Category Archives: landscape planning

Triumph of the City – destruction of the Green Belt

Chandni Chowk: a low-carbon sustainable street in Old Delhi

Etymologically, economics is the study of the laws (nomos) which govern homes (oikos). But economists work with a rarely-spoken assumption that what matters is how to get wealthier. I have been reading a book by the Harvard economist, Edward Glaeser: Triumph of the City: How Our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier, and Happier. Despite the long title, what he really wants is to make America ‘richer’ and less dependent on carbon fuels. He praises Chinese cities for the low carbon consumption of their residential areas and criticises people who live around San Francisco (eg Marin County) for opposing as much new building as they can. The city of Houston is praised for encouraging as much development as possible but criticised for letting it take place a low densities. The city of Paris is praised for conserving its central area (within Périphérique) while allowing high buildings at La Défense.
Glaeser does not say much about London but his views can be assumed: (1) London has a less-sensible high buildings policy than Paris (2) London should retreat from its policy of restricting high buildings (as Boris Johnson is doing on London’s South Bank) (3) London should convert its Green Belt to a Development Zone for a Chinese-style high-density city.
China does not, in fact, have a city on the Wiki list of the world’s 50 most densely populated cities. Eighteen of them are in India and I guess Glaeser knows that this is not how Americans, or Europeans, want to live – however good this urban style may be for reducing carbon emissions. The Wiki list is topped by Manila (at 43,07/km2 ). The densist city in America is New York (at 10,640/km2). Delhi has 29,495/km2. Paris has 21,289/km2. London has 5,285/km2. Sydney has 2,058/km2.
Image courtesy Deivis. I once took my bicycle through Chandni Chowk (‘rode’ would be an inappropriate word) and, having marvelled at its low carbon usage, urge western advocates of sustainability to follow my example.

Detroit urban landscape architecture, planning and design

Detroit urban landscape architecture and design

Detroit is bankrupt, derelict, ruined and dangerous to know. So anyone with an interest in urban landscape design and planning should ask two questions

  • Why did it happen?
  • What can be done about it?

Many people are in fact asking these questions and they could put be on school curricula – in Europe, in America and, most of all, in China. Similar catastrophes happened in Europe yesterday and may be expected in China tomorrow. In Britain, as the Guardian explains, the school history curriculum is too focussed in Hitler. It is a preposterous state of affaris: the man is dead. His ideas are dead. Everyone hates him. Really, one would think school history teachers had heard about this.
So why is Detroit going down the drain?

  • Is the CIA behind it? (Probably not)
  • Is it because American engineers don’t know how to design cars? (Probably not)
  • Is it because Detroit is, largely, an African American city? (Probably not)
  • Is it because American managers are obese? (Probably not)
  • Is it because American trade unions are so strong? (Probably not)
  • Is it because Asian workers work much harder for lower rates? (Probably not)
  • Is it because the US has dumb policies on gun control and drugs (Probably not)

So I cannot answer the question – but other cities have found ways of dealing with the declines of their auto industries and, in due course, it will be interesting to see what policy China adopts for its soon-to-be rustbelt industries. Karl Marx explained that creative destruction is integral to capitalism – and China has become a capitalist country.
So what can be done about Detroit? Edward Glaeser, in Triumph of the city (2011 pp 64-7) recommends a policy of ‘shrinking to greatness’. Following the examples of Leipzig in Germany, and Youngstown in Ohio, he recommends demolishing empty buildings. He writes that Mayor Bing, ‘knows that Detroit can be a great city if it cares for its people well even if it has far fewer structures’. Instead of ‘demolition’ I recommend a plan for regenerating the city’s ecosystem. It needs a habitat plan: for humans, fauna and flora. Humans need safety. Perhaps the 25% of the city which is now un-inhabited should be demolished, or perhaps the empty buildings should be fenced off. I don’t know – but high schools would surely learn more from studying Detroit than from studying Hitler. A class could begin with an old Detroit-made car. Kids could learn to take it apart, clean it up,  put it back together and drive round the playground. While doing this they would learn about physics,  architecture, chemistry, industrial design, labour relations, politics, economics, trade unions, finance, pensions, international trade, entrepreneurship, urban design, database management, landscape architecture, ecology – and, of course, an approach to art and music which draws upon the Nature of Detroit. ‘Ah’, you may say, ‘good idea –  but school teachers know nothing of these subjects’. Well then: they should not be teaching kids who need to know about these subjects.

(Images courtesy nic-r and LHOON)

Landscape scenic quality assessment techniques

Is the north east of England desloate?

Tory peer Lord Howell annoyed the north of England today with his comment on where fracking should take place. He does not want it near his home, in the south of England but believes that England has “large and uninhabited and desolate areas. Certainly in part of the North East where there’s plenty of room for fracking, well away from anybody’s residence where we could conduct without any kind of threat to the rural environment.” People with “residences” in the NE were offended and he had to apologise. But he could have made a sensible point: ‘If fracking is to take place in the UK it should start in areas of low scenic quality and low population density’. Who could argue with him? But it would then be necessary to find out which areas ARE of low scenic quality and, I am sorry to say, the UK landscape architecture profession appears to be ducking this question.
(Image courtesy Bods)

Is King George VII an auspicious name for urban design and open space planning?

Will King George VII be good for urban design and landscape architecture?

So the Royal Babe will be called George. Most of Britain’s King Georges have been uninterested in parks, gardens and urban design. The significant exception is King George IV, about whom the BBC comments ‘The real George was certainly both a drinker and womaniser who ate too much – the Times labelled him an “inveterate voluptuary” – but also an imaginative town planner, an ambitious patron of the arts and, most probably, not an idiot.’ As Prince Regent he supported and promoted London’s most ambitious urban landscape design scheme: the route from St James’s Park to Regent’s Park – which influenced the planning of Adelaide’s park belt. So let us pray that George VII takes after George IV in some respects but not in other respects!

Would a future queen have been better for the urban landscape?

Gardenvisit.com welcomes the Royal Babe. Hurrah boys, hurrah!
The boys are due a turn on Britain’s throne but would a royal girl have been better for the urban landscape? The two Elizabeths and Victoria did very well and I hope no one will claim superiority for one or other sex. But they have different talents – and were not much interested in landscape design.
At Sissinghurst, though both owners were gay, the man did more on the layout and the woman did more on the details. If these are general characteristics, what does London’s greenway system need most (though it obviously needs both)? I think what it needs is common sense and practicality. The design exists and is taking shape but it has been dogged by dumb ideas – like Abercrombie’s idea of treating the links between parks as ‘green corridors’ and Boris Johnson’s idea of getting a cycle system on the cheap by painting lines on roads. With regard to bicycle transport planning what London needs is profound good sense eg (1) create cycle routes through most parks (2) make very many of the paved sidewalks beside roads into shared pedestrian-cycle paths (3) invest money in cycle planning on a scale which is proportionate to the capital invested in other transport modes – and keep on increasing the expenditure as cycle transport expands. This policy would result in an enormous increase in expenditure on cycle facilities – which would result in homengous increase in commuter and leisure cycling. I hope nobody will want to put my neck on a block for saying it, but I think London would be more likely to adopt these policies under female patronage. But there is hope: I think cycle planning would have appealed to Diana more than to Charles and I think the spirit of Diana, in the person of William, is second in line to the throne. So if King Billy the Fifth does this job then we may well be in need of more strategic planning by the time his son takes over. I therefore recommend Henry for the babe’s first name – remembering that Henry VIII was London’s greatest open space planner, even if it was done for personal reasons, it is time for a Henry IX. All this, of course, is from the standpoint of London open space planning. Perhaps the ‘best of all’ option would be a Gay King Henry – though I can imagine this not being too popular in some parts of the Commonwealth.

We welcome the Royal Baby and hope London's Greenway Network will have a King Queen Champion


What are kings and queens for in the 21st century? I don’t know, but opening hospitals and attending state funerals does not seem ALL THAT useful. Gardenvisit.com is therefore putting in a pre-natal plea for the Royal Baby to become a patron of London’s Greenway Network. Princess Di used to run incognito in Kensington Gardens and I wished at the time that she had laid the foundation for a Scandinavian-style Cycling Monarchy. It would be wonderful if her first grandchild could lead London, as Henry VIII and Charles II did, in the creation of a London Greenway Network. It should provide for green transport and green recreation throughout London. Though welcome, Boris Johnson’s  cycleways are not places of pleasure. London needs greenways fit for kings and queens and royal babes.

Environmental Buddhism, landscape architecture and the Gyama Valley mining disaster in Tibet

I have been reading about Buddhist environmentalism recently. The divergent views can be summarised as follows:

  1. Many western commentators believe that Buddhism is a wholly environment-friendly faith, because of the belief in the ‘oneness’ of the world.
  2. Some western commentators (notably Ian Harris) argue that there is scaracely any basis for an environmental ethic in Early Buddhism, because it is a nihilistic faith with a soteriological emphasis on escaping from this world, rather than trying to improve it.
  3. The Dalai Lama and many other Buddhist leaders are wholehearted supporters of environmental ethics and see the ideas as inherently Buddhist.

In reading about the Dalai Lama’s views I came across this comment: “Now, environmental problems are something new to me. When we were in Tibet, we always considered the environment pure. For Tibetans, whenever we saw a stream of water in Tibet, there was no question as to whether it was safe for drinking or not. However, it was different when we reached India and other places. For example, Switzerland is a very beautiful and impressive country, yet, people say “Don’t drink the water from this stream, it is polluted!”… I remember in Lhasa when I was young, some Nepalese did a little hunting arid fishing because they were not very much concerned with Tibetan laws. Otherwise there was a real safety for animals at that time. There is a strange story. Chinese farmers and road builders who came to Tibet after 1959 were very fond of meat. They usually went hunting birds, such as ducks, wearing Chinese army uniform or Chinese clothes. These clothes startled the birds and made them immediately flyaway. Eventually these hunters were forced to wear Tibetan dress. This is a true story! Such things happened, especially during the 1970’s and 80’s, when there were still large numbers of birds. Recently, a few thousand Tibetans from India went to their native places in Tibet. When they returned, they all told the same story. They said that about forty or fifty years ago there were huge forest covers in their native areas. Now all these richly forested mountains have become bald like a monk’s head. No more tall trees. In some cases the roots of the trees are even uprooted and taken away! This is the present situation. In the past, there were big herds of animals to be seen in Tibet, but few remain today. Therefore much has changed.”
Just after reading this passage I heard of the mining disaster in the Gyama Valley (30 March 2013) in which 83 people died. This led me to look for photographs of forest clearance in Tibet, to see if this could be the cause of the problem, since deforestation so often causes erosion and flooding. I could not find any photographs, so this blog post lacks an illustration. Compared to most of the world’s religions, Buddhism has the great advantage of accepting endless change (anicca) as a fundamental characteristic of the universe and of Buddhism. Islam, by way of contrast, takes the Quran as having been passed from God to Gabriel to Muhammad. This allows some scope for new interpretations (eg in the Hadith) but none for change. Islam is fortunate in having a good base for an environmental ethic. In my view, Buddhism is also in a strong position in this regard and I hope that the reviving popularity of Buddhism in China will encourage the development of environmental ethics everywhere – and of a Buddhist approach to landscape architecture – and mining operations are a special opportunity. Christians have been working at the problem of developing an environmental ethic but have been handicapped by Lynn White’s critical stance.
See the Wiki entry on Religion and environmentalism. Religions often find it difficult to come together but environmentalism offers great opportunities in this regard. Because ‘The Environment’ was not a problem in The Axial Age there are relatively few historical positions which need to be defended.

Scotland's landscape & architecture Trumped by Alec Salmond and the SNP

Donald Trump enjoys a game of golf in Scotland (Guardian photo)

Donald Trump enjoys a game of golf in Scotland (Guardian photo)

I first noticed the disease on the outskirts of Edinburgh: splurges of badly planned, ugly developments with no consideration for the historic landscape and architecture of Scotland. This has been trumped and Trumped by the ghastly golf course north of Aberdeen. Donald Trump says it will be the ‘best’ golf course in the world. Fiddlesticks. The local people were against it so the planning application was called in by the Edinburgh government – and approved. Compulsory purchase powers are now being used to force local landowners to sell their land. Why is this being done? Because Salmond wants to prove that an independent Scotland can prosper economically. It is a policy which has worked elsewhere. If you effectively abolish town and country planning controls then developers are attracted, like crows to carion and Russians to the Mediterranean.
I lived round the corner from one of the founders of the Scottish National Party for 20 years and supported the idea of an independent Scotland. Wendy Wood was the daughter of a landscape painter, and an artist herself. Like me, I think she would have withdrawn her support from the SNP if she had known it would lead to the destruction of Scotland’s landscape. There are good landscape architects in Scotland but a friend told me that the major part of their workload is now supporting, and opposing, the construction of windfarms. The turbines are pork barrels – ways of giving subsidies to local people to buy their votes.
The Arbroath Delcaration, addressed to the Pope in 1320 stated (here in a brilliant translation from the Latin) the wish to be independent ‘Yet if he should give up what he has begun, and agree to make us or our kingdom subject to the King of England or the English, we should exert ourselves at once to drive him out as our enemy and a subverter of his own rights and ours, and make some other man who was well able to defend us our King; for, as long as but a hundred of us remain alive, never will we on any conditions be brought under English rule. It is in truth not for glory, nor riches, nor honours that we are fighting, but for freedom — for that alone, which no honest man gives up but with life itself. ‘. Wood, like Roger Casement, was of English stock. The declarators of 1320 were proud of their descent: ‘Most Holy Father and Lord, we know and from the chronicles and books of the ancients we find that among other famous nations our own, the Scots, has been graced with widespread renown. They journeyed from Greater Scythia by way of the Tyrrhenian Sea and the Pillars of Hercules, and dwelt for a long course of time in Spain among the most savage tribes, but nowhere could they be subdued by any race, however barbarous. Thence they came, twelve hundred years after the people of Israel crossed the Red Sea, to their home in the west where they still live today. The Britons they first drove out, the Picts they utterly destroyed, and, even though very often assailed by the Norwegians, the Danes and the English, they took possession of that home with many victories and untold efforts; and, as the historians of old time bear witness, they have held it free of all bondage ever since. In their kingdom there have reigned one hundred and thirteen kings of their own royal stock, the line unbroken a single foreigner.’ Today, they do not want to be ruled by the Pope or the English. Far better, they think, to be ruled by Mamon and the Brussels Bureaucracy.
Trump International Golf Links hopes to become “the world’s best golf course”. Bill Forsyth made a wonderful film in 1983. Local Hero is about a small community in Scotland chose preservation of their landscape to riches from oil. Congratulations to the Guardian for its photograph (above) and to BBC2 for showing Anthony Baxter’s film You’ve been Trumped.
I’d like to see Salmond return to the land of his forebears: Greater Scythia. He will find lots of oil and even-more-ghastly development. With luck, he will be able to wrestle naked with other Scythians and enjoy Borat’s Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. Good luck to him – and good riddance for Scotland.
I would like to be able to boast that the UK landscape profession, led by the Landscape Institute Scotland Branch, has fought a bitter campaign against Trump golf course. But it hasn’t.
Conclusion: watch Local Hero with a tumbler of malt whisky. It will make you feel better.

What are the conditions for good urban landscape design?

Edmund Bacon, in his 1974 book on Design of Cities, interpreted Rome's spatial plan in essentially geometrical terms (an axial movement system). Historically, it was created WITH temporal and spiritual power to symbolise these qualities. Are they still the necessary conditions for good urban design? No living planner or designer has the 'powers' of Sixtus V and Urban VIII. Is this why we are making such disappointing cities?

What are the social, political and economic conditions in which urban landscape design is most likely to flourish? I very much hope my answer to this question is wrong, but here goes: “in cities where an enlightened king was guided by spiritual beliefs”. Why should this be so? (1) Without temporal power, urban design is scarcely possible. (2) without spiritual power, objectives are likely to be short term and non-idealistic (3) short-term commercial and military objectives benefit rulers and disadvantage peoples. As Alexander Solzhenitsyn observed “Is it not true that professional politicians are boils on the neck of society that prevent it from turning its head and moving its arms?”. “It is not victory that is precious but defeat. Victories are good for governments, whereas defeats are good for the people. After a victory, new victories are sought, while after a defeat one longs for freedom, and usually attains it. Nations need defeats just as individuals need suffering and misfortunes, which deepen the inner life and elevate the spirit.”  The great urban designs were made in periods of faith and monarchy Beijing from 1293-1912, in Isfahan under Shah Jehan, in Rome under the Popes and in Paris under the kings and emperors. What comparable successes can be claimed by the faithless democracies and autocracies of the twentieth century? The great powers of the modern world suffer from not having been defeated in great wars.

Image courtesy RTSS

Lord Foster Airport Thames Hub Isle of Grain – landscape implications


George Orwell called it Airstrip One. It was in what “had been called England or Britain”. This was the homeland of Winston Smith, in his novel 1984. Not to be outdone, Lord Foster has set about designing Airstrip One, with help from Halcrows, as engineers, and Volterra, as economic consultants. Their report makes some good points: IF air traffic is to continue growing THEN London will need a new airport and IF London is to have a new airport THEN the Thames Estuary is the best location. Furthermore, one could hardly do better than Lord Foster as the designer. But he should have worked with a good landscape architect and I would recommend James Corner for the job. His firm’s name is ‘Field Operations’ and this is what the airport needs. The Foster design looks like an aircraft carrier moored in the Estuary. It will face the bitterest opposition from the people of Kent. The would-be developers would have a better chance with Boris Johnson’s Island Airport location. Could anything be done to improve the landscape acceptability of the Isle of Grain site? One thing is for sure: they could have done a very much better job with the water margin. It should be beautiful and ecological – providing a very special habitat for birds which do not have the habit of bringing down aircraft. Norman Foster has worked with some good landscape architects in his time but in essence he is an object-oriented designer, not a space-oriented designer. On this occasion, I think he has spent a lot of money and diminished the chances of an airport being built in the Thames Estuary. The protestors may come to think him for this and I remind him of the old proverb:
For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the message was lost.
For want of a message the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.

Did they make a mistake with Copenhagen's Green Finger landscape plan?

Should Copenhagen's Five Fingers be green or grey?

Copenhagen’s Finger plan (left) is appealing: easy to remember and attractive for the way it gives prominence to greenspace in the planning of a capital city. But, for the way it has been used (centre) it should be called the Grey Finger Plan. The idea was to run out high-speed railway lines from central Copenhagen and use them as urbanisation spines, with the space between the fingers retained as greenspace. In a real Green Finger Plan the fingers themselves would be green, as on the right-hand diagram. Here are some suggestions for how it could have worked:

  1. build the railways with earth embankments as environmental noise barriers – probably with space for an express roadway in the same corridor
  2. use the fingers as green infrastructure corridors for the urbanisation – growing the fingers as the urbanisation spreads
  3. also use the fingers as utility corridors for: cycleways, habitat space, recreation space, a city forest, urban water runoff management, urban agriculture etc
  4. extend ‘ribs’ of cycleway from rail stations into the urban areas between the green fingers
  5. consider building above the railways and roads at some future date, to accommodate shops, offices and other commercial uses

The Danish name is the København 5 Fingerplanen but is described as the Green Finger Plan in the European Landscape Convention and other places. ‘Storkøbenhavn’ means ‘Metropolitan Copenhagen’.

Singing the greens: Joni Mitchell in concert 1970 – Big Yellow Taxi

They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot
With a pink hotel, a boutique
And a swinging hot SPOT
Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got
‘Til it’s gone
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot


They took all the trees
And put them in a tree museum
Then they charged the people
A dollar and a half just to see ’em
Don’t it always seem to go,
That you don’t know what you’ve got
‘Til it’s gone
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot

Sugar may be the world's worst poison – so the EU subsidises sugar growers through its Common Agricultural Policy (CAP)

Sugar is a deadly poison and subsidised by the EU Common Agricultural Policy CAP. So grown your own food!

Prof John Yudkin showed, in 1957 that the consumption of sugar and refined sweeteners is closely associated with coronary heart disease and type 2 diabetes. The argument was presented in a famous book Pure, White and Deadly (1972) which was, of course, bitterly attacked by the sugar and soft drinks industries. This may be why Robert H. Lustig (Prof of Clinical Pediatrics, at the University of California) called his much-watched Youtube video Sugar:the Bitter Truth. He extends Yudkin’s argument and explains how sugar is a major factor in heart disease, hypertension and many common cancers, with most of our sugar intake coming from processed foods and soft drinks. A dangerous consequence of eating sugar is that it stimulates the apetite and makes you put on weight. The food processors’ second favourite additive, salt, may be the world’s second worst poison.
So how does the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) deal with this terrible poison? It gives its largest subsidies to sugar producers, of course. Tate & Lyle Europe is the largest UK recipient of CAP money (T&L has received €828m since 1999). I say ‘of course’ because the CAP is a very bad thing, if not quite as bad as the Common Fisheries Policy (CAF) which has led to the ruination of Europe’s fish stocks.
So what has sugar to do with landscape and gardens? Two things (1) the safest food to eat is food which has not been influenced in any way by food processing or the CAP (ie food which has been home grown in gardens and urban agriculture plots) (2) Europe’s current financial crisis is the best hope for some time that the CAP might be reformed – and when this happens there will be an opportunity to switch some of the expenditure towards rural public goods – and away from such notable public bads as the production and use of sugar in processed foods. Landscape planning for growing vegetables in urban areas has to become a key input to the urban design process. It involves strategic policies for water, soils, air, light recycling, land-use and roofspace-use.
The safest nutritional policies are (1) grow you own food (2) cook your own food. The home-grown tomatoes in the above photograph are so delicious they do not need cooking or flavouring. An interesting thought is that if more people composted household waste and grew their own food then GDP/head would fall, because less food would be sold, transported etc. There would also be less expenditure on health care. So I guess politicans, who are elected for promoting ‘economic growth’ will be against it, supported by their economic advisers.

Olympic 2012 Park landscape and architecture

In 2005 I made my predictions and stated an intent to monitor the progress of the 2012 London Olympic Park. I took 500+ photographs of the site and hoped to follow the changes. This did not work, because they had to close off public access to the site, but I was kindly invited to view progress on 22.7.2011. The first point to strike me, on the jaw, was the total inability of the architects to work together. There is no relationship of any kind between the sports buildings. What, one might ask, can one expect of Zaha Hadid (Aquatics Centre), Michael Hopkins (Velopark), Populous (Olympic Stadium) or MAKE (Handball Arena)? This is an easy question to answer: I expected them to TALK to each other and to create a whole which is more than the sum of its parts, more than a bag of Liquorice Allsorts. I also expected the client to ensure that this conversation took place and had a fruitful outcome. But they didn’t. The landscape architects could have done the design co-ordination, had they been asked. Instead, they have designed a swathe of greenspace which can be expected to help in unifying the outdoor landscape. The underlying principles are ‘Bauhaus’: the outdoor form of the buildings reflects their internal function. The buildings have an outdoor setting which is more nature than garden (like the Meisterhäuser in Dessau). Someone, as yet unidentified, had the excellent idea of having acres and acres of wildflower meadow flowing around the buildings and along the river. It will be colourspace instead of greenspace and it will help distinguish the 2012 Olympic park from a 1980s British Garden Festival.
A very disappointing aspect of the Olympic 2012 Park is that the general public will have NO ACCESS in 2012. We Londoners have paid for many of the facilities. We will have our city greatly disrupted during the games. But there are no plans to let us see our park. Only the ticket holders will have this privilege – and a great many more people applied for tickets than have received tickets. A friend bid for £3000 of tickets and got none. After the Olympic Games end the plan is to keep the park closed and set about the task of transforming it for public access some time in 2013. I urge a re-consideration. They should open the park to FREE PUBLIC ACCESS FOR AT LEAST TEN DAYS AFTER THE END OF THE GAMES.
My 2005 comment on the prospects for the 2012 Olympic Park gave reasons for optimism and reasons for pessimism. In July 2011 the site looked like a road widening scheme near an airport, so I can’t say. My guesses are (1) the wildflowers will be wonderful (2) the buildings, as individual objects, will be handsome (3) there is a risk of the end product resembling a collision between an airport and garden festival. Let’s hope I’m wrong.
The below photograph, also taken from outsidethe park, shows what might have been achieved inside the park if more of the vernacular Lea Valley could have been retained. My belief is that it could have been done and that it has not been done.

Contemplative places: watching and listening

Contemplation has been defined as thoughtful or long consideration or observation. In the East, Christian contemplation has been associated with spiritual transformation. “The process of changing from the old man of sin into the new born child of God and into our true nature as good and divine is called theosis.” The process has often been described by the metaphor of a ladder, with the acquisition of the state of hesychia or peace of the soul being the summit where the person is said to reach ‘Heaven on Earth’.

Perhaps the purpose of a public contemplative space might be to give visitor glimpses of ‘Heaven on Earth’? What might such a space look and sound like?

Natural spaces are most often associated with a sense of restfulness and peace. Water can create a sense of calm, while beauty can promote a sense of wonder.

High buildings, skyline policy and the creation of a new urban landscapes

Can skyline and roofscape design policies help in the creation of new urban landscapes


I have often noticed, from photographs, that Sydney’s urban landscape looks all the better for the way in which high buildings are clustered in the central business district. If you took the tall buildings in the above photograph and distributed them evenly across the urban landscape, which is rather what London has done with its tall buildings, then you would get an effect like a suburban cemetery but on a larger scale. Or you could compare it to the mouth of a poor old tired horse with large gaps between the rotting teeth.
I think cities should group tall buildings with a view to creating scenic effects and beautifully dramatic skylines. One way of doing this is by drawing roofscape contour plans, in a similar manner to landform contour plans. One could say that it costs no more to group the buildings beautifully than to group them haphazardly, but the grouping would impact on the wishes and desires of individual landowners. So is the idea totally unbusinesslike and unrealistic? Or is it something that cities will need to do in a world when they are competing with each other to become destinations for businesses and tourists and residents?
Patrick Abercrombie drew some interesting diagrams so show the urban morphological choices which, in theory, face urban designers. Underneath his diagrams you can see my idea of what urban roofscape contours might look like – and would look like if someone applied the idea of roofscape mapping to Sydney’s central business district.

Above image courtesy Ingo Meironke Below image courtesy thewamphyri

And/Or & Both – when more is more.

It would be unfortunate to lose the distinction between [1] garden design and [2] [3] landscape architecture much as the trend towards [4] interior architecture is actually unfortunate for [5] interior designers. The differences of focus and attention to scale provide a variety of design insights which are not replicated.

Why? Because the rich tradition of garden design is the foundation and a source of inspiration to landscape architecture, to urban design and to city design. In the future we may say more as gardens move from the [6] ground plane to vertical surfaces and [7] roofs. Parc Eduardo VII in [8] the city of Lisbon is an example of the axis and hedges of gardens informing the structuring of city vistas.

There is much to be said for the process of abstraction. Landscape architects, arguably coming into being with the [9] English landscape tradition, have evolved a language and way of working of their own, which is continually evolving. Viva la difference!

Image courtesy Artifolio

Waffle levee flood planning for the Mississippi

I was pleased to see that our post on Waffle cities: landscape planning, urban design and architecture for flood-prone regions and global warming has been verified as feasible. The snippet (courtesy of London Evening Standard 20.05.2011) shows that a homeowner in Vicksburg has made his home into the ‘cell of a waffle’ and that the self-build levee protected his home from the Mississippi floods of spring 2011. Congratulations!

Gardening on ice: a mammoth project

It is not often that you see a proposal for a substantial indoor garden, still less one located on an ice tundra, however this is what Leeser Architecture, (who also imagined the engaging Helix Hotel in Abu Dhabi) have proposed in their design for the World Mammoth and Permafrost Museum in Yakutsk Siberia. Yakutsk is the world’s largest city built on permafrost with temperatures ranging from -45degF to 90degF.

The extensive and intensive indoor gardens have been designed to “promote a sense of year-round natural life even in the desolate winter months.”

Not much is said of the about the construction of the landscape elements and gardens. This is a competition afterall, so details will undoubtedly be required later.

The exterior gardens are described as “naturally patterned by the effects of shifting permafrost cycles.” Cells will be planted with native grasses. Mosses and trees will be reintroduced to the landscape to reflect the existing topography and improve site hydrology.

While the interior gardens cascade “at the perimeter of the building’s interior with lush thick mats of moss and lichen” grown between a latticework of pathways.” Moss and lichen are the natural insulators of permafrost ground. The gardens have a number of important functions including to 1) add color 2) insulation value 3) filter indoor air and 4) maintain air humidity.

In one of the gardens floats a cafe, while other gardens can only be viewed from above by visitors but are accessible to researchers.

Forest architecture: work, play, live?

Working, living and playing in a forest environment: is it possible?Selgas Cano’s architectural office near Madrid suggests so. Although critiques of the scheme suggest the ‘look but don’t touch’ approach of the sealed glazing is a limitation of the scheme. Natural ventilation is provided by a hinged pulley system at one end of the building.

Singapore’s Telok Blangah Hill Park’s forest walk constructed 60 feet above the ground demonstrates the ‘gem’ like qualities of a highly urbanised rainforest. Forest green space is valued and rare. One way to preserve the forest, yet to provide visual and physical recreational access, is to construct a forest walk. New questions arise. Do forests and their inhabitants suffer from noise pollution with large visitor numbers? The forest is home to squirrels, sunbirds, doves, lizards and white-crested laughing thrushes.

And then there is Zaha Hadid’s Capital Hill residence located in Barvikha Forest, Russia – taking forest dwelling to new heights.