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 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
Independence Maidan Kiev
Asked by a communist dictator to design the central space in a capital city what should a landscape architect do?
- go for the Baroque, as so many communist leaders did (left above)?
- spend on bling, as was done in Kiev? (below)
- keep the space clear, to facilitate future revolutions (right above)?
It was the ‘square’s’ name which made me wonder about the alternatives. ‘Maidan’, I assume, is a Persian word which, I guess, was brought to Kiev by the Tartars. They were a Turkic people and the Turks, as former nomads, learned much from the urban civilisation of Persia (just as the Persians, also formerly nomadic, learned from the urban civilisation of Mesopotamia). See photos of the Maidan in Isfahan – it was a space used for markets, games of polo and military displays. The present square dates from after the Tartar period and took its present form after the Second World War. In 1919 it was Soviet Square and in 1935 it became Kalinin Square. The present name came with independence in 1991. Please correct me if I am wrong but I think the bling (fountains, planters etc) appeared after the Orange Revolution of 2004. [Note: one can’t help wondering if the re-design proposal for Gezi Square is, in part, an idea for how to prevent public spaces being used by revolutionaries). If so, please could we know the designers’ names.
Should the Maidan be re-designed to take account of the latest revolution?
Still working on a landscape architecture manifesto, I was pleased to find Diana Balmori’s book A Landscape Manifesto (Yale University Press, 2010). She comes across in the above video as a thoughtful and likeable person. I also support the principles of her manifesto (see below) while thinking they could be shorter and clearer – her drawings and design work are strong in these respects (see, for example, Balmori’s Garden Climbs the Steps in Bilbao). The word ‘manifesto’ derives from the Latin manifestum, meaning clear or conspicuous. It came into English during the seventeenth century and the practice of issuing art and design manifestos became widespread in the 20th century. Let’s hope landscape architecture manifestos become widespread in the 21st century. Heidi Hohmann and Joern Langhorst got us off to a good start in 2004, with Landscape architecture: an apocalyptic manifesto, though its strength is in making the case for manifestos.
25 points: Diana Balmori’s Landscape Architecture Manifesto
1. Nostalgia for the past and utopian dreams for the future prevent us from looking at our present.
2. Nature is the flow of change within which humans exist. Evolution is its history. Ecology is our understanding of its present phase.
3. All things in nature are constantly changing. Landscape artists need to design to allow for change, while seeking a new course that enhances the coexistence of humans with the rest of nature.
4. Landscape forms encapsulate unseen assumptions. To expose them is to enter the economic and aesthetic struggles of our times.
5. Historical precedents do not support the common prejudice that human intervention is always harmful to the rest of nature.
6. Shifts are taking place before our eyes. Landscape artists and architects need to give them a name and make them visible. Aesthetic expertise is needed to enable the transforming relations between humans and the rest of nature to break through into public spaces.
7. High visibility, multiple alliances, and public support are critical to new landscape genres that portray our present.
8. Landscape—through new landscapes—enters the city and modifies our way of being in it.
9. New landscapes can become niches for species forced out of their original environment.
10. The new view of plants as groups of interrelated species modifying each other, rather than as separate and fixed, exemplifies fluidity—a main motif of landscape form.
11. Nostalgic images of nature are readily accepted, but they are like stage scenery for the wrong play.
12. In his History of the Modern Taste in Gardening (l780), Horace Walpole says William Kent “was the first to leap the fence and show that the whole of nature was a garden.” Today landscape “has leapt the fence” in the opposite direction, to the city, making it part of nature.
13. Existing urban spaces can be rescued from their current damaging interaction with nature.
14. Landscape artists can reveal the forces of nature underlying cities, creating a new urban identity from them.
15. Landscape can create meeting places where people can delight in unexpected forms and spaces, inventing why and how they are to be appreciated.
16. A landscape, like a moment, never happens twice. This lack of fixity is landscape’s asset.
17. We can heighten the desire for new interactions between humans and nature where it is least expected: in derelict spaces.
18. Emerging landscapes are becoming brand new actors on the political stage.
19. Landscape renders the city as constantly evolving in response to climate, geography, and history.
20. Landscape can show artistic intention without imposing a predetermined meaning.
21. Landscape can bridge the line between ourselves and other parts of nature—between ourselves and a river.
22. Landscape is becoming the main actor of the urban stage, not just a destination.
23. The edge between architecture and landscape can be porous.
24. Landscape can be like poetry, highly suggestive and open to multiple interpretations.
25. We must put the twenty-first century city in nature rather than put nature in the city. To put a city in nature will mean using engineered systems that function as those in nature and deriving form from them.
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.
The Oxford English Dictionary offers this useful definition of greenwash (n)
Pronunciation: Brit. /ˈɡriːnwɒʃ/ , U.S. /ˈɡrinˌwɔʃ/ , /ˈɡrinˌwɑʃ/
Etymology: < green adj. + wash n., after whitewash n.
Misleading publicity or propaganda disseminated by an organization, etc., so as to present an environmentally responsible public image; a public image of environmental responsibility promulgated by or for an organization, etc., regarded as being unfounded or intentionally misleading.
1987 D. Bellamy in Sanity Sept. 28/1 They create a lot of environmental ‘greenwash’, and thank god for it, because they create some very good nature reserves. But they’re also commissioning uneconomic nuclear power stations.
1989 Observer 5 Mar. 14/2 Six Ministers launched ‘Environment in Trust’, a clutch of pastel-shaded leaflets putting a greenwash over the Government’s environmental record.
1993 New Scientist 10 Apr. 22/2 While they can be useful, these sorts of standards are sometimes used quite cynically—as corporate greenwash.
2003 Managem. Today Jan. 45/2 Companies only report what they want to report, and it’s mostly greenwash and PR.
London’s proposed Garden Bridge (image courtesy Arup)
Let us join the chorus of support for London’s Garden Bridge. The government and the Greater London Authority have promised to pay half the cost – so finding the rest should be a formality. The idea was conceived by the star actress Joanna Lumley in 1998 (she is also a patron of the Druk White Lotus School
). But her idea slept for 14 years, until TfL asked for ideas about new ways of crossing the Thames. Thomas Heatherwick, working with Arup (coincidentally the architects for the Druk School), published the above design last summer – and half the funding was promised this month. The Garden Bridge will be 367 metres long and 30 metres wide at its widest point. It will connect a point near Temple station to a point near Gabriel’s Wharf on the South Bank Centre.
As an idea, it is wonderfully superior to Hungerford Bridge and, of course, to the London Eye
. But what all three projects teach us is THE DESIGN PROFESSIONS SHOULD NOT WAIT TO BE ASKED. If designers, especially landscape architects (because of their concern with the public realm), have a good idea then they should draw it and publish it.
Useful links re the Garden Bridge:
TfL consultation on the Garden Bridge
Garden Bridge Trust website (with video)
The above photograph from Tower Bridge was taken yesterday on my way to the cycle petition hand-in. It struck me as a real Joseph Conrad view of the river and Andrew Cowan Architects design for Hermitage Wharf looks much better than Foster’s design for Albion Riverside. Then I remembered having written a critical comment on Hermitage Wharf a few years ago. Checking it, I was pleased to find that I had praised the architecture and that it was the wretchedly dull riverside space I had criticised. Maybe Tower Hamlets’ planners mandated a bad landscape design because of the South Bank type crowds they were anticipating?
We are pleased to publish the hitherto-unseen concept which so evidently inspired Lord Norman Foster’s pair of Thames Boomboxes. As previously agreed, Lord Norman does ‘an awfully good box‘. His heart is in the right place: he speaks with enthusiasm about urban design and works with good landscape architects. The problem, I fear, is that his head is in the wrong place. He sees buildings as objects, not as the creators of space. His own office (the left-hand building, above) is a fine box. But, like a hifi box or another consumer product, it could fit equally well in any context. There is nothing-London and nothing-Thames about it or the curvy adjoining residential boombox – except of course for its wannabe name: The Albion. The above photograph was taken on a warm day in late summer. Re-visited last week a howling gale was being funneled through the arch under the Albion. The ambient temperature was 11C and, with wind-chill, felt like -1C. So, while perfectly able to admire Foster and Partners architecture, I condemn this example of the firm’s the landscape architecture and urban design. The half-doughnut building faces due north, so that its wings keep out all sunlight except for mid-day in mid-summer. This is not my idea of good conditions for enjoying a good outdoor life beside a great river.
I see the Banks of the Thames as a place where, during the twentieth century, unimaginative planning and selfishly mediocre architecture often conspired to produce designs better suited to a rundown provincial town than to the heart of a great city. Skylines, landscape and architecture should be considered together, looking to the past and looking to the future. ‘Protecting’ views is important but insufficient. Proposals for ‘high buildings’ ‘tall buildings’ and ‘towers’ should be viewed in context, never in isolation. Studies of their visual and environmental impact require scenic quality assessments, a policy context and full testing on a digital model of the city. As the below quotations reveal, London’s river is both a Place of Darkness and a Place of Light.
William Blake, in 1794, found ‘in every face I meet / Marks of weakness, marks of woe’ where ‘the Thames does flow’.
William Wordsworth, 8 years later found the Thames a river of beauty and romance. He declared that ‘Earth has not anything to show more fair’ (1802).
Joseph Conrad, in 1899, knew the Thames as a place of history, romance, toil, darkness and light. He saw London as ‘the biggest, and the greatest, town on earth’, a place which had known ‘the dreams of men, the seed of commonwealths, the germs of empires’ and was yet ‘one of the dark places of the earth.’
Since 1945 property developers have seen the Thames as a place to make a quick buck
Since 2000, some wealthy immigrants have viewed riverside apartments as great places to launder the ill-gotten gains of financial scams and miscellaneous corruption.
Recent blog posts about London’s River Thames skyline landscape
See also: Rem Koolhaas on London’s skyline. Koolhaas remarks that ‘London has always changed dramatically and it’s still is not a very dramatic city. So it can go on. I think that in London whatever you do you do not disturb an earlier coherence. You do not disturb an earlier utopia like in Paris. It can stand a lot of development without suffering’. I read this comment as a polite way of saying that most of London’s riverside is pretty dull, as the above video shows, it has its moments – but not enough of them.