Monthly Archives: March 2014

Ebbsfleet Garden City: the landscape architecture will be calm, lush and green


‘Fresh calm lush green designer landscapes beckon you to lead a harmonious lifestyle at the garden city. The Garden City is a beautiful development, a delightful combination of three buildings, Almond, Jasmin and Mandarin. Nestled in a picturesque surrounding comprised of tree-, fruits- and flower-lined avenues The beauty and the grace of each flower type exude great confidence and reflect the true essence and exquisite quality of the tree, fruit and flower types after which they are named.’
I’ve solved the problem of why George Osborne envisages Ebbsfleet as a Garden City: he’s been to Dubai and seen the Ajman Garden City. He loved it with the adoration of a puppy. He wants Sunny Ebbsfeet to rival Dubai with its wonderful expanses of lawns embellished with wonderful expanses of charming roads and concrete slabs. The only features Ebbsfeet cannot rival are the intense heat, dust, glare and humidity. Never mind, the Chancellor can tell our state-owned banks to give starter loans for tanning parlours and tatoo artists. The UK economy will then boom with a slew of professional opportunities in skin cancer.
Please tell me it’s a spoof. The world cannot have clients fool-enough to build such a “”””Garden City””””. It cannot have designers bad-enough to produce the drawings. It cannot have buyers rich-enough to buy the property. But listen carefully: the voiceover is spoken in a near-human English marketing argot – but for the robot saying al-mond, insetad of aa-mond. So the Dubai video IS a prank by Gravesend kids doing robotics as a sixth form project. Ebbsfleet Garden City will, after all, be a place of semi-detached rose arbours where we can all enjoy harmonious lush green lifestyles.
Phew. What a relief.
See also Will Ebbsfleet be a Garden City a New Town or an overblown Housing Estate?

The Skycourt and Skygarden by Jason Pomeroy – book review by Tom Turner

We are seeing the approach of a new architectural style. Let's call it GHA.

Are we seeing the approach of a new architectural style? If so, let’s call it GHA.

Jason Pomeroy The Skycourt and Skygarden: Greening the urban habitat Routledge 2013 ISBN-13: 978-0415636995
Jason Pomeroy studied architecture in England and now leads a design studio in Singapore. He has a special interst in above-ground greenspace and Singapore is a world-leading city in this respect: it is rich; it is very well run; it sees itself as a Garden City.
Over half the book is a really useful set of case studies, wisely categorized as Completed, Under Construction and On the Drawing Board. I am as full of admiration for the architects and clients who launched these projects as for the author who assembled and analyzed the details. Some, like the Marina Bay Sands Hotel in Singapore, look as good as the design drawings promised. Others show lush vegetation on the drawings and less vegetation on the photographs. The plants may grow – or they may be removed, because much of it is on balconies and residents like glazing such spaces to create extra indoor accommodation. This is common practice in China, South Korea and elsewhere.
The author’s definitions on page 41 are:

  • Rooftop garden: ‘a landscaped environment built on the roof’
  • Skygarden: ‘an open or enclosed landscaped open space that can be dispersed through the higher levels of the urban habitat or tall building’
  • Skycourt: an enclosure ‘created by the void space being bordered by other buildings within the immediate urban context, or formed by its own internal facades’.

One can hardly expect satisfactory names and definitions for a new spatial typology – and I am unhappy with the above definitions. They use the verb ‘landscaped’ to mean ‘planted’, which is incorrect, while the author makes no reference to the involvement of landscape architects with the design of above-ground space. It is not enough for a space to be planted: each space should be well-planned and well-designed to fit its intended social use. Some of the spaces described as skycourts are what I would call balconies. Others are fashionably weird bites taken out of buildings which have many floors below and many above. In London, spaces like this are cold, windswept and unpleasant. In Madrid’s hot summers the Mirador ‘skycourt’ may be pleasant; in its cold winters the bites must be grim. In Singapore’s hot sticky climate the bites may be shady, breezy and delightful. But they will also require artificial irrigation. One needs to be skeptical about ‘green’ buildings: they can be ‘green’ in the sense of ‘vegetated’ without being ‘green’ in the sense of ‘sustainable’ – like Patrick Blanc’s green living walls. The design of every building should respond to the genius of every place.
In the absence of good evidence we should have no more trust in architects’ claims for buildings being sustainable than we have in politicians who describe their policies as ‘sustainable’. The technical term for both is ‘greenwash‘. For some of the Future Vision projects in Chapter 2 (see examples above) the technical term is ‘hogwash’. This is Greenwash-Hogwash Architecture (GHA)and I wish Pomeroy had been more critical of it. We are not going to get good green buildings (‘landscape architecture’, as we might call it) without thoughtful analysis of what is good and what is bad and what is awful.

The analytical aspects of Pomeroy's book on Skycourts and Skygardens are commendable

The analytical aspects of Pomeroy’s book on Skycourts and Skygardens are commendable


Two real strength of Pomeroy’s book are his analytical diagrams and his systematic charting of the characteristics of above ground greenspace. City planners and urban designers should certainly be analytical and everyone who wants greener cities must read page 69. I won’t spill the details but it explains the legislative and financial principle which has encouraged Singapore’s architects to go green. It’s wonderful.

Landscape architect volunteers help make a Dragon Garden for the Druk White Lotus School

What is the difference between a trade and a profession? A Wiki article lists the characteristics of a profession as being present when: (1) an occupation becomes a full-time occupation (2) the establishment of a training school (3) the establishment of a university school (4) the establishment of a local association (5) the establishment of a national association (6) the introduction of codes of professional ethics (7) the establishment of state licensing laws.
I agree but would add that the code of professional ethics should include an element of idealism and altruism. As part of this, it should be the norm for professional people to follow the lawyers’ good example in doing unpaid work for good causes (pro bono). Lawyers have to spend much of their time defending the guilty and protecting the interests of land-and-money-grabbers. I therefore feel good when they do pro bono work and it also makes me happy to see young landscape architects doing volunteer work – as with helping to make a Dragon Garden for the Druk White Lotus School in Ladakh.

Will Ebbsfleet be a Garden City a New Town or an overblown Housing Estate?

Ebbsfleet Garden City New Town Housing Estate

Ebbsfleet Garden City or New Town or Housing Estate?

George Osborne, the Chancellor, has announced that the government will pump money into residential development around Ebbsfleet Station on the High Speed 1/Channel Tunnel Rail Link line. It is a suitable site for sure – or rather it was made ‘suitable’ by allowing the former Blue Circle Cement Company to excavate the land without imposing adequate planning conditions to ensure its restoration or to provide for an afteruse. Since the Chancellor, rather than a Defra minister, made the announcement, let’s start with financial considerations:
1) will it, like the real Garden Cities (Welwyn, Letchworth etc) be an idealistic private enterprise project with an emphasis on gardens, parks and landscape development? No.
2) will it, like the post-1946 New Towns, be a central government project, making money by buying land at agricultural prices and selling some of it at development land prices? We have not been told – but I doubt it.
3) will it be a subsidised housing project with few objectives except ‘get ’em up in time for the next election’? Quite likely.
Now let’s consider the design aspects:
1) will it be a ‘city’ of houses with generous gardens and parks? I doubt it.
2) will it, like most contemporary residential projects in and around London, be a development of medium-rise residential blocks with no ground-level gardens, no green living walls and no roof gardens? Very probably.
So what should be done? I have no objection to using a development corporation to take the project out of local government control (until it is built) PROVIDING central government involvement is used to achieve public interest objectives. They should use development corporation powers to streamline and enhance the planning process. Then they should spend much of the promised £200m on green infrastructure. This would kick-start the project, as is desired, and achieve public goods comparable to those provided by the Garden Cities and the New Towns.
It is significant that the population of Ebbsfleet ‘Garden City’, at 15,000, will be the same as that of England’s best twentieth century housing development: Hampstead Garden Suburb. The Suburb (which is what Ebbsfleet should be called) was designed ‘on garden city lines’ using the transition concept developed on the great estates of the eighteenth and nineteen centuries.

Green Living Walls CPD Seminar Conference in London on 15th April 2014

Living walls are a ‘growing’ trend… Mayor Boris Johnson has a target to increase green cover across central London by 5% by 2030 (2011 London Plan). Urban greening is a key element of the much broader Climate Change Adaptation Strategy, which encourages the use of planting, green roofs and walls and soft landscape. By increasing green space and vegetation cover in the city flood risk and rising temperatures can be managed. London Plan Policy states the Mayor will and boroughs should expect major developments to incorporate living roofs and walls where feasible and reflect this principle in LDF policies. See Seminar Details and see Seminar Booking
Living green walls seminar
Living Walls are an exciting new and emerging technology. This one day seminar forum will reveal and share the latest information about the different types of available living walls from a range of perspectives including academia, designers, plant specialists, installation and maintenance experts and living wall system manufacturers. Highlights include a review and discussion of the latest research in living walls, recent developments in living wall systems, ecosystem services and case studies. The key manufacturers and installers will also exhibit and present their living wall systems and attendees will be able to inspect and ask questions about the systems on the day.

  • Latest academic research to do with living walls (thermal, carbon & energy studies, urban agriculture, social well-being, etc);
  • Life cycle analysis;
  • Ecosystem services;
  • Policy (UK and EU) feeding design, system development and vegetation use;
  • Latest substrate research for green roofs & walls (Hillier Nurseries & Boningale GreenSky);
  • Installation & maintenance (costs & issues);
  • Gary Grant will keynote & present vertical rain gardens; and,
  • 6 case studies of different systems by manufacturers from EU & UK will present and exhibit their systems for a hands-on approach.

Graffiti, street art and murals

Street Art in Hackney

Street Art in Hackney

In Australia, ‘Melbourne’s street art puts it in on the tourist map (alongside Berlin, New York, London, Los Angeles and SaoPaulo) enabling it to compete with Sydney and the famous harbour and Opera House’. So Melbourne has an enlightened policy on street art and the city council hosts a gallery of street art.
In London, Graffiti, street art and murals are subject to borough control, not GLA control. Greenwich, my local council, suffers from the blinkers you would expect from 43 years of political control by the same party. So the policy is about ‘grafitti’ instead of ‘street art’. Here it is:
Graffiti removal
We aim to keep all council property free of graffiti, but we need your help. If you report a graffiti problem to us, we will deal with it.
How to report graffiti
You can report by mail, phone, email or online form using the details on the right.
If you can, please provide details about those responsible for the graffiti. We will try to make them, or their parents or guardians if applicable, to pay for the graffiti removal.
What happens next
Our cleaning team will inspect and remove offensive and racist graffiti within 24 hours. Other graffiti on the outsides of Council property will be removed within three working days.
Graffiti on private property
The team will also remove graffiti on private property, although there may be a charge for non-offensive graffiti.
We require signed permission from the owner before we remove any graffiti from private property.
Anti-social behaviour
In some cases – for instance, when it seriously affects you or causes great inconvenience – graffiti can be considered a type of anti-social behaviour.

Hackney was long considered the worst-run borough in London but has had more diverse political control in recent years and has undergone rapid trendification. Anyway, the above illustration is from Hackney and the policy is on Graffiti, street art and murals. One could regard it as enlightened, at least in comparison to Greenwich eg ‘We recognise that some people consider that street art makes a positive contribution to the urban environment. If your property has a piece of street art or mural on it, you must contact our Environmental Enforcement team to let us know that you would like to keep it.’ BUT the Hackney Hedgehog is on a building marked ‘to let’ so it was probably done without the owner’s permission. Does this make it graffiti and an act of vandalism attributable to migrants from Eastern Europe? The poor beastie looks a bit underfed. Or is it political activism by deep ecologists who want more more planning for nature in urban areas?

Image courtesy gruntzooki!

London can become a Roof Garden City – but it needs imaginative design as well as town planning


Ebenezer Howard proposed garden cities outside London. That’s fine but Central London should adopt the landscape policy of becoming a Roof Garden City. Property developers should be rewarded for providing green roof gardens and punished on those few occasions when they find reasons for not providing roof gardens and sustainable green roofs on new buildings. Visually, this is the single most important policy for making London a Green Roof City. As everyone knows, London is already the world’s Garden Capital. Now it should become the world’s Roof Garden Capital.
But I doubt if it will. British town planners are far too unimaginative – and Singapore’s planners are way out in front. As I ride my bike around London I often think ‘Why does the RTPI exist? What, in heaven’s name, do town planners DO? Why not dissolve the Royal Town Planning Institute?’ The answer, I think, is that most of their effort goes into a sometimes-useful attempt to stop landowners doing what they want to do. UK planners seem to have no positive achievements – except, perhaps, in helping developers evade planning restrictions dreamed up by their professional colleagues.
Thomas Mawson published an attractive book on Civic Art in 1911 and became a founder member of what is now the Royal Town Planning Institute in 1914. Then, in 1929, he became first president of what is now the Landscape Institute. Perhaps we need an agreed division of labour between the two professional institutes: the RTPI can stop developers from doing bad things and the Landscape Institute can encourage them to do good things.

Roof SkyPark garden-landscape on Marina Bay Sands Hotel in Singapore

Roof garden swimming pool in Marina Bay Sands Skypark

Having proposed a Sky Park for the City of London, I was delighted to see a real Skypark on the Marina Bay Sands Hotel. ‘London talks and Singapore acts’. The Marina Bay Sands Hotel has 2,561 rooms and 55 floors. The SkyPark, 200m above ground level, is larger than three football pitches and has an observation deck, 250 trees and a 150m infinity swimming pool. It is a brilliant project by Las Vegas Sands and, I hope, a signpost to the future of urban form. See the Marina Bay Sands website for more details. I’d like to spend a few nights there, congratulating the hotel management for commissioning the project and then the city of Singpore for its policy of moving from ‘Garden City to Model Green City‘. But a design critic must also provide criticism:

  • the garden/landscape design looks ‘OK but dull’. The designers have not risen to the challenge of such a fabulous opportunity, perhaps to re-create some of the rain forest of pre-colonial Singapore with stylised beaches running to the perimeter pool. I wouldn’t even object to a glowing Tarzan by Jeff Koons in the heart of the jungle – and nor would the kids of the guests.
  • As built, SkyPark floats somewhere between the deck of a luxury cruise ship and the garden of a luxury hotel – and both are design categories which landscape designers neglect. What the SkyPark needed was a serious dreamland design to lift the imagination of guests, as well as the contents of their wallets. Moshe Safdie was the architect. He worked with five artists but, having written a book For everyone a garden probably sees himself as an expert on garden design. I do not doubt that, like Frank Lloyd Wright, Safdie has the ability to design gardens but as with all the arts, it takes time to develop expertise and one needs to love garden life and garden visiting to succeed. My belief is that Edwin Lutyens’ best gardens were designed in co-operation with Gertrude Jekyll and that Lutyens tended towards vacant formalism when working, like Safdie, on his own. Eero Saarinen had the great good sense to work with Dan Kiley.
  • the Tropical Island shape of the SkyPark sits unhappily on its three towers. There is a dash of HG Wells’ War of the Worlds about it. Or an out-or-water oil rig. Looking up, one wonders if a Tsunami left a cruiseliner or a surfboard perched on the roofs of its three towers. The resort hotel may appear more sensitive to its context when more of Singapore’s buildings have SkyParks
  • Safdie’s urban design, which I commend but which is not apparent from the photographs, was as follows: ‘A series of layered gardens provide ample green space throughout Marina Bay Sands, extending the tropical garden landscape from Marina City Park towards the Bayfront. The landscape network reinforces urban connections with the resort’s surroundings and every level of the district has green space that is accessible to the public. Generous pedestrian streets open to tropical plantings and water views. Half of the roofs of the hotel, convention center, shopping mall, and casino complex are planted with trees and gardens.

Top photographs courtesy Marina Bay Sands Hotel. Bottom photo courtesy Peter Morgan.

 

 

Roof garden structure for Marina Sands Hotel Skypark