Monthly Archives: January 2011

Five-Foot Flooded walkway by the River Thames in front of Greenwich University


The level of the Five Foot Walk in front of Greenwich Hospital (now Greenwich University) is just above the mean high tide level of the River Thames and about 1 metre below the flood defense level in this part of London. It therefore enjoys frequent floods – as do those who use the walkway. They run, jump, climb and carry each other through the water (more often boys carrying girls than the other way about for some reason). Despite this wonderful example, all the new walks beside the Thames are built high above the flood defense level. This costs more money and separates people from the water margin where, in Desmond Morris’ view, their ancestors evolved. And the separation is ugly.
The name Five Foot Walk is a reminder that the commissioners of Greenwich Hospital did not want any public access in front of their fine buildings but, after a long battle, were forced to concede a walk with a maximum width of Five Feet (1.52m). No problem – it is wide enough almost every day of the year. But post-Abercrombie riverside walks tend to be 5-7m wide. Why? Because the town planners are unobservant nutters who know so little about landscape architecture that they see no need for expert advice. See note on London’s Riverside Landscape (Abercrombie’s diagram is at the foot of the page). I speak as an ex-Town Planner – who proudly resigned from the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) because the organization was devoid of idealism and imagination. It reminded me of a local government trades union and it was a great relief when the RTPI Journal stopped squirming into my letter box.

Please protect the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities


This is not a railway station: it is the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities – and a nearby building is on fire today. The thought of the antiquities being damaged is horrific and it makes me think they should be copied for public view and placed in secure underground bunkers. In fact they should make two copies. In the case of statues, one should go on display in a museum and the other should go in the place where it was found. This should be the normal procedure. For example, large numbers of statues were found at Hadrian’s Villa. Copies should be sited in their original locations.
I would love to see the Egyptians changing their government. But waiting till the old devil dies would be better than damaging the fabulous antiquities. Dr. Zahi Hawass, Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), said two mummies were damaged by demonstrators. But his job came from Mubarak – so can he trusted?
It seems a petty point to add, but the Egyptian Museum also has material of the first importance to the study of garden history.

Image courtesy jkannenberg

Getting wet: staying on the edge

As we await two expected tropical cyclones in North Queensland the following questions have a particular poignancy. What is the solution to coast inundation? Are there ways in which we can get used to getting wet and enjoy it as part of the experience – akin to playing in the surf?

While the Israeli port project may not offer the solution to the landfall of tropical cyclones, it might inspire ways to accommodate a slightly less defined and changeable boundary between the sea and land.

Mayslits Kassif Architects urban regeneration of the Tel Aviv Port is a landmark project which saw “the suspension of all the area’s rezoning plans” and set a precedent for “transformation not propelled by building rights, but by a unique urban design strategy.” The project received the 2010 Rosa Barba European Landscape Prize.

The geography and topography of place

Urban designers in the port city of Copenhagen are making quite a splash for themselves with the design of several exciting new urban spaces.

Dune city is the latest urban design offering by SLA in Copenhagen. “Like a giant dune of sand or snow it slips in between and clings around the buildings, thereby creating a spatial coherence in the design.”

The foldedplate design enables the visitor (pedestrians, cyclists, skaters and the walking impaired) to tranverse the elevated landscape between the buildings amidst a vegetated space of reedy grasses and trees. The landscape has been designed to appear flat and two dimensional from a distance but to reveal its true three dimensional character as you move through its spaces. The high albredo effect is said to produce a cooler microclimate during the warmer periods by reflecting the incoming heat and radiation.

Can the the world’s model climate citizen lead the way also with climate sensitive urban design and by its example also change the fate of nations like Mongolia?

Waffle cities: landscape planning, urban design and architecture for flood-prone regions and global warming

Long term landscape planning for the type of floods which have afflicted Australia could involve designing the landscape in the manner of a regional waffle. Much of the problem seems to have been caused by flows of water on an almost continental scale. The principles, as for Sustainable Urban Drainage Schemes, (SUDS) should be to detain, infiltrate and evapo-transpire flood waters. This process would be assisted by raising embankments where possible: field boundaries, roads, garden boundaries etc should all become dykes. In some cases the dykes would protect against floods but the main objective would be to stop the flood water cascading from zone to zone. Also, the dykes would serve as wild-life corridors and sanctuaries. My guess is that waffle-type measures would be cheaper and more effective than building large dams. The next stage would be to move from flood landscape planning to flood landscape architecture, by finding other uses for the dykes and by making them beautiful as well as useful. Individual properties would gain some similarities to motte-and-bailey Norman castles. Another advantage of waffle landscape planning is that when the rains come there will be more time for water to infiltrate into the ground and re-charge aquifers – in preparation for the next long period of drought. Does anyone know if waffle landscape planning has been considered, and if the engineering calculations have been done?

Image courtesy mhaithaca

Viewing the bigger picture

The big question for what happens next for the city of Brisbane and for many cities worldwide is the role of climate change in flood events.

The previous big flood event in the city was in 1974. Since then a dam has been built as flood mitigation and in 2011 it has protected the city from more severe flooding.

However, with climate change, the expected frequency and severity of flooding could be expected to increase. So yes, a competition too – looking at the bigger picture – to design floodable spaces and places for cities would be a great contribution to urban flood defences and urban design.

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Saving the prickly and cute…

…And all creatures great and small.

Having recently experienced the flooding of my city I am keen to help some of the less visible victims as well. Having spotted a dead echidna by a tree next to a usually busy road in a flood affected inner city suburb, and realizing that he was most probably washed there in the flood waters from Toowoomba, I am keen to start an online charity to assist wildlife.

I am proposing an Ark Appeal for Wildlife. Would gardenvisit be happy to sponsor a charity and gardenvisit readers happy to contribute to it?

Flooded urban landscapes are frightening, beautiful, and a call to action by the landscape, architecture and urban design professions

A terrible thing happened to Pakistan, reminding us of the Sumerian Flood Tablets and the flood of the Old Testament (which may refer the same flood). The ancient floods were seen as a call to humans to change their ways – and so should the great Indus Flood of 2010, the great Australian flood of 2011, the great Brazilian flood of 2011 and the great Sri Lankan flood of 2011 . As the aerial photograph shows, Pakistan is largely desert. Would it have been possible to divert the flood waters onto barren land? If so, it might have done a lot of good and might have let us enjoy the great potential beauty of flooded landscapes. The issues involved have much greater significance than the geographic extent of Pakistan: they concern us all. We need to learn, perhaps from the baolis and hauz of India and Pakistan, how to store flood waters and use them over extended periods of time. Every human-used landscape should have plans for floods with return periods of 1-year, 5-years, 25-years, 100-years, 1000-years etc. See diagram for a modest suggestion on how to plan the management of flood landscapes.
What can urban designers do to design for flood resistance? They can exercise their imagination in flood design competitions and contribute to flood charities. Professional people should so some work for money and some work for love. We need floodable buildings, floodable gardens and floodable parks. The photograph below shows part of London (Strand on the Green) where regular flooding is expected, planned-for and enjoyed.
Top image courtesy Richard

English bowling: the history of the game of bowls

Bowling was the favourite game of the sixteenth century. It was played in great gardens, on smooth garden lawns in towns and on village greens. The game probably reached England from France, perhaps in the thirteenth century. Like most games, it became associated with gambling. Thomas Dekker wrote (in a charming book on The seven deadly sins of London, 1606) that Sloth gave orders that ‘dicing-houses, and bowling alleys should be erected, whereupon a number of poor handy-crafts-men, that before wrought night and day…. they never took care for a good day’s work afterwards.’ During the crusades ‘No man in the army was to play at any kind of game for money, with the exception of knights and the clergy; and no knight or clerk was to lose more than twenty shillings in any one day. The men-at-arms, and “other of the lower orders,” as the record runs, who should be found playing of themselves—that is, without their masters looking on and permitting—were to be whipped; and, if mariners, were to be plunged into the sea on three successive mornings, “after the usage of sailors” . George London and Henry Wise worked only for gentlemen and provided them with bowling greens. The design below, was published with the explanation that ‘to give a more clear and distinct idea of what a Bowling-Green is, here is the Figure of one, the Design of which, I hope, will not be disapproved of’. Sorry, but I think it a bad design. Still, judging from the Wiki article on bowling, what the word now means is ’10-pin bowling’. Garden and park designes should reclaim the game of bowls.

What would Plato and Confucius think about modern landscape and architecture? 孔子和柏拉图会对现代建筑和园林的思考会是怎样的?

Plato: Confucius! How old are you now? Where have you been?
Confucius: I died 2489 years ago and have been touring the Andromeda Galaxy without a body. How about you?
Plato: I died 2357 years ago and I’ve been doing much the same thing.
Confucius: Well, I am so glad we’ve met again, and with a great view of the city they have made down there.
Plato: It is called New York and the plan for Central Park was done by a landscape architect called Frederick Law Olmsted. Everyone thought it was brilliant so they created a profession called Landscape Architecture. I like it.
Confucius: Yes, and New York reminds me of the way gridiron buildings and a flowing landscape are combined in Beijing, China.
Plato. I’ve seen Beijing. The center is wonderful – but have you seen the suburbs? Ugh.
Confucius: Yes. I wouldn’t want to live in them any more than I would like to live in most American cities – or any of the other big twentieth century cities. What do you think went wrong?
Plato. I’m afraid I spent too much time thinking about society and not enough time thinking about the landscape.
Confucius: I think I made the same mistake. But it did not seem necessary. Daoists knew of a wonderful relationship between Man and Nature so I did not need to worry too much about it. The important thing was to think about an ethical code which would make for happy families and well-run countries without too much fighting.
Plato: My concern was also with human society. We had political problems in Greece and the great thing was to distinguish good from bad, right from wrong, truth from falsehood. Relationships with the Gods were fine and we did not need to worry too much about relationships between Man and Nature or cities and landscapes. But I wish I had written more about it.
Confucius: I wish I had too. But can you tell me why the modern world does not have more landscape architects and why they don’t integrate architecture and landscape when making all those new cities?
Plato: They will, my friend, they will. Or the human race will not survive the growing environmental crisis.
Confucius: I hope you are right, my friend. They have a ‘conservation movement’ but their understanding of its nature and its history is far too shallow.
Plato: Do you remember when our ancestors roamed together in Central Asia?
Confucius: I have heard of it, and of how they loved the wild landscapes, but perhaps you remember more of those times. What do you think matters most?
Plato: Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle. Death is not the worst that can happen to men. Ignorance is the root and the stem of every evil. Laws are partly formed for the sake of good men, in order to instruct them how they may live on friendly terms with one another, and partly for the sake of those who refuse to be instructed, whose spirit cannot be subdued, or softened, or hindered from plunging into evil.
Confucius: Yes. Forget injuries, never forget kindnesses. What you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others. Study the past if you would define the future. He who exercises government by means of his virtue may be compared to the north polar star, which keeps its place and all the stars turn towards it.
Tom: Yes indeed. But what about the fauna, the flora, the mountains, the rivers, the winds, the forests and the seas?
Confucius and Plato: We have learned many things in Andromeda – but the truth which can be spoken is not the real truth and the world that can be seen is not the real world.

柏拉图:孔子!你现在多大岁数了?这些年你去了哪里呢?
孔子:我在两千两百三十年前去世,在失去肉体的情况下游历于仙女座星系。你呢?
柏拉图:我在二千三百五十七年前去世,我和你做了同样的事情。
孔子:嗯,我很高兴我们又见面了,并一起看下面这座人类创造的有着开放视线的城市。
柏拉图:是的,这是纽约,它的中心公园的设计是由一位名叫弗雷德里克·劳·奥姆斯特德的风景园林师完成的。 每一个人都认为这是个杰出的作品,所以人类就创造了一个专业:风景园林。 我喜欢它。
孔子: 对,纽约使我回忆起中国北京的方格建筑物和流动的园林的结合。
柏拉图:我也看过北京。 北京的中心地带很不错,但是你看了北京的郊区没有?哎!
孔子: 是啊。 我再也不愿意住在那里了,相比而言,更愿意住在大多数的美国城市,或者其他二十一世纪的城市。你觉得错在哪里呢?
柏拉图:我恐怕是花了过多的时间来思考社会而没有足够的时间思考园林了。
孔子:我觉得我也犯了同样的错误,但是似乎我们并没有必要去思考园林。道家通晓人与自然之间美好的关系,所以我没有必要过于担心。重要的是要考虑道德守则,为了幸福的家庭和良好的运行,使国家而没有太多的战争。
柏拉图:我关心的也是人类社会。我们存在有关希腊的政治问题,伟大的事情是要分清善恶,是非以及真伪。与神的关系很好,我们没有必要过多担心人与自然,城市以及风景之间关系。不过,我希望我写了更多相关的内容。
孔子:我希望我也写了更多。但你能告诉我为什么现代世界上还没有更多的风景园林师,为什么当他们建设那些新城市的时候,不整合建筑与园林?
柏拉图:他们会的,我的朋友,他们会的。或者,人类将面临日益严重而导致无法生存的环境危机。
孔子:我希望你是对的,我的朋友。他们进行了一项“保护运动”,但他们对事情本质和历史的了解过于肤浅。
柏拉图:你还记得我们的祖先在中亚一起漫步么?
孔子:我听说过,也知道他们非常喜欢那样的自然环境,但你比我年纪大,比我更了解那个时代的事情。你认为什么最重要?
柏拉图:有爱心,你面对的每一个人其实都是一场硬仗。死亡不是发生在人类最严重的事。无知是每一件邪恶事情的根与茎。法律一部分是为好人而制定的,以指导他们如何彼此友好相处,另一部分是为那些拒绝接受教育,精神不能被征服,不能被软化,也不能被阻碍接近邪恶的人们制定的。
孔子:没错。忘记伤害,永远不要忘记善良。己所不欲,勿施于人。如果你想定义未来,那么就学习过去。 谁执政,就意味着他的美德可以与北极星媲美,在位置上不动,所有的星星都簇拥他的身边。
汤姆:确实。但对于动物,植物,山脉,河流,风,森林和海洋呢?
孔子和柏拉图:我们在仙女座星系学到了很多东西. 但能够被说出来的“真理”就不是真正的真理,而且能够被看到的”世界”就不是真的世界了。

(Thank you to Tian Yuan for the translation)

Why do park rangers dress in mock-military costumes?

Etymology provides the answer. ‘Ranger’ derives from the Middle French ranger ‘to arrange (soldiers) in ranks… to put oneself in rank or order’. Ranger came into English meaning ‘a forester, a gamekeeper, a keeper of a royal park (also as an honorary title). Now esp.: a warden of a national or state park or forest’. But do we want national and natural parks to be run by soldiers and, if so, who are they fighting? Wild animals? Visitors? I would prefer natural landscapes to be regarded as Sacred Space and tended by either holy men, like the druid (above right) or the good shepherd (above left). There should be a total ban on folksy signage and I do not like the connection with the hunting and pleasure parks of feudal barons. National parks should be national sanctuaries, preferably with no bitmac, motor vehicles or tourist ‘facilities’. This will not be an easy change to effect but a start can be made by employing staff dressed like hermits to protect the sacredness of natural areas (using ‘sacred’ in its pre-Christian sense of ‘set apart’).
Image of Shenandoah-National-Park courtesy Bill Spruce

Which capital city's gardens are we looking down on?


Since this is a little difficult, I offer two clues (1) it is in Eurasia (2) it is not the city centre! What do you think of my modest proposal for a re-design, below? I think the whole project must have been ‘designed’ by crazed engineers with no knowledge whatsoever of the aesthetic, ecological, functional or financial roles of open space in the urbanisation process.

(left image slightly brightened)

Context sensitive landscape and garden design in Japan, by Haruko Seki/Studio Lasso Ltd

Japan was the first Asian country to modernise its industry but always wanted to retain its unique identity. This turned out to be more difficult for buildings than for gardens. Haruko Seki is a Japanese landscape architect based in London. Perhaps for this reason, she has a keen eye for something essentially Japanese which is not sentimentaly ‘Old Japan’ We saw this in her Silver Moonlight Garden at the 2008 Chelsea Flower Show and are pleased to see it again in the above photograph of the Garden of Pine Woods for Niigata Seiryo University Campus, Niigata City, Japan (completed 2010). The courtyard was designed to become a central event stage and a space where everyone can meet. The structural form gleams softly through the shadow of pines, reflecting and enhancing their beauty. There is a Wabi-Sabi combination of purity with imperfection, because the trees do not allow perfectly complete circles. Sitting beneath the colling shade of pine trees is a pleasant activity in the hot humid shade of a Japanese summer. It is a context-sensitive design, functionally, climatically, culturally and aesthetically. The V-sign is also a context-sensitive gesture. In England it symbolises vulgar aggression (with the palm facing backwards) and victory, as in the Churchill salute, with the palm facing forwards. In Japan and much of East Asia, it became associated with peace and happiness, after the 1972 Olympic Games.

Images and information on Garden of Pine Woods for Niigata Seiryo University