ It is a well-aimed criticism. But ‘traditional’ and ‘development’ need not be in opposition: a Middle Way is also possible, by design. The Druk School and Dragon Garden make a cameo appearance on the above video and are explained in more detail by the videos on the DWLS Dragon Garden Playlist.

Cycle infrastructure expenditure in the UK and Holland

by Tom Turner @ 5:42 pm August 18, 2014 -- Filed under: Cycle planning,Garden Design   
Cycling infrastructure in Amsterdam (left) and London's Battersea (right)

Cycling infrastructure in Amsterdam (left) and London’s Battersea (right)

  • The UK spends £2/person/year on cycling
  • Holland spends £24/person/year.
  • So Holland has better cycling infrastructure.
  • The Dutch spend times as much on cycling as the British and they have ten times as many urban journeys/person (30%+ vs 3%+)
  • It figures

To make up for years of neglect, the UK should spend £50/person/year on cycling. When UK cycling infrastructure is as good as Holland’s, this can drop back to £25/year.
Just think, about this quotation from a Sky report on The British Cycling Economy.
The proportion of GDP spent on public infrastructure by the UK Government has been lower than government spending in many other countries, averaging around 1.5 per cent between 2000–2004 – around half of the investment occurring by governments in Italy and France. Despite rail accounting for only six per cent of total passengers in the UK, the sector received a subsidy of around £6.5b, almost equalling road investment, which carries the majority of journeys undertaken in the country. In addition, tax revenues from transport eclipse expenditure on transport by £14b, reflecting a net flow out of the sector from receipts. Cycling’s proportion of the UK transport budget is less than one per cent, whilst in the City of London, one of the UK’s larger cycling ‘hot spots’, cycling has been apportioned 0.45 per cent of the £135m transport budget, amounting to around £600,000.54 Currently, 10,000–15,000 cyclists commute into the Capital each day, which has increased by 52 per cent since 2007, and is forecast to quadruple by 2025.55 These macro and micro conditions continue to create the ideal milieu for cycling participation to increase across social strata, with significant benefits.

Lamayuru, Ladakh, social, agricultural and urban change 1926 – 2010

by Tom Turner @ 5:03 am August 6, 2014 -- Filed under: Asian gardens and landscapes,Garden Design   

Lamayuru, in Buddhist Ladakh, (1926 and 2010)

Lamayuru, in Buddhist Ladakh, (1926 and 2010)

The left photograph is from Himalayan Tibet and Ladakh: A Description of Its Cheery Folk, Their Ways & Religion, of the Rigours of the Climate & Beauties of the Country, Its Fauna and Flora (by Adolph Reeve Heber, Mrs. Kathleen Mary Heber, Ess Ess Publications, 1926). The right-hand photograph was taken by Nevil Zaveri in 2010. What can we learn from them?
- the town’s population is growing
- traditional architecture is still favoured, but new roads and telephone poles have an ‘anywhere’ quality (they are built and funded by the Indian army)
- Lamayuru is popular with tourists, despite its remoteness
- the expansion, so far, has been on stony ground
- there is a danger of Lamayuru expanding onto its very scarce resource of agricultural land (but there is also a danger of the land being neglected, because it is cheaper to import food from other parts of India)
- either there are more poplar trees or they are being allowed to grow taller for amenity reasons
- the ‘agriculture’ in old Ladakh is closer to what we would call horticulture than to what we call agriculture but if you call the cultivated areas ‘gardens’ it must be noted that their use is to grow food plants rather than ornamental plants.
Dr Adolph Reeve Herber, who took the black and white photo was an English doctor and missionary. He and his wife were based at the Moravian School in Leh from 1912-25. The mission ran a school, which survives, but did not have much success in converting the Ladakhis to Moravian protestantism. Nor did Dr Herber find much demand for his medical skill – because the local people were so healthy. He therefore had time to study other aspects of Ladakh’s culture and environment, including its flowers: ‘At the foot of the high Kardong Pass behind Leh… to mention a few only, are found yellow Iceland poppies, Michaelmas daisies, small deep-blue gentians, forget-me-nots, forming a carpet of blue on the Zogi [Zoji-La] stretches, but replaced by the deep blue of the borage below the Kardong, deep purple orchids, primulas in all shades of magenta and purple, cow parsley, a kind of stinging nettle, asters, saxifrage, vetches, Canterbury bells, and on the Zogi the single anemone and the tall bunched Japanese variety, even the green foxglove and the coarse edelweiss.’
Iris on the Zoji-La (Hooker's?)

Hooker’s Iris on the Zoji-La)

Swan upping 2014. Could the swans and the uppers be attracted back to the Thames in Central London?

by Tom Turner @ 6:36 pm July 16, 2014 -- Filed under: Landscape Architecture,London urban design   


Reading about Swan Upping, I found that in the early 20th century the ceremony began in Central London. It now starts at Sunbury-on-Thames because no swans nest on the river in Central London and few swans are seen there. This is a pity. The river landscape would be more beautiful if there were swans to be seen. The Thames, is far the most important landscape feature in Central London, and in 1496, the Venetian Ambassador’s secretary wrote that ‘it is truly a beautiful thing to behold one or two thousand tame swans upon the River Thames, as I, and also your Magnificence have seen, which are eaten by the English like ducks and geese’. We could get the swans back by feeding them, preferably with vegetable matter but a little bread would do little harm. But could the swans be persuaded to nest on floating islands, as they do on the island in Brayford Pool (Lincoln?). See webpage on The re-introduction of swans to Central London.

The Swan Island (with a willow tree) and the recently made floating islands in Brayford Pool (Lincoln)

The Swan Island (with a willow tree) and the recently made floating islands in Brayford Pool (Lincoln)


Otherwise, this may prove to be a video of CENTRAL LONDON’S LAST SWAN

Queen Elizabeth II Olympic Park London: a review of the landscape architecture by Robert Holden and Tom Turner

by Tom Turner @ 1:08 pm July 9, 2014 -- Filed under: Landscape Architecture,landscape planning,Public parks,Urban Design   


This video review of the QE Olympic 2012 Park, by Robert Holden and Tom Turner, comprises a discussion on 29th June and video footage taken on 29th and 30th June. Mainly a review of the master planning, the two landscape architects spent too little time on the park’s often-very-good detailed design. Our fundamental point is that ‘the landscape planning is much better than the landscape design’. The landscape planning includes the opening up of the River Lea in the northern section of the park, the habitat-creation strategy and the park’s excellent links with its hinterland. The landscape design is dominated by vast pedestrian concourses which will be busy during events but will resemble unused airport runways on every other occasion. There is some good garden-type planting but it has not been used to make ‘gardens’: it is used more like strips of planting beside highways.
The designers were EDAW/Aecom, LDA Design with George Hargreaves.
Comments welcome.

Oxford Street needs to be re-designed – as an urban landscape this time

by Tom Turner @ 5:40 am -- Filed under: green transport,Landscape Architecture,Sustainable design,Urban Design   

Oxford Street Urban LandscapeThe traffic lanes in Oxford Street have been narrowing for 40 years, with the sidewalks being widened and regularly re-paved. Use of the street by private vehicles is restricted and use by diesel-powered commercial vehicles is increasing. Last week the Evening Standard reported that ‘Traders today said urgent action was needed to slash traffic levels after a report revealed Oxford Street has the highest levels of a toxic pollutant in the world. The mayor is facing demands to reduce the build-up of the “wall of buses” after a monitor installed by scientists showed high levels of nitrogen dioxide – linked with asthma and heart attacks.’
The solution should be ‘NO HALF MEASURES’. Creating a ‘good shopping landscape’ should be the 100% priority. This will require (1) pedestrian movement to be prioritized (2) electric vehicles only to be permitted (3) far more planting (4) the use of glazed canopies over sidewalks should be encouraged.
I am happy to point to Nanjing Road Shanghai 南京路 as an example of how Oxford Street should be managed.
The problem, of course, is what to do with the buses and taxis? My answer is that they should be progressively excluded from Central London, to be replaced by underground trains, small electric vehicles and bicycles. Taxis are likely to be electric powered before long – because a Chinese company is now making the black cabs and this is its plan. Buses carrying passengers on long-distance journeys should be excluded from the central zone. Travelers can use non-polluting vehicles to reach the fringe of the zone and then continue their journeys by other means. These policies are related to Colin Buchanan’s proposals for Traffic In Towns but modified in response to the increase in London’s population, the growth of cycling, the availability of electric vehicles, the need for fuel economy and a better understanding of the health risks arising from noxious pollution. The Wiki article on Oxford Street has attractive photographof the street in 1875 and its progressive debasement.

The landscape of housing: Smithsons design and site planning for Robin Hood Gardens

by Tom Turner @ 7:04 pm June 14, 2014 -- Filed under: Garden Design,Landscape Architecture,landscape planning,Urban Design   


Zaha Hadid: ‘Personally, Robin Hood Gardens is one of my favourite projects.’
Richard Rogers: ‘It has heroic scale with beautiful human proportions and has a magical quality. It practically hugs the ground, yet it has also a majestic sense of scale, reminiscent of a Nash terrace.’
Simon Smithson: ‘I believe Robin Hood Gardens to be the most significant building completed by my parents. ‘
Tom Turner: ‘Sao Paolo could learn a lot from the Smithsons’ approach to planning urban landscape’
Here are 3 videos, by Alison and Peter Smithson, by Jonathan Glancey and by me. I am impressed by the Smithsons and in full agreement with Glancey that (1) I would not choose to live there (2) the scheme should not be demolished – as has been decided (3) it should become student housing, because it is so well suited to communal use. The Smithsons account of the scheme justifies slapping a preservation order on Robin Hood Gardens. The English Heritage commissioners were right about the building architecture being mediocre: the elevations are elegant but the roofs are leaking, the concrete is spalling so that the rebars are exposed, the stairways are pokey, the balconies are usable only for drying clothes (so the residents protect them with bird netting) and a ‘street in the air’ (often with hoodies) is not a nice thing to have outside your living room window. BUT the site planning is excellent. London’s ‘tower blocks’ are usually planned like tombstones in plots of grass. The Smithsons protected against noise and used their buildings, as in London’s Georgian Squares, to define and create outdoor space. I have never seen their hill well used but attribute this to its not being a safe protected space. I also agree with their comment, on the video, that using Robin Hood Gardens as a ‘sink estate’ was not wise. Both these mistakes can be attributed to the housing managers: Tower Hamlets Borough Council. So what should be done now? (1) keep the Smithsons excellent site planning (2) implement Glancey’s idea if it feasible – and convert the buildings for use by a student community (3) otherwise, replace their shoddy architecture with better buildings on the same footprint (4) manage the central space as a garden, instead of as a public park.


Alison Smithson has a strange manner and makes some strange remarks (eg ‘Any African state would have as good a chance of joining the Common Market as London’). But the two of them speak wisely about what should happen to London Docklands.

Jonathan Glancey presents a well-reasoned and well-balanced account of the design.

Thames foreshore and beaches – the need for a landscape strategy

by Tom Turner @ 6:44 pm June 5, 2014 -- Filed under: Landscape Architecture,London urban design   

The previous video argued that London’s Thames beaches are much safer than the beaches below the Seven Sisters and Dover white cliffs. This video looks in more detail at the availability of public stairs down to the foreshore. They have been in decline for 3 centuries and the twentieth century was the period of sharpest decline. ‘The Authorities’ by which I mean the London boroughs and the Port of London Authority, discouraged access for reasons of health and safety. If logic ruled, these Authorities would be even more opposed to horse riding, boxing, crossing roads, cycling and foreign travel. Fortunately, logic guides this blog – which therefore calls for a landscape strategy for the visual, ecological, archaeological and functional aspects of London’s Thames foreshore and beaches.
The Health and Safety Executive believes that ‘complying with health and safety regulations was often used as a “convenient excuse” for organisations to justify unnecessary decisions.’

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