Category Archives: Sustainable design

Pope Francis and the green environment

Welcome to Pope Francis. The early news is good: his habits include opposing the government of Argentina, walking to work and cooking his own food. And his choice of name is presumably after St Francis of Assisi. The child abuse scandals should have brought the Roman Catholic Church to its knees, begging forgiveness, but it would be something to have a Pope who cared about the birds and the flowers and the environment. To set against this, he is said to be as much against condoms, married priests and gay clergy as his immediate predecessor. For me, one of the most terrible aspects of Catholic Child Abuse is the reflection that if they have done this with all the communications and transparency of the twenty-first century, then what else have they done over the centuries? They have always taken young boys into monasteries and I recall that Charlemagne was much concerned about the prevelance of homosexuality in monasteries. For a lively debate on these issues see: http://www.intelligencesquared.com/admin/past-event-3/
I love the use of an ancient symbol (white smoke) to anounce Pope Francis’ election, and though not seriously worried about this contribution to global warming, we have to take an interest in the symbolism of smoke in relation to the Christianity’s lack of an environmental ethic.

Wind turbines' landscape and financial impact in the UK

Wind turbines beside a motorway in North West France (image courtesy P-Y Bégin)


Big landowners have the easiest job getting planning permission for wind turbines, because the only people who live within sight are likely to be their tenants. Wind farm subsidies were about £1bn in 2012, though the rate of subsidy was cut by 10% this year. I drove past an ugly wind farm in Scotland this year, with 22 turbines dominating the landscape. The visual impact was grim, so I began to wonder about their financial impact. With the advantage of generous subsidies, Merryn Somerset Webb calculates that each turbine will yield the owner a profit of £200,000/year for 20 years. This amounts to £4m over the period, or £88m for the group of turbines. This lets the ‘generous’ company which developed the scheme give £1m to the local community over the 20 year period. A landowner who allows a turbine on his land can expect a rent of £1m over the period (£50,000/year). So why not follow the French example and locate the turbines on land beside motorways? This would keep the two sorts of ugliness together and remind motorists that they should be using electricity to power their vehicles. The airflow from vehicles might even be used, with special turbines, to generate electricity when there is no wind. Noise barriers could designed to deflect air currents to roadside turbines.
At present, visitors to the UK probably conclude that UK policy is to splat wind turbines anywhere in the landscape, providing only that no wealthy people, except landowners, live near them.

Top 20 International Landscape Architecture & Design Websites 2012

We were pleased to see the GSP list of the Top 20 International Landscape Architecture & Design Websites 2012: Giants of Landscape Architecture Online – and very pleased to appear on the list:

1. Places @PlacesJournal

2. Gardenvisit.com – The Garden Landscape Guide @gardenvisit

3. Sustainable Design and Development Blog @landarchitects

4. The Dirt @landarchitects

5. ASLA American Society of Landscape Architects @landarchitects

6. Land8Lounge @Land8

7. Landscape Online

8. The Cultural Landscape Foundation @TCLFdotORG

9. Center for Land Use Interpretation Facebook

10. The Vertical Farm Project @VFDoctor

11. Landezine: Landscape Architecture Works

12. World Landscape Architecture

13. Pruned

14. LI Landscape Institute

15. Urban Greenery

16. Landscape+Urbanism

17. Landscape Architects Network

18. Landscape Architecture Magazine

19. D.U.S. – Design Under Sky

20. LandscapeArchitecture.org

Korea's Four Rivers Landscape Restoration Plan

Korea's Four Major Rivers Landscape 'Restoration' Project

Korea's Four Major Rivers Landscape 'Restoration' Project

Having completed a remarkable river landscape reclamation plan for the Cheonggyecheon, Korea now plans to ‘restore’ four more rivers. I put ‘restore’ in quotation marks because the intention is to more forwards instead of backwards. This may be the correct policy but it is surely the wrong verb. Korea has a commendably ambitious Green Growth Policy which sees greening the environment as productive of economic benefits.
The map (kindly supplied by the Ministry of Land, Transport and Maritime Affairs, Korea) has the curious effect of representing the Korean Peninsula as an island. Is it saying ‘China, go hang’? I am delighted that each of the rivers is marked as a cycle route. We should all learn from Korea’s national landscape strategy.

Cycle planning in London – landscape architects should help

Cyclists love AmsterdamGreat to see cycling as an issue in the election for a London Mayor and, since it is safer to judge politicians by what they do than by what they say, I will vote for the re-election of Boris Johnson. I have SEEN him cycling to work in London. Ken Livingstone  says a bit about cycling but, during his years as Mayor, I SAW no significant improvements – and nor did I hear of him riding a bike.

To ride with the election, the London Cycling Campaign is running  a ‘Love London, Go Dutch’ campaign. The LCC points out that in the 1970s, cycling was not much more popular in Amsterdam than in London. Today, 3% of London journeys are made by bike (this includes 90% of my journeys!) and 47% of Amsterdam journeys are made by bike (figures from Evening Standard 26.4.2012). The cycle park at Zuid Station holds 2500 bikes and parking is free for the first 24 hours. TfL has a cycle park at London Bridge Station which holds 400 bikes and costs £1.50/day.  I would like to see landscape architects taking an active role in London Cycle Planning and Design. Those ugly Barclays cycle ‘superhighways’ should be replaced by beautifully designed  leafy and flowery routes. This will cost money – and the Landscape Institute should be a very-active campaigner for safe, convenient and enjoyable cycle lanes. It would not surprise me if 50% of landscape architects cycle to work in London – so they can be trusted to produce good designs.

Image courtesy MaWá

MOER Green roofs: history, classification and naming

Scandinavian Green Roof Institute at Malmo

Scandinavian Green Roof Institute at Malmo

This blog has often discussed green roofs and green roof typologies but they always need more consideration:

Green roofs c3500BC

Turf was the standard roofing material in Neolithic North Europe. You can still see this roofing technique in Norway and Iceland

Roof garden c1000BC

The most famous elevated garden in history, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, may not have been on a roof. Nothing is known about the construction and they may have been ‘hanging’ on an embankment rather then a roof. But they were definitely used as a garden and the only illustration of this type of space is a carved tablet in the British Museum. This was a place for fruits and flowers and a place to walk in the cool of the evening

Roof gardens in the twentieth century

Cities were becoming much denser and much higher-rise, so people began making modern roof gardens. Corbusier proposed one in Paris and the landscape architect, Ralph Hancock, designed one for Derry and Toms, now called the Kensington Roof Garden

Green roofs in the twentieth century

People began to remember that ‘green stuff’ could also serve as a roof-covering material and then found many reasons for reviving the idea: water conservation, biodiversity, acoustics, insulation etc. This led to the making of what are called ‘extensive’ green roofs and, by way of contrast, roof ‘gardens’ came to be called ‘extensive’ green roofs. I think the terminology began in Germany.

Moer Roofs in the twenty-first century

The City of Malmö and the Scandinavian Green Roof institute established a 9000m3 green roof which is called the Augustenborg Botanical Roof Garden. It is a good project and, though the name suggests ‘a botanical garden on a roof’, the design objectives of the Malmö roof are broad: ‘environmental, economical, and to improve storm water management, health and aesthetics in our communities’. This type of roof needs a new name and we could base it on MOER technology: Multi-Objective Environmental Roofing (pronounced as ‘mower’, for irony). The roles of a broad spectrum Moer Roof would include: social use, aesthetic use, food production use (including aquaponics), water conservation, biodiversity, acoustics, insulation, energy generation, sustainability etc. The SGRA has a useful classification of green roof advantages and design objectives
Image courtesy i-sustain

Space and place

Famous Danish Urbanist Jan Gehl after a nine month study of central Sydney in 2007 called for the addition of three new public squares along George Street:

“His report paints a picture of a city at war with itself – car against pedestrian, high-rise against public space. “The inevitable result is public space with an absence of public life,” he concludes.

His nine-month investigation found a city in distress. A walk down Market Street involved as much waiting at traffic lights as it did walking. In winter, 39 per cent of people in the city spend their lunchtimes underground, put off by a hostile environment at street level: noise, traffic, wind, a lack of sunlight and too few options for eating.”

If the City of Sydney was to implement his vision how would the addition of public space improve the perception of place in Sydney?

The City of Miami is also feeling the lack of a public centre. In considering the attributes of good public squares they describe a few of the most successful spaces in the US, including Union Square and Madison Square.

Feel free to nominate your favourite public square and tell us why it is so good!

Climate change in London and the Thames Estuary

Climate change in London and the Thames Estuary

The above chart, from the Museum of London, shows the pattern of climate change in the past  500,000 years. It does not have a vertical scale but I think mean temperatures were about ten degrees centigrade cooler at the Last Glacial Maximum (the last dip before the 50,000 years of global warming before the present). I am not a chart expert or a climate change expert but, to me, it looks as though a period of global cooling should be expected, whatever the consequences of man-made (anthropogenic) climate change.

Climate change has produced dramatic changes in the landscape of the Thames Valley

Bosco Verticale – vertical forest garden balconies in Milan

Green walls and green roof makes a forest appartment block in Milan

Congratulations to Stefano Boerion his Vertical Forest. He proclaims: ‘The first example of a Bosco Verticale composed of two residential towers of 110 and 76 meters height, will be realized in the centre of Milan, on the edge of the Isola neighbourhood, and will host 900 trees (each measuring 3, 6 or 9 m tall) apart from a wide range of shrubs and floral plants. On flat land, each Bosco Verticale equals, in amount of trees, an area equal to 10.000 sqm of forest. In terms of urban densification the equivalent of an area of single family dwellings of nearly 50.000 sqm.’
But will it work? I do not anticipate a horticultural problem with growing the trees. But will the residents want them? I am sceptical. A planted balcony with shrubs, flowers and living space is a delight. But there is a long history of residents not wanting large trees too near the windows of their houses. Trees keep out the sun and block views. The trees on top of the building should be a great success – providing the structural, horticultural and stability issues have been properly addressed.

Free street camping in Central London

Free camping in Central London

It used to be a regrettable fact that London did not have a campsite for those who find hotel prices steep. So the anti-capitalism protestors currently occupying the space in front of St Paul’s Cathedral have done backpackers a big favour. The Church, the police and the Corporation of London have, today, decided to take no action against the protestors. My conclusion is that anyone who wants to camp in a London street, square or public park only has to say ‘I am an anti-capitalist’ and they will be allowed to camp for free. At this time of year, my recommendation is to look for a pitch near the vent from an office building. Tramps have always know these places are well-supplied with hot air.
image courtesy spinkney

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

A new-to-become ancient tree was planted in Greenwich Park in 2011

New ancient chestunt tree in Greenwich Park

There used to be a Horse Chestnut tree planted here. It died and was left as a 750mm stump for a few years, in which time it was much used by children and by those parents who liked to see their offspring acting as statues. When the heartwood began to rot they dug up the stump and planted a Sweet Chestnut last month. Yesterday they placed the circular seat around the tree. I see this as a clear indication that the park managers are avid followers of this blog and are hoping the new tree will have a long life. The tree against which it is seen has been there for 350 years. They hope to keep a full copy of the internet on Archive.org – so I hope someone will be able to find this blog post in 3011 and take a photograph of whatever is then growing on this spot. I would also like to know how long the seat will survive (<30 years, I guess) and how long the dog litter bin survives (>100 years, I guess). Dogs used to drop their litter everywhere when I first visited Greenwich (about 30 years ago). Then some good ladies and gentlemen held a Dog Day. One of them stood by each entrance to the park for a day and very politely handed out polythene bags and asked dog owners to collect any droppings from the dogs. The idea caught on and the Royal Parks commissioned these iron dog litter bins. It has been a great success and the park is almost free of dog dirt. As Roland Barthes observed, the droppings of wild animals are inoffensive but those of domesticated pets, and humans, are offensive. Interesting.

Roland Barthes' diagram deals with the wild:domestic binary pair and applies to trees as well as animals

Love and care for the ancient trees in Greenwich Park

This is the right way to look after England's ancient trees

In 1661, Louis XIV was King of France, Charles II was King of England, Australia had been ‘discovered’ but not colonised, the Qing Dynasty and Harvard University were new – and this Castanea sativa was planted. The ugly 20th century bitmac path cut across its roots has been troubling me for years. So please join me in toasting the Royal Parks for re-routing the path to respect the tree. Better still if they had ripped up the beastly bitmac and replaced it with flint gravel, but one can’t have all one’s dreams come true in one week. They will just have to move the path again in a ?200 years time. See the Woodland Trust’s Ancient Tree Forum and the Guardian’s photos of Ancient Trees.

Londoners want to move from the City to the West Country


As this man walked past me I heard him bark into his mobile phone ‘I could pay the mortgate on a 5-bedroom farm in Devon for what I’m paying to rent in London’ (the photograph was taken outside the Temple Church, made famous by Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code, in the Inns of Court). Joel Garreau, in Edge City: Life on the New Frontier, 1991, suggested that the South of England from Dover to Bristol is effectively one large Edge City. That city is pushing into the West Country, with steep increases in property prices. The internet allows skilled residents to particpate in the knowledge economy while enjoying a peaceful landscape. This was, of course, Ebenezer Howard’s Garden City dream. Is the country made more or less sustainable when knowledge workers move out of London?

With broadband, the Devon countryside can become TOWN-COUNTRY

Michaelangelo's David considers the history of planting design and wonders if the LCHF diet would help the obesity epidemic


Michaelangelo’s David has wandered from his usual haunt, outside the Palazzo della Signoria in Florence, to visit the nearby garden of the Villa La Petraia. Looking west, he sees his American cousin, Dave, and wonders why he eats so much bread, candy and icecream, and why he has grown so fat, and why he has diabetes and heart disease. The trouble, David concludes, is that so many of his male contemporaries, despite their admiration for his lean figure, became interested in the aesthetic aspect of garden design. In Michaelangelo’s day, the main use of gardens was to grow vegetables and herbs, to flavour the fresh meat hunted on the hills around Florence, and fresh fruit, to eat as a desert. The Baroque style originated in Italy, but was developed in France and then returned to influence Italy. The old beds of fruit, herbs and vegetables then became ornamental and were laced with the clipped box hedges we see in Italian gardens today. Italian nobles turned away from their ‘Palaeolithic’ diet of meat, vegetables and herbs. Instead, they began to stuff themselves with pasta. Baroque navigation took Europeans to the Americas and by the late twentieth century Americans were stuffing themselves with pizza, hamburgers, candy and sweet soft drinks. This gave them the characteristic Dave figure, also seen at Villa La Petraia. Luckliy, Dr. Eenfeldt,, from Sweeden has given the Americans an excellent lecture on the Low Carb High Fat (LCHF) diet and you can see it on Youtube. See also: Sugar may be the world’s worst poison – so the EU subsidises sugar growers through its Common Agricultural Policy (CAP)

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.

Re-naming Green Martyrs' Square in Tripoli

WHAT NEW NAME SHOULD TRIPOLI'S CENTRAL SQUARE HAVE?

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.

Healing hurts: past

The big picture of the London Riots is very disturbing. The burnt out shell of the 140 year old Reeves furniture store is symbolic of the losses London has suffered. “It is now likely that the damage which was ‘worse than the blitz’ would force the ravaged building to be demolished and rebuilt.” How to explain the mindless and pointless destruction and the reckless endangering of life supposedly by a twentyone year old?

So is it social division, or a bizarre new form of recreation to relieve ennui, the result of political correctness, a new phenomenon of virtual gangs or some other cause?

More importantly, how should London rebuilt to heal hurts past and with a renewed confidence as the Olympic city? And what lessons does the experiences in London hold for the sustainable urban design and planning of other complex global cities?

London recreational looting in August 2011

Hozinja took this photo and made this comment ‘Caught in the middle of rioting on my way home last night. Fortunately the trouble was brief on Walworth Road and no buildings were set alight. Just young kids sensessly looting. These two girls stormed out of Boots with a few pickings as the police were making their way down the road.’ The two girls are wicked but they are not ‘senseless’. They are looting a shop and they know that they are unlikely to be arrested. If, as elsewhere, a large group is involved then it would be riot (‘A violent disturbance of the peace by a crowd’) and I agree with Christine that the Riot Act should be read and enforced. This act was a British statue from 1715-1973. It may have been in need of modification but it should not have been repealed. Our forebears were right to involve a non-policeman in the decision. Typically a magistrate would read the Riot Act and anyone who remained at the scene would be guilty for that reason alone. The wording was ‘Our Sovereign Lord the King chargeth and commandeth all persons, being assembled, immediately to disperse themselves, and peaceably to depart to their habitations, or to their lawful business, upon the pains contained in the act made in the first year of King George, for preventing tumults and riotous assemblies. God Save the King!’
But how to deal with the riot is less important than the prevention of future riots. I agree with John Bird (founder of the Big Issue magazine) that every person who receives unemployment benefit should do something in return for the money. But what could they do? My suggestion, thinking about my area of interest, is that 20% of the greenspace in London could be used for urban agriculture and that the work could be done by the presently unemployed.
Straying outside my professional interests, there are many elderly and infirm people who could stay on in their own homes, instead of being brutalised in ‘care’ homes, if they had personal helpers.
The underlying truth is that ‘the devil makes work for idle hands’ – assuming he counts looting a Boots shop as ‘work’.

GM Green Wall in Trafalgar Square designed by Shelley Mosco landscape architect

It is a pleasure to have a green wall in Trafalgar Square this summer, to cover some scaffolding. The green wall was sponsored by GE and the National Gallery, as part of its Carbon Plan. It was designed by landscape architect Shelley Mosco. It is based on Van Gogh’s Wheat Field with Cypresses (below left). Shelley’s planting design (below right) uses pointillist planting blocks for texture. The wall has 36 different species in 250x500mm modules, each containing 14 cells of 125x76mm). The living green wall is 4.8m x 7m and has over 8000 plants. Shelley is also interested in living green walls made with native plants,using a GIS system to guide plant selection for particular localities.