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.
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.
London has two excellent greenways: one of them was planned by Henry VIII and runs through the Royal Parks. The other was planned by a landscape architect (Sir Patrick Abercrombie) and runs on the South Bank of the River Thames from Westminster Bridge to Tower Bridge. The video explains the histories of the routes and how the Lost Garden of Whitehall Palace could and should be a link between the two greenways.
London’s geography is confusing for the pedestrian and the cyclist. A 6-mile London Greenway, running from Kensington Palace to Tower Bridge would create a great east-west spatial corridor, ‘green’ in the sense of environmentally wonderful and a ‘way’ in the sense of a traffic-free pedestrian concourse passing near many of London’s best tourist attractions: the Tower of London, the Globe Theatre, Tate Britain, St Paul’s Cathedral, the London Eye, Westminster Abbey, the Houses of Parliament, the Lost Garden of Whitehall Palace, St James’s Park, Buckingham Palace, Hyde Park, Kensington Palace and Gardens.
The Ministry of Defense (the building on the right in the photograph below) occupies the site of the main buildings of Henry VIII’s Whitehall Palace. The architect preserved a fragment of Queen Mary’s Stairs and the Ministry kindly allow public access to what was Queen Mary’s Garden. We could admire them even more if the parterre’s shown on Knyff’s drawing of the garden were to be restored. Sadly but understandably, the Ministry keeps Henry VIII’s Whitehall Palace Wine Cellar for private use.
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.
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.
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.
What goes around comes around. The top image is a reconstruction of one of the world’s oldest settlements, at Catal Huyuk in Turkey. Ancient Chinese cities were also protected from floods by high walls. The lower image (from yesterday’s Daily Mail) shows a builder’s determination to protect himself from the floods which have engulfed the Somerset Levels in 2014. See previous posts about the Waffle Method of protecting property from floods. This is what I would do if I lived in a flood-prone area: take my own flood-protection measures. I would of course have no objection to taxpayers building levees and digging channels to protect my property – but I would not trust their generosity. Here is another example of waffle-flood-protection in the flood plain of the Mississippi. Knowing that climate change is taking place, despite Prince Charles’ view of my stupidity, I would build the bund into the design of my garden rather than waiting until the flood waters crept up on my boundary. The bund would also protect the chickens-with-heads I would like to keep in my country garden. Since it would be protected against foxes I could let them enjoy a free-range lifestyle and roost in the trees in my country garden. One other thing: if I was a wealthy builder I would employ a garden designer for my private paradise in Somerset.
With luck, I will have to change my mind when it is completed. But my present view of James Corner’s design for Freshkills Park is that it is a dull design for a dull place. It reminds me of many landscape reclamation projects completed in the north of England in the 1970s. ‘Before’ photographs, intended to shock the viewer, showed heaps of mining waste with scrubby vegetation. ‘DERELICTION’ we were told. ‘After’ photographs, were of several varieties: the mouse-under-the-carpet, the dog-under-the-carpet and the whale-under-the-carpet. The ‘carpet’ was an expensively created layer of greeny-yellow turf with a sparsity of dying trees. This is what the clients wanted, it has to be said, but the results were of very little ecological, visual or social value.
Another Freshkills puzzle is why it should be regarded as exemplifying a new approach to landscape architecture. I see Landscape Urbanism as postmodern and Freshkills as a good example of McHargian Ecological Design – which was a modernist approach. James Corner’s design for the High Line is excellent – so I remain optimistic that Fresh Kills will turn out well. I re-visited Richard Wilson’s wonderful 20:50 sump oil installation at the Saatchi Gallery recently and it made me wonder about Fresh Kills. As an access-route, why not cut a glass-sided trench though the heap of rubbish so that visitors can watch the decay progress? We could see leachate dripping onto old motherboards and the occasional pair of mating rats?. Then there could be a flare to burn off a tiny fraction of the methane.
Landscape Urbanism is a theory of urban planning arguing that the best way to organise cities is through the design of the city’s landscape, rather than the design of its buildings…. The first major event to do with ‘landscape urbanism’ was the Landscape Urbanism conference sponsored by the Graham Foundation in Chicago in April 1997. Speakers included Charles Waldheim, Mohsen Mostafavi, James Corner of James Corner/Field Operations, Alex Wall, and Adriaan Geuze of the firm West 8, among others.
The ecological urbanism project draws from ecology to inspire an urbanism that is more socially inclusive and sensitive to the environment, as well as less ideologically driven, than green urbanism or sustainable urbanism. In many ways, ecological urbanism is an evolution of, and a critique of, Landscape Urbanism arguing for a more holistic approach to the design and management of cities.
I welcome both initiatives as perhaps the most significant contributions to landscape design theory since the landscape architecture profession was launched in the mid-nineteenth century. But much the same group of people are involved in both initiatives and I am unpersuaded by the change of name. For the construct Ecological Urbanism to have a good chance of a long and happy life its two components would need careful definitions and accounts of their intension and extension.
LANDSCAPE Architecture has established itself as a design profession and uses the word landscape evaluatively – just as ‘a work of architecture’ differs from ‘a building’. ECOLOGICAL can be used evaluatively but is more often used to describe one of the natural sciences. The compound LANDSCAPE ECOLOGY uses both words descriptively. I would appreciate a justification for Ecological Urbanism’s claim, quoted above, to social inclusiveness. Mostafavi, in his introduction to a large book on the subject, provides no evidence of an interest in the social use of urban space – unless you include his final remark that ‘Guattari’s conception of an ethics of the ecological is an inherently political project with a commitment to countering the global dominance of capitalism’. I predict not many clients will brief ecological urbanists to overthrow global capitalism. So I suggest using the term Landscape (Ecological) Urbanism for a while – and then dropping the (Ecological) when people have recognized the ecological commitment. As Ian Thompson argued in 2000 (in his book on Ecology, Community and Delight: An Inquiry into Values in Landscape Architecture: Sources of Value in Landscape Architecture) the Vitruvian aims of landscape architecture already include Ecology. We just need to bang on about this important point.
See also Gardenvisit notes on Landscape and Ecological Urbanism
Note on the illustration: it shows James Craig’s famous plan for Edinburgh New Town superimposed on ‘the bark of a tree‘. The section of Craig’s drawing north of Princes Street was built and is a great success in its response to landform and views. The section south of Princes Street was not built and hardly could have been built. The land falls into a deep valley, occupied by a loch when the plan was drawn, and then rises steeply to Edinburgh Castle Rock – which is shown on the plan.
Holding a box containing the signatures of 36,795 Londoners, including mine, Mayor Boris Johnson’s Cycling Advisor, Andrew Gilligan, states on this video that ‘I think we more or less agree about policy. The only disagreement is about timing’. WELL: if he was speaking to me then he agrees that cycling should receive 35% of London’s transport for at least the next decade, or until the percentage of journeys done by bike increases from 2% to 35%. At present cycling receives 2% of the TfL budget. So my comments are:
Thank you very much Mr Gilligan!
I have been hoping for a protest like this for years and was delighted to be there. Here is my next suggestion: Transport for London TfL should set a target for the percentage of journeys to be made by cycling and then (1) raise the percentage of the transport spent on cycling to that level eg 30% (2) ensure that the same percentage of TfL staff commute to the TfL office by bike.
Here is an excellent BBC news report on the demo in which Donnachadh McCarthy an organiser of the Stop Killing Cyclists Campaign, calls for 10% of the TfL budget to go on cycling (compared to 35% in Holland) and makes the excellent point that the Board of TfL is ‘big businessmen’ – with no representatives of pedestrians or cyclists. I see this as a key point. It is likely that TfL staff often cycle to work and support cycling. This is less likely to be the case for big businessmen.
Boris: please remember that you are the only politician I have voted for who has ever been elected: now is the time to come good: organise a London Cycling Summit and cram the board of TfL with die-hard cyclists. Please re-read the history of Lloyd George’s victory over the House of Lords. He asked “Should 500 men, ordinary men, chosen accidentally from among the unemployed, override the judgement – the deliberate judgement – of millions of people who are engaged in the industry which makes the wealth of the country?” The 1911 Parliament Act was passed only when King George V said he was willing to pack the House of Lords with Liberal peers to ensure the vote would swing their way. Bring on the cyclists.
The November 2013 event could be a great precursor for a full-scale event in The Mall in 2014, remembering Martin Luther King and the March on Washington of August 28, 1963. The 2014 event should be on the same weekend as another London cycling event eg the Prudential Ride on Sunday 10 August 2014. It is part of the Mayor of London’s annual festival of cycling.
How do Londoners and tourists regard the river Thames? This video was taken on a London City Cruise and you can hear the waterman’s commentary. I guess he loves the river but, like Joseph Conrad, sees it as being as much a place of darkness as a place of light – while also being a river of greatness, cruelty and folly, a place where kings are cruel and greedy, where most architects are fools and where the people remain cheerful, cynical and long-suffering. My view is that the river and its banks need enlightened planners, brilliant architects and imaginative landscape architects. That, and some money, could put London high in lists of the world’s top waterfront cities. The Mayor of London and the Greater London Authority (GLA) put their weight behind the 2012 Olympic Bid. They should now accept the challenge of getting near the top of these lists:
I do not know whether Joseph Conrad belonged to The Company of Watermen and Lightermen but he had many years experience as a seaman on the high seas, on the River Thames and in the West India Docks. I’m sure he would like to have London on these lists. He loved London, loved the Thames and lived in Tachbrook St, London SW1V 2NG.
I see the Banks of the Thames as a place where, during the twentieth century, unimaginative planning and selfishly mediocre architecture often conspired to produce designs better suited to a rundown provincial town than to the heart of a great city. Skylines, landscape and architecture should be considered together, looking to the past and looking to the future. ‘Protecting’ views is important but insufficient. Proposals for ‘high buildings’ ‘tall buildings’ and ‘towers’ should be viewed in context, never in isolation. Studies of their visual and environmental impact require scenic quality assessments, a policy context and full testing on a digital model of the city. As the below quotations reveal, London’s river is both a Place of Darkness and a Place of Light.
William Blake, in 1794, found ‘in every face I meet / Marks of weakness, marks of woe’ where ‘the Thames does flow’.
William Wordsworth, 8 years later found the Thames a river of beauty and romance. He declared that ‘Earth has not anything to show more fair’ (1802).
Joseph Conrad, in 1899, knew the Thames as a place of history, romance, toil, darkness and light. He saw London as ‘the biggest, and the greatest, town on earth’, a place which had known ‘the dreams of men, the seed of commonwealths, the germs of empires’ and was yet ‘one of the dark places of the earth.’
Since 1945 property developers have seen the Thames as a place to make a quick buck
Since 2000, some wealthy immigrants have viewed riverside apartments as great places to launder the ill-gotten gains of financial scams and miscellaneous corruption.
Recent blog posts about London’s River Thames skyline landscape
- The 122 Leadenhall Cheesegrater and protecting London’s skyline landscape view of St Paul’s Cathedral from Fleet Street
- The Shard architecture and skyline landscape symbolic reviews
- Sunlight, tall buildings and the City of London’s new urban landscape architecture
- The visual impact of Renzo Piano’s Shard on the landscape and skyline of the River Thames
- London’s skyline: landscape and high buildings policy – and my apology for postmodern urban design
- London Sightseeing – a cruise on a River Thames boat
See also: Rem Koolhaas on London’s skyline. Koolhaas remarks that ‘London has always changed dramatically and it’s still is not a very dramatic city. So it can go on. I think that in London whatever you do you do not disturb an earlier coherence. You do not disturb an earlier utopia like in Paris. It can stand a lot of development without suffering’. I read this comment as a polite way of saying that most of London’s riverside is pretty dull, as the above video shows, it has its moments – but not enough of them.
The Gardenvisit.com website has a history of, and commentary upon, the planning of parks, park systems, public open space and green infrastructure in London. It was written and published about ten years ago and is due for an update. While this is in hand, we offer links to several pdf documents:
- Download pdf of article Open space planning in London: from standards per 1000 to green strategy Town Planning Review 63(4) 1992 (the first page is available free)
- Download a free pdf copy of John Claudius Loudon’s 1829 Breathing Places for the Metropolis – a landscape architecture and open space plan for London.
- Download a free pdf copy of the Open Space and Park System chapter from the Abercrombie and Forshaw County of London Plan 1943-4
- Download a free pdf copy of Tom Turner’s Report to LPAC Towards a green strategy for London 1992
- Download a free pdf copy of the Thames Gateway South Essex Green Grid Strategy (2004-5) Green Grid Partnership and LDA Design (John Hopkins was the director in charge at Landscape Design Associates)
- Download a free pdf copy of the Greater London Authority’s East London Green Grid 2008
- Download a free pdf copy of the Greater London Authority’s All London Green Grid 2012
The diagrams, below, show the open space/green infrastructure diagrams from the Country of London Plan and the 1991 Green Strategy. From 1951 to 1991 London open space planning was dominated by the modernist idea of an open space deficiency – which should be corrected by a hierarchy of small, medium and large parks. The odd, and unstated, implication of the ‘deficiency’ concept is that there should be large-scale demolitions in the London Borough of Islington (which has 0.011ha per 1000 population) and large-scale building on open space in the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames (which has 13 ha per 1000 population). I’d like to see the results of public consultation on these ideas – they are wealthy boroughs with highly articulate residents. In 2013 the average house price was £545,301 in Islington and in £614,633 in Richmond. Could the profit on selling park land in Richmond could go to buying park land in Islington? Or was the concept of open space deficiency stupid in 1951 and absurd in 2013? One-word comments welcome!
Abercrombie’s idea that open spaces should be connected slept from 1943-1991 but has been revived and is now embodied in the idea of making a ‘Green Grid’. This term appeared in the Thames Gateway South Essex Green Grid Strategy and is now formalised in the All London Green Grid. Personally, I would rather it was described as a Green Web. Its primary geometries should be more circular and centripetal than rectangular. As a Germanic word, used to describe the product of weaving, a ‘web’ entails the use of overlapping strands (as in the green gtrategy diagram, below). The concept also gains from association with the spiders and caterpillars, which make organic and non-rectangular webs of great strength and flexibility, and from other biological use to describe ‘a tissue or membrane in an animal body or in a plant’. Also in 1991, 1991 Tim Berners-Lee gave ‘web’ another useful connotation. He wrote that ‘The web contains documents in many formats. Those documents which are
hypertext, (real or virtual) contain links to other documents, or places within documents’. Comparably, I think of a Green Web as having overlapping strands which inter-link different kinds of space which are green in the sense of ‘good from an environmental point of view’. Some of the links and spaces should be green in the sense of ‘vegetated’. Others should be water bodies, urban squares, streets and cycleways – which may, or may not, contain green plants.
Here is a video of the Waterlink Way from Maritime Greenwich to Lewisham. It was ‘completed’ c 2009 and is categorised as a greenwway on the TfL Website. Its quality gets better south of Catford and I do not object to the signposting. But before calling it a greenway they should have either (1) marked it as a temporary, until it can be re-routed along Deptford Creek, or, (2) employed a landscape architect to create a temporary design (3) asked a local landscape architect (me!) to recommend an alternative route as pro bono work. I would have recommended the route shown by a green dotted line on excerpt from the Sustrans plan below. Greenwich Park is also shown on the title image at the start of the video.
The route through Greenwich Park and across Blackheath is beautiful and historic. It connects to what could and should be a cycle route on the east side of Lewisham Hill. A great advantage of making this a designated cycle track (shared with pedestrians) is that it would be used by commuters wishing to reach Lewisham Station and Lewisham High Street. It could also connect to local schools, giving mums, dads and kids safe routes to school – so that they do not have to take them by car. The ‘greenway’ shown on my video could not have these roles.
I did it and I enjoyed it!
Critical observations and suggestions to follow but let’s start with some good points:
– the best sections of the route are really excellent
– the weather was wonderful – it is hard to imagine better climatic conditions for such a journey
– despite having lived in London for 50 years I had hitherto traversed well under half of the route
– arriving back at the starting point gave me a surprising ‘sense of achievement’ that I do not get from most walks
– receiving the certificate was also nice, though I would like it to have the Mayor of London’s signature (a rubber stamp would do)
– following the route from a map requires advanced orienteering skills and luck. The sign posts are very useful but one could not follow the route without support from a map and compass. The maps in Colin Saunders’ book on the Capital Ring are just right
– you find a London which is very different to the famous sights in the central area: it is the ‘real London’: the suburbs in which most of its 8.174 million people live (Google figure, for 2011)
– despite being a South Londoner, and having an unreliably small sample, I am willing to say that the North Londoners are friendlier than South Londoners (though the coffee and rolls were more expensive north of the River Thames).
I’ll finish with two confessions which, I hope, does not lead to a recall of my Certificate: (1) I used a bike for much of the route and it still took me just over 5 days (2) Declaration of Interest: I was a member of the London Walking Forum when the Capital Ring route began its life (1989-91). See Towards a green strategy for London.
To make themselves richer, a few bloated putocrats seek to deprive the public of ‘public goods’. Sir John Craddock is a prime example:
A leaflet issued by Banstead Commons Conservators relates that in 1873 Sir John Cradock Hartopp Bt from Yorkshire bought 1700 acres of Banstead Commons. He planned to purchase the commoners’ rights and enclose and develop the most suitable parts. Turf, top soil, gravel, etc were to be removed and sold from Banstead Heath, and houses built. To stop this, local residents formed Banstead Commons Protection Committee in 1887. Legal action followed, culminating in Sir John’s bankruptcy. In 1893, Parliament passed the Metropolitan Commons (Banstead) Supplemental Act, protecting the downs from further development.’
I invite the landscape architects defending Taksim Gezi Meydani to celebrate Sir John’s downfall and bankruptcy. As Gloria Steinem said ‘Power can be taken, but not given. The process of the taking is empowerment in itself.
Image courtesy garda
Queen Anne asked one of her Ministers what it would cost to stop public access to London’s Hyde park and was told, “It would cost you but three crowns, ma’am: those of England, Scotland and Ireland.” . Public open space should be at the centre of public debate.
The Bosphorus is the traditional boundary between Europe and Asia and also the meeting point of the two cultures which govern modern Turkey: western and eastern. Many Ottoman intellectuals and leaders came from western (European) Turkey. Though born in Istanbul, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s political culture has Anatolian roots. Ataturk, who founded the Turkish republic, was born in Greece and sought to westernise Turkey. So the question, as ever, is: will Turkey look east or will Turkey look west? We can extrapolate the choice to landscape architecture. Looking east, to the Turks’ nomadic past, suggests a lack of significance for permanent open space. Looking west, to the settled lands of Europe, suggests a desire to protect open space.
Though rendered in English as Taksim ‘Square’, the Turkish name is Taksim Meydanı. ‘Meydani’ derives from the Persian word maidan which was used for a multi-purpose civic space. It was not a park (paradaeza in Persian) and it was not usually planted. The uses included markets, parades, festivals, games and camping. This made it a very important place – though the famous maidan in Isfahan has since been laid out as a western park and is not busy. So should Turkish landscape architects look west or east? Both. Topkapi Palace is a good symbol for this: the pattern of its open spaces is that of an encampment, but the encampment has become permanent (as Gülru Necipoğlu, explains in Architecture, ceremonial, and power: The Topkapı Palace in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Cambridge, Mass, 1991).
Well, Istanbul lost its chance to host the 2020 Olympics yesterday for, it is thought, two reasons (1) the brutal treatment of protesters over the proposed development of Taksim Gezi (2) Turkey’s poor record in controlling the use of drugs by its athletes. I give my sympathy to the landscape architects and others involved in Istanbul’s bid and have no hesitation in saying that the landscape architecture of Istanbul is of the very highest quality.
I am pleased to report that London’s park users (photo of the gates of Finsbury Park below) support Istanbul’s park users in calling for the conservation of Taksim Gezi Meydani. We might be able to send protesters if another occupation becomes necessary but we are not considering armed intervention of any kind.
Top image of Taksim Gezi courtesy Alan Hilditch. Lower image Gardenvisit.com
– the conical hills look good, shield the park from traffic noise, provide destinations for walkers and runners and offer fine views over London. They were made out of rubble from demolishing the old Wembley Stadium. That’s good too – but I wish they had salvaged some features instead of reducing everything to rubble.
– the water park to the south of the hills is an attractive place with ponds, trees, shrubs and wild life
The landscape design was by FoRM Associates, a London practice which was run by Igor Marko, Peter Fink and Rick Rowbotham (the firm operated from 2007-2012). The founders were an artist, an architect and a landscape architect but the latter is not credited with the project: it was regarded as public art.
My visit was a deviation from the route of London’s Capital Ring, which I have been following. It links a number of greenspaces of varying quality. I suppose I could set up a system to assess their quality and, if doing so, would remember the four lunches I have enjoyed in a four day trip. Each time I asked for a ‘bacon roll and cappucino’. Much the best was in a cafe near Eltham College – maybe the boys have trained them. The cost was £3.70. Next best was from a caravan in Richmond Park: £5.20 – good coffee and a very well cooked bacon roll for £5.20. Next best was from a cafe outside Harrow School: £7.20 for a decent coffee with a disappointing bacon sandwich. Worst quality was from a transport cafe beside Streatham Common: £2.70 for flabby white bread and tough bacon. ‘This is not coffee’ I complained after the first sip ‘Yeah – we don’t do coffee’ they told me. The compensation was free newspapers to read (Sun and Star only). Price is the easiest thing to assess but does not correlate with gastronomic quality (for which my assessment criteria were: quality of coffee, quality of bread and quality of bacon. Price does however correlate exactly with quality of service. The most expensive provider also had the best interior design, though it was very traditional. The seating area around the caravan in Richmond Park was a total disgrace ‘wood effect picnic seating made of solid plastic’. So is it true that ‘you get what you pay for’? No: if you want a coffee and bacon sandwich the best buy cost £3.70. The same is true of public open space: the largest budget does NOT produce the best design. Much better to deploy imagination, ingenuity and wisdom.
The montage, which is rough, shows a 1914 plan of Beijing superimposed on a recent Landsat image of the Beijing metropolitan area. When the reconstruction of the old city began, after 1949, Chen Zhanxiang recommended that a new city should be built outside the old walled city – so that the central area could be conserved. He had worked with Sir Patrick Abercrombie in London and understood the need for a city to engage in both conservation and development. Professor Liang Si-cheng commented that ‘demolishing the old wall is like peeling off my skin’ (Turner, T., Asian gardens: history, beliefs and design 2010, pp307-8). Beijing’s old walls, which became the 2nd Ring Road, are shown in the below photograph.
Were the academics right or were the municipal authorities right? My vote goes to the academics. Central Beijing should have been as well protected from the twentieth century as Haussmann’s Paris. The two capitals have comparable design histories. But, for Chinese urban designers and landscape planners, there were other problems. The old map makes a distinction between the ‘Tartar or Manchu’ Inner City (which contains the Forbidden City and the three Seas) and the ‘Chinese’ Outer City. The Manchus were invaders who spoke a different language. Their walls were a symbol of exclusion and repression, like the Berlin Wall, and were demolished by Chairman Mao’s government. Had the French and British not demolished the Yuan Ming Yuan, Mao Zedong might have done it for political reasons, much as he destroyed Buddhist monasteries. Mao’s position in Chinese history is peculiar. He will always have credit for modernising the country and educating women but, one day, he is likely to receive even more blame for the Cultural Revolution. He will also be blamed for destroying too much of China’s architectural and landscape heritage. So here is my advice to municipal authorities everywhere: find the best parts of your heritage FROM EVERY ERA and apply the most stringent conservation measures possible. This will require landscape assessement technqiues. The ‘blocky landscape’ of early 21st century Beijing will be disliked, sooner or later, but a good-sized zone should be subject to strict conservation measures – including those ridiculuous ‘flower beds’ which line any roads wide enough to have them.
Images of Beijing’s 2nd Ring Road courtesy of ernop and poeloq