Category Archives: Sustainable design

Dry stone walling in Crossbones Garden, a 2015 Chelsea Fringe event


Dry stone walling is flexible; it does not use mortar; it is good for wildlife; it is a sustainable. The only minus points arise if fuel is used for quarrying and transporting the stone.
This video is of a Chelsea Fringe event in Crossbones Garden, near London Bridge Station. Participants receive a certificate of attendance at the end of the session. John Holt is a great teacher.

The Manali to Leh Highway & Landscape Change in Ladakh


Taking the footage for this video, in September 2014, was a good opportunity to reflect on landscape change in a hitherto remote region of India: Ladakh. There are many considerations:

  • Ladakh was an important sector on the of the Silk Road Network, particularly for north-south trade and travel between India and China. The video uses quotations from European travelers who undertook the journey c1850-1950.
  • Travel between Ladakh and Pakistan ended with the partition of India in 1947.
  • Travel between Ladakh and China ended with the closure of the border, by China, in 1949.
  • India responded by closing Ladakh to all travel and tourism
  • From 1949 until 1974 Ladakh was cut off and isolated as rarely in its history
  • Since 1974 Ladakh’s economy has become dependent on the army, which invests in roads. The military population of Ladakh is now greater than the civilian population but the army keeps its personnel largely separate from the local people.
  • Ladakh’s other post-1974 economic prop is tourism. In summer there are more tourists than locals in the regional capital, Leh.
  • Westerners, in the main, want Ladakh to remain an undeveloped and traditional region.
  • Ladakhis, in the main, want to experience the ‘luxuries’ of western civilization.

So what should be done? I think Ladakh would have done better, if it could, to have followed the development path of Bhutan. This involves a very cautious approach to development and a concentration on the luxury end of the tourism market.
As things stand, the best approach is probably the adoption a forward-looking development policy as firmly rooted as possible in the principles of context-sensitivity and sustainability. This policy is exemplified by the Druk White Lotus School and its Dragon Garden.
Romesh Bhattacharji, an Indian who knows Ladakh very well, wrote in 2012 of the new roads which will open up Zanskar that ‘Many people, all outsiders typically, I have met, however, also moan about the loss of the traditional way of life of the people of Zanska. The latter want a better way of life than just being museum relics for tourists’ It is a well-aimed criticism. But ‘traditional’ and ‘development’ need not be in opposition: a Middle Way is also possible, by design. The Druk School and Dragon Garden make a cameo appearance on the above video and are explained in more detail by the videos on the DWLS Dragon Garden Playlist.

Oxford Street needs to be re-designed – as an urban landscape this time

Oxford Street Urban LandscapeThe traffic lanes in Oxford Street have been narrowing for 40 years, with the sidewalks being widened and regularly re-paved. Use of the street by private vehicles is restricted and use by diesel-powered commercial vehicles is increasing. Last week the Evening Standard reported that ‘Traders today said urgent action was needed to slash traffic levels after a report revealed Oxford Street has the highest levels of a toxic pollutant in the world. The mayor is facing demands to reduce the build-up of the “wall of buses” after a monitor installed by scientists showed high levels of nitrogen dioxide – linked with asthma and heart attacks.’
The solution should be ‘NO HALF MEASURES’. Creating a ‘good shopping landscape’ should be the 100% priority. This will require (1) pedestrian movement to be prioritized (2) electric vehicles only to be permitted (3) far more planting (4) the use of glazed canopies over sidewalks should be encouraged.
I am happy to point to Nanjing Road Shanghai 南京路 as an example of how Oxford Street should be managed.
The problem, of course, is what to do with the buses and taxis? My answer is that they should be progressively excluded from Central London, to be replaced by underground trains, small electric vehicles and bicycles. Taxis are likely to be electric powered before long – because a Chinese company is now making the black cabs and this is its plan. Buses carrying passengers on long-distance journeys should be excluded from the central zone. Travelers can use non-polluting vehicles to reach the fringe of the zone and then continue their journeys by other means. These policies are related to Colin Buchanan’s proposals for Traffic In Towns but modified in response to the increase in London’s population, the growth of cycling, the availability of electric vehicles, the need for fuel economy and a better understanding of the health risks arising from noxious pollution. The Wiki article on Oxford Street has attractive photographof the street in 1875 and its progressive debasement.

How to plan a cycling protest demo – the POP Pedal on Parliament 2014 event in Edinburgh


It is good to have
– scenic drama, with the route planned by a landscape architect
– emotional music, planned by a musical director and extending along the whole route
– a persuasive narrative, with speeches by children, activists and politicians
– good co-opration from the police
– jokes, fun and glamour
– good supporting information on a website, with facts, figures and international comparisons
And it’s good to reflect that ‘Power must be taken, it is never given’. (William Powell)
The 2013 London bicycle die-in was good on music and drama but not so good on speeches.
The 2014 POP Pedal On Parliament in Edinburgh was good in all respects.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Roof garden swimming pool in Marina Bay Sands Skypark

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

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

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

 

 

Roof garden structure for Marina Sands Hotel Skypark

 

 

 

Flood protection bunds: the waffle method and the chickens coming home to roost

Catal_huyuk_somerset_levelsWhat 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.

Help! HRH the Prince of Wales has called me a headless chicken

headless_chicken_climate_change_denier
We admire Prince Charles – so why should he suddenly pounce and call me a Headless Chicken? Is this any fit way for a future king to address a future subject? No. Has he forgotten that I sent him a copy of my 1987 book on Landscape planning? Obviously. Are we still friends? Dunno.
‘Headless chicken’ is his jibe for climate change deniers. But who does he include in this category? Since I know of nobody who doubts the thermometer’s evidence for global warming, he must be attacking those who believe, as I do, that God and Mother Nature are affecting the climate as much today as they have done for the past 13.798±0.037 billion years. Do I think man is part of nature? Yes. Do I think man has some influence on climate change? Yes. Do I think man is the sole cause of climate change? No. So why call me a headless chicken? Honestly, he has spoiled my day. So did that blast of wind and rain which hit me in the park. A little global warming hereabouts would be acceptable at this time of year.

Landscape Urbanism vs New Urbanism


Here is a great video from Rob Cowan: he draws as well as he talks – and he talks as well as he operates a camera. Should we be Landscape Urbanists or New Urbanists? Rob’s answer is ‘let’s stop wasting time on theory and get to work on solving problems’. With an equally peace-making message I would say:
New Urbanist to Landscape Urbanist: ‘You’re so right: let’s love each other and work together’
Landscape Urbanist to New Urbanist: ‘You’re so right: let’s love each other and work together’
But then I would say to both of them ‘C’mon you guys. Stop thinking in 2 dimensions: that game’s a’gonna. You guys gotta work in 4 dimensions’.

Manifesto: Is the postmodern condition of landscape architecture its extinction? or is it landscape ecological urbanism?

postmodern_landscape_architecture
Landscape architecture: an apocalyptic manifesto, was the title of a landscape architecture manifesto published in 2004 by Heidi Hohmann and Joern Langhorst (and republished as ‘Landscape Architecture: A Terminal Case?’ in Landscape Architecture Magazine 95, no. 4 (April 2005): 26-45.). The original manifesto is still available as a pdf document. The Hohmann-Langhorst diagnosis was as excellent. Their prognosis was pessimistic and melancholic.
Having a nostalgic affection for manifestos, I responded with my own manifesto – and plan to mark its 10th anniversary with a revised version.
The above diagram, from the Hohmann-Langhorst article, shows the disciplines from which landscape architecture emerged and the disciplines into which they expected it to dissolve. Worldwide, this has definitely not been landscape architecture’s fate in the last decade. It has had a great many successes without, in my view, coming near to realising its full potential.
There is a great contrast between the two countries (Britain and America) which gave birth to landscape architecture as an organized profession. Landscape architecture is flourishing in the US and stagnant in the UK. It could be that the Hohmann-Langhorst article stimulated the US profession to examine its navel and engage in renewal and re-generation. In part, the regeneration has come from the body of theory known as Landscape Urbanism. Proponents have had many competition successes and advocates of New Urbanism feel themselves under threat. Andres Duany and Emily Talen have responded with a book on Landscape Urbanism and Its Discontents: Dissimulating the Sustainable City. The blurb to their book (which I have not yet read) states that ‘While there is significant overlap between Landscape Urbanism and the New Urbanism, the former has assumed prominence amongst most critical theorists, whereas the latter’s proponents are more practically oriented.’ This is despite the fact that Landscape Urbanists have done a poor job of explaining themselves. They should be grateful to Ian Thompson for his account of its Ten Tenets – and I hope his clarity will stimulate the much-needed revival of English landscape architecture. It is of interest that one of the landscape architects with the clearest vision of where the profession should be heading was born in the UK and works in the US – see this interview, in which Time Magazine describes James Corner as an Urban Dreamscaper.

Freshkills Park, New York City – a Landscape Urbanism project by James Corner

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 Ecological Urbanism

Landscape (Ecological) Urbanism is a better name

Landscape (Ecological) Urbanism is a better name

Wiki has the following accounts of landscape and ecological urbanism
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.

London cycling die-in protest outside TfL offices on 29th November 2013


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.

Kongjian Yu – landscape architecture as an art of survival

I have praised Kongjian Yu’s work before and much enjoyed his lecture to the HGSD (above). I particularly like his advice to ‘make friends with the flood’ and to design for the ‘integration of contemporary art and ecology’. But I am having doubts about my call for him to be appointed Chief Technical Officer to the The Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development 住房和城乡建设部. For sure, he would be very good at the job – but the landscape architecture profession has greater need of him.
It is bad mannered of me to criticise Kongjian after he quotes me in his lecture, but there are two historical points I would like to correct. First, the history of landscape architecture in east and west can be traced back for thousands of years – though its name is but 185 years old. Second, the planning of western gardens and parks ‘for ornament’ dates from c1700 and is now in decline. Older parks and gardens were always planted for food.
So here is an invitation: next time Kongjian Yu is in London I would be delighted to show him round my local park and the new building for the University of Greenwich Department of Landscape Architecture. Greenwich Park was designed in 1660 primarily for food production – and it still produces a large quantity of food, much of which is collected by ethnic Chinese. So it is very appropriate that the roof of the new school has the production of food as one of its main design aims: it will be used for research into the use of living roofs for food production and other sustainable purposes.

Cycle Infrastructure Guide UK and the landscape architecture of the Waterlink Greenway


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.

Waterlink Green Way

Waterlink Greenway recommended alternative route map


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.

UK Cycling Policy and Landscape Architecture Grade Cycle Paths

London's famous Yellow Cycle Lanes are perilous for cyclists but great for the medical profession


Isn’t it amazing that a mere 2% trips in the UK are made by bike, compared with 14% in Germany and 30% in Holland? As everyone knows, Britain’s cycle paths, like its NHS and Black Cabs, are ‘the envy of the world’. Our famous Yellow Cycle Paths are designed to protect the jobs of highwaymen and create jobs for doctors. And what a great contribution they make. We hardly have to allocate any land or money to cycling and it makes a massive contribution to the workload of Accident and Emergency Departments throughout the land.
London is raising the percentage of its transport budget spent on cycling to 2%. This is great news for doctors and nurses. If it had been increased to 30%, heading for Dutch and Danish levels, there is a real danger that cycling would become safer and more popular. This would lead directly to fewer accidents, fewer strokes and fewer heart attacks. There is also a terrible risk that the salaries of landscape architects would exceed those of doctors, because of the great contribution to health and wellbeing made by Landscape Architecture Grade Cycle Paths. This could threaten the very liveliehood of thousands of health professionals. They would give up being highwaymen and sawbones to become landscape architects. What good would that do for the British Medical Association or the Institute of Civil Engineers? None! ‘Say No to Greening London’. Keep the two-wheeled blighters in their Narrow Yellow Lanes. Let them drip sweat, break bones and ooze blood for a thousand years.

London cycling image courtesy Tejvan

Sustainable green roofs and solar walls in urban landscape design

Amazing but true: the price of solar panels after dropping at about 6% per year for a decade, the price of solar panels is now dropping at 20% per year. If this continues for 5 years solar power is going to be cheaper than coal power. But the cost of electricity transmission is not falling so it will be advantageous to have solar panels as close as possible to the buildings in which the electricity is used. So the likely future of urban design is: solar panels on the walls and vegetation of the roofs. No more dead walls and, since pv panels are reflective, we can look forward to sunlight being reflected into the previously dark corners of cities. Retaining the ‘matchbox’ form of recent cities would not be sensible. We can look forward to some entirely different urban forms and to a much fuller integration of landscape design with architectural design.
Images courtesy afagen and mgifford,