WHAT NEW NAME SHOULD TRIPOLI'S CENTRAL SQUARE HAVE?
As a ‘green’ who loathes tyrants, few political events give me more pleasure than seeing one of them preparing to bite the dust, as today. But should Tripoli’s ‘Green Square’ be renamed ‘Martyrs’ Square’ as they propose? Some of the considerations are:
It received its present name because ‘green is the colour of Islam’
But ‘green’ is now closely associated with ‘green politics’
A ‘Martyr’ was originally a witness
But the word was taken over by Christianity to mean someone dies for their religion
These days one can be a martyr to pretty much anything
So my suggestion is to call it the Green Martyrs’ Square and associate it with (1) the coming together of two Abrahamic faiths: Islam and Christianity, which effected the revolution (2) the political aspect of the green movement (eg wide community involvement in decision making) (3) Libya’s future as a generator of green energy from solar power, when the oil runs out. The present Green Square has been used by both the parties which are struggling for power in Libya today; debate is esssential and it is better done by ‘jaw jaw’ than ‘war war’; there is a need for governmental cities, national and local, to have urban squares dedicated to public debate. See previous discussion of Parliament Square and Tiananmen Square. Debates are sometimes uncomfortable but a society without debate is on one, or more, of the roads to ruin.
The big question for what happens next for the city of Brisbane and for many cities worldwide is the role of climate change in flood events.
The previous big flood event in the city was in 1974. Since then a dam has been built as flood mitigation and in 2011 it has protected the city from more severe flooding.
However, with climate change, the expected frequency and severity of flooding could be expected to increase. So yes, a competition too – looking at the bigger picture – to design floodable spaces and places for cities would be a great contribution to urban flood defences and urban design.
My ‘Tomfool Project’ to write a history of Asian gardens and landscape architecture is done: I have just posted the CS (computer-script) to the publisher. The main subjects are Ancient Garden Design, Islamic Garden Design, Indian Garden Design, Chinese Garden Design, Japanese Garden Design and modern landscape architecture across Asia. The text files, drawings and photographs fit on one DVD, so all I have done is re-arrange some binary code, unless you count taking over 100,000 photographs. The easier-to-write chapters drew on other work but the difficult chapters took a year each for research and travel. The sensible alternatives would have been not to have begun the project or to have started 40 years earlier by learning half a dozen Asian languages. But I enjoyed the work and will be a lucky man if the ‘royalties’ pay for the travel – so you could say the books will be sold at ‘cost price minus’. It reminds me of the advice I received from Arnold Weddle about 30 years ago. We were making use of adjoining urinals at the time and I think the conversation went like this:
‘Hi Tom, how are you and what are you doing’. Ignoring the obvious, I replied ‘Fine – I’m writing a book, actually it’s about Landscape planning‘. Arnold, who had recently founded the journal Urban and landscape planning, replied: ‘Hmmm. Don’t expect to make any money by writing books’
Weddle was a wise man and I often quote another of his remarks. In Techniques of landscape architecture he wrote that the landscape profession is distinguished from its related professions by looking beyond their ‘closely drawn technical limits’ and ‘narrowly drawn territorial boundaries’. Though not quite what he had in mind, I have taken his advice in Asian gardens by relating garden design to the religions, mountains, forests, deserts, social customs, art and architecture of Asia. As you can imagine, this has involved a number of topics in which I might wish to have more expertise. Ananda Coomaraswamy would have been a good man for the job, helped by one of his photographer wives and his ability to think in English, Hindi, Greek, Latin, Sanskrit, Pali, Persian and Chinese.
BBC4 is showing a series of programmes about Sissinghurst Castle Garden. Here is a link to the first episode on the iPlayer – the link will not be active for long and there is a link to a BBC Sissinghurst webpage. Adam Nicholson and Sarah Raven live in the family house, because Adam is Vita’s grandson, but Adam’s father (Nigel Nicholson) gave the property to the National Trust. The programme presents Adam and Sarah as enlightened visionaries able to understand the past and present. But the National Trust staff are presented as obstinate blockheads able to say little more than ‘This is the way we do it because this is the way we have always done it and this it the way we will continue to do it’. Since the series runs to 8 episodes one can’t help wondering it the editing has been done for dramatic effect. Unless the National Trust Blockheads are going to be seduced by sweet reason, the series is going to end up portraying the Trust as a disorganised rabble which leaves decisions to junior staff.
Sissinghurst gives me the impression of being too commercial and of having too many visitors. It this is what the National Trust wants, they should avoid the cowpats Adam wants to bring back as an aspect of traditional farming. The BBC slipped in the titbit that Vita had over 50 lesbian lovers and the Independent (28.2.09) refers to ‘the site’s fascination for today’s educated lesbians’. Adam predicts that ‘By Easter, there will be rivers of lesbians coming through the gates’. It would be useful to know whether the return of traditional farming practices (‘cowpats’) would attract or repel the lesbians, and where Adam stands on the lesbian issue. I look forward to Sissinghurst holding its first Gay Pride day. As they say, ‘history repeats itself as farce’.
Having criticized Martha Schwartz and long considered Will Alsop the ‘Clown Prince of Architecture’ I was curious to hear them discuss Alsop’s philosophical notion that ‘No landscape architect should ever get hold of these [landscape] commissions because they have completely institutionalized the idea of public space’. As you can see, Alsop’s main complaints against the landscape profession are (1) there are too many about (2) they do not know their trees (3) they are doing too much urban design and master planning (which Alsop would rather do himself?).
Schwartz does a passable job of defending her turf but eventually blurts out the truth ‘You and I are very much alike in how we work’. It would also be interesting to hear Hitler and Stalin debating the philosophical notion that ‘Dictators should never be allowed to run countries’. They might even have agreed to design a Satellite Town – in Poland.
I was sorry to hear Schwartz slagging off garden design. It is a fine art of the highest order and it has laid the basis for the world’s most admired urban designs: Isfahan, Rome, Paris, Georgian London, Beijing and Washington DC. I would also like to refer them both to my proposed definition of landscape architecture.
Can anyone dispute that buildings must be designed in relation to landform, water, planting, and paving? Or that outdoor space should be beautiful, ecological and and socially useful? Are architects or landscape architects able to achieve this? Some are; some are not. Martha Schwartz seems better at aesthetic composition than at dealing with social and ecological issues. Alsop is a bozo: all sop with a dash of pop.
I attended the meeting of the Landscape Institute yesterday, held to discuss the future of the Library and Archive, which is threatened with disposal. Many people remarked on what a pleasure it was to have a general LI meeting – and what a pity that it had to have a negative objective: to stop the disposal of the LI Library. When I moved to London in the early 1970s there used to be regular general meetings of the Institute at Carlton House Terrace. A friend remembers playing musical chairs with Sylvia Crowe, Brenda Colvin, Cliff Tandy, Bodfan Gruffyd, and others. It was appropriate that Hal Moggridge, who also attended these meetings, was the first to speak in support of the Library and Archive. Since the Chapters/Branches were formed the community has lacked well-attended general meetings. Our predecessors would be pleased that the points made at the general meeting on 22 January 2009 were more positive than negative.
There was strong support for the principle of retaining the Library and Archive in the ownership and custody of the Landscape Institute. To some, it felt like keeping family photographs: one may not look at them very often but one wants to know they are there. They are our heritage; they define our identity; they are the seed from which the organization will grow.
There was strong support for the principle of re-directing the Landscape Institute’s administrative energy towards the exertion of influence on public policy. Having been urging this change since 1990, I was very pleased to hear people speak in its favour. The economic recession, which was officially recognized this morning, makes the task urgent.
There is an appreciation that the LI Council and Secretariat have become detached from the membership. The LI is spending too much money on administrators. They are not landscape architects and they do jobs which used to be done by members working as volunteers. This is expensive and, as ever, a volunteer is worth ten pressed men or women.
Here is my own suggestion: the LI should hold another General Meeting to formulate ideas and set the agenda with a series of Policy Statements, as Geoffrey Jellicoe did in the even darker days of the 1940s and 1950s. People can speak with passion at meetings, making the task of writing the policy statements simpler and faster. Instead of a few glossy documents on vague topics we should issue monthly press releases accompanied by two good illustrations and two sides of A4. The Friend’s Meeting House would be a good venue for a Policy Meeting.
We congratulate Toby Buckland on his new role as presenter of BBC Gardener’s World and Sarah Eberle on receiving a Doctorate in Design from the University of Greenwich. Sarah was the second University of Greenwich graduate, after Bunny Guinness, to receive a doctorate in garden design. They confirm our view that education in garden design and landscape architecture can lay the foundations for exciting, rewarding and glamorous careers.
The Garden Rant blog, which I like, questions whether the BBC should have appointed a woman instead of a man to the post. It is a very fair question but not one to be decided on the sex of the presenter. What matters is who will attract the most viewers. Gertrude Jekyll is popular because of the quality of her work: nothing else. I lay claim to the distinction of being a third generation feminist, because my grandfather was a keen supporter of the suffragette movement, but all he, my mother and I ever wanted was equality.
Old China had elegant concubines with bound feet strolling in lang corridors. New China can have fleet-of-foot girls bursting with energy as they race through the urban landscape.
Context-sensitive design is a problem for every country – or rather, one should say, for every region. Samuel Johnson remarked, on April 7th 1775, that patriotism is “the last refuge of a scoundrel”. Little did he know how nationalism was going to ravage civilization in the next two centuries. For landscape architecture, it is not so much that it should be “Chinese” in China as that it should be regional: there should be different approaches in Jiangsu, Guangdong and Xinjiang, relating to culture, climate, history, vegetation, geology, hydrology and habits concerning the social life of outdoor space. There can be no part of the world with such a severe shortage of landscape architects as China.
As the author of a an old report on Towards a green strategy for London, I should be pleased to see a sudden and dramatic green turn on London’s South Bank. And I am. Green is a good outdoor colour, kind to the eye and calming for the nerves. But I would also like the Greater London Authority to adopt a serious Green Strategy for London. ‘
Congratulations to Whitelaw Turkington for sponsoring a landscape contribution to the London Festival of Architecture. A group of landscape architects marched through South London on Saturday 12th July 2008, carrying trees and with periodic pauses to consider the relationship between trees and London. Congratulations also, to one of the firm’s principals for becoming a tree bearer.
It is always good to see landscape architects on the march. But I wonder if they don’t need more political courage. Way back in 1983, I proposed to the then-chair of the Landscape Institute’s South East Chapter, that we should protest against the failure of the London Dockland Development Corporation (LDDC) to commission a Landscape Strategy. The proposal was that every landscape architect in London should keep their Christmas tree until it went brown. We would then carry the dead trees in procession from the Palace of Westminster to the HQ of the LDDC, cast them down and, should anyone be so brave, light a funeral pyre.
I wish we had done it. Although there are a few good things, the landscape planning of the Isle of Dogs is predominantly disastrous. Had they spent a few pence on a landscape plan, the cost of the re-development would have been significantly lower and the environmental quality would have been significantly higher.
When Dame Jennifer Jenkins was appointed to chair the UK National Trust she commented that the main criticism of the gardens they manage is that ‘They are all the same’. It is not quite true but they do have an alarming similarity. This was brought home by visits to some visits to Yorkshire gardens this year. Studley Royal, run by the National Trust, has not had the ‘curse of Sissinghurst’ laid upon it. Of course I love Sissinghurst and of course it attracts busloads of visitors, but I do not want to see England’s historic gardens getting ever more like Sissinghurst. Studley Royal retains its independent dignity but it IS getting more National Trusty. Perhaps the paths are being too well kept; perhaps too many seats are appearing; perhaps that terrible Visitor Centre has an existence outside my drawer of garden nightmares. I can see that the architect had a lot of fun but the National Trust does not exist for this purpose. Its not such an ugly building: it just does not belong at Studley Royal.
From Studley Royal I went to Bramham Park – and was delighted to see how un-National Trusty it remains. In parts the standard of maintenance is higher then the National Trust would attempt. In other parts is is lower. In other parts, like the tennis court on the front lawn, it is entirely as the resident family wish it to be. It is a real garden.
Chatsworth Garden was also a pleasure to visit. Apart from its unique historic character, it has an individuality which, I can only assume, results from the kindly care lavished upon the estate by the Devonshire family. The food was also a great deal better and cheaper than in a National Trust multiple.
These considerations remind me that a friend of my grandfather’s was one of the National Trust’s first 100 members. In the 1950s, they both resigned with the explanation, in my grandfather’s words, that ‘They will be just like the monasteries, and all monopolies, when they get too large and too wealthy, they become lazy and corrupt’. He thought the National Trust was doing too much to become larger with ever more jobs for ever more boys and ever more girls. Instead, he argued for a plethora of smaller trusts each with its own role and its own policies. I think he was right.
Let us hope the National Trust’s new chairman, Sir Simon Jenkins, can do something more effective about the problem than Dame Jennifer Jenkins. He has long argued for effective devolution from Westminster to the regions. The problem he faces is that the great estates can’t very well be returned to their ancient families. One thing he could and should do is rid the National Trust of fawningly busybody interference of the kind pioneered by Graham Stuart Thomas during his reign as gardens advisor to the National Trust.
London has two great flower shows: Chelsea in May (see 2008 Chelsea Review) and the Hampton Court Palace Flower Show in July (see 2008 Hampton Court Review). I went to Hampton Court yesterday. It rained as I entered and rained as I left – but the sun appeared in between and it was a good day. My interest, of course, was the garden designs. The RHS Best in Show went to a very worthy design by Dorset Cereals for an Edible Playground. It was a good idea for an outdoor learning area, and well made, but it does not make a contribution to garden design as a fine art. The Gardenvisit.com Design Award for Hampton Court 2008 went to the Holiday Inn Green Room designed by Sarah Eberle. Elegant and well-made is scored highly for being just the kind of space we should be making for the city of tomorrow – instead of those wretched garden-centerey plots made by the UK housebuilders who have seen such a spectacular decline in their businesses over the last 12 months.
A focus on domestic gardens is the strength of the Hampton Court Show. Chelsea provides haute couture for gardeners – nice for window shopping but with garden designs on the expensive side of exorbitant. Hampton Court is more like Oxford Street. Designers learn from Chelsea and use the ideas for everyman. To make this policy more apparent, we recommend buying some special fencing for the Hampton Court, to replace the standard contractor’s wire. This would not be to keep people out, as at Glastonbury. It would be to draw people in and provide more context for the garden designs. The fencing designers should learn from Hollywood and make fences which look like English streets from both sides. Visitors would then queue at house doors and enter a garden world, filled with garden designs they can relate to. This is what Oxford Street stores use mannequins for. At present, the garden designs at Hampton Court float in a sea of tents.
We would also like to see a London Garden Summer Show, spread through the capital and lasting for the summer season ( See our note on the proposed Chelsea Fringe Flower and Garden Show).