London’s Olympic Village gardens: an appreciation

by Tom Turner @ 5:15 pm April 6, 2014 -- Filed under: Garden Design,Landscape Architecture,Urban Design   

QE Park Olympic Village: the charming lane with its rustic cottages

QE Park Olympic Village: the charming lane with its rustic cottages


Making an Olympic Village in the Lea Valley’s Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park was a delightful idea. I love to stroll along a village high street. At dawn one hears the cocks crow and sees the milkmaids setting off for work. The crooked old streets have banks of wild flowers. On a summer’s eve the children play and God, one thinks, must have been in a very good mood when he made this place. Poetry fills one’s heart as one rushes to put down a deposit.
Stands the Church clock at ten to three?
And is there honey still for tea?

[Rupert Brooke]
***
Nestling amid the trees we see the manor-house, the
abode of the squire, an ancient dwelling-place of Tudor or
Jacobean design, surrounded by a moat, with a good terrace-
walk in front, and a formal garden with fountain and sun-
dial and beds in arabesque. It seems to look down upon
the village with a sort of protecting air. Near at hand are
some old farm-houses, nobly built, with no vain pretension
about them. Carefully thatched ricks and barns and stables
and cow-sheds stand around them
.
[Peter Hampson Ditchfield]
***
Sweet Olympic! loveliest village of the plain,
Where health and plenty cheer’d the labouring swain,
Where smiling spring its earliest visit paid,
And parting summer’s lingering blooms delay’d:
Dear lovely bowers of innocence and ease,
Seats of my youth, when every sport could please,
How often have I loiter’d o’er thy green,
Where humble happiness endear’d each scene!
How often have I paus’d on every charm,
The shelter’d cot, the cultivated farm,
The never-failing brook, the busy mill,
The decent church that topt the neighbouring hill,
The hawthorn bush, with seats beneath the shade,
For talking age and whisp’ring lovers made!

[Oliver Goldsmith]
***
The Village Life, and every care that reigns
O’er youthful peasants and declining swains;
What labour yields, and what, that labour past,
Age, in its hour of languor, finds at last;
What form the real Picture of the Poor,
Demand a song–the Muse can give no more.

[George Crabbe]
Wonderful too that our present Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Right Honourable George Osborne MP, wants to give us our first Garden City for a hundred years at Ebbsfleet in Kent – so long famed as The Garden of England. I expect it will be just as wonderful as the Olympic Village – and maybe even as wonderful as the Ajman Garden City itself.
The British government loves villages so much that it wants to expand them all into towns and then into cities. The reason for this is that ‘expanding existing settlements’ is seen as better than ‘building new towns’.

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

by Tom Turner @ 8:52 am March 27, 2014 -- Filed under: Asian gardens and landscapes,context-sensitive design,Sustainable design,Urban Design   


‘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

by Tom Turner @ 6:10 am March 23, 2014 -- Filed under: green walls,Landscape Architecture,Sustainable design,Sustainable Green Roofs,Urban Design   
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.

Will Ebbsfleet be a Garden City a New Town or an overblown Housing Estate?

by Tom Turner @ 10:00 am March 18, 2014 -- Filed under: landscape planning,Urban Design   

Ebbsfleet Garden City New Town Housing Estate

Ebbsfleet Garden City or New Town or Housing Estate?

George Osborne, the Chancellor, has announced that the government will pump money into residential development around Ebbsfleet Station on the High Speed 1/Channel Tunnel Rail Link line. It is a suitable site for sure – or rather it was made ‘suitable’ by allowing the former Blue Circle Cement Company to excavate the land without imposing adequate planning conditions to ensure its restoration or to provide for an afteruse. Since the Chancellor, rather than a Defra minister, made the announcement, let’s start with financial considerations:
1) will it, like the real Garden Cities (Welwyn, Letchworth etc) be an idealistic private enterprise project with an emphasis on gardens, parks and landscape development? No.
2) will it, like the post-1946 New Towns, be a central government project, making money by buying land at agricultural prices and selling some of it at development land prices? We have not been told – but I doubt it.
3) will it be a subsidised housing project with few objectives except ‘get ‘em up in time for the next election’? Quite likely.
Now let’s consider the design aspects:
1) will it be a ‘city’ of houses with generous gardens and parks? I doubt it.
2) will it, like most contemporary residential projects in and around London, be a development of medium-rise residential blocks with no ground-level gardens, no green living walls and no roof gardens? Very probably.
So what should be done? I have no objection to using a development corporation to take the project out of local government control (until it is built) PROVIDING central government involvement is used to achieve public interest objectives. They should use development corporation powers to streamline and enhance the planning process. Then they should spend much of the promised £200m on green infrastructure. This would kick-start the project, as is desired, and achieve public goods comparable to those provided by the Garden Cities and the New Towns.
It is significant that the population of Ebbsfleet ‘Garden City’, at 15,000, will be the same as that of England’s best twentieth century housing development: Hampstead Garden Suburb. The Suburb (which is what Ebbsfleet should be called) was designed ‘on garden city lines’ using the transition concept developed on the great estates of the eighteenth and nineteen centuries.

Graffiti, street art and murals

by Tom Turner @ 7:24 am March 13, 2014 -- Filed under: context-sensitive design,Urban Design   

Street Art in Hackney

Street Art in Hackney

In Australia, ‘Melbourne’s street art puts it in on the tourist map (alongside Berlin, New York, London, Los Angeles and SaoPaulo) enabling it to compete with Sydney and the famous harbour and Opera House’. So Melbourne has an enlightened policy on street art and the city council hosts a gallery of street art.
In London, Graffiti, street art and murals are subject to borough control, not GLA control. Greenwich, my local council, suffers from the blinkers you would expect from 43 years of political control by the same party. So the policy is about ‘grafitti’ instead of ‘street art’. Here it is:
Graffiti removal
We aim to keep all council property free of graffiti, but we need your help. If you report a graffiti problem to us, we will deal with it.
How to report graffiti
You can report by mail, phone, email or online form using the details on the right.
If you can, please provide details about those responsible for the graffiti. We will try to make them, or their parents or guardians if applicable, to pay for the graffiti removal.
What happens next
Our cleaning team will inspect and remove offensive and racist graffiti within 24 hours. Other graffiti on the outsides of Council property will be removed within three working days.
Graffiti on private property
The team will also remove graffiti on private property, although there may be a charge for non-offensive graffiti.
We require signed permission from the owner before we remove any graffiti from private property.
Anti-social behaviour
In some cases – for instance, when it seriously affects you or causes great inconvenience – graffiti can be considered a type of anti-social behaviour.

Hackney was long considered the worst-run borough in London but has had more diverse political control in recent years and has undergone rapid trendification. Anyway, the above illustration is from Hackney and the policy is on Graffiti, street art and murals. One could regard it as enlightened, at least in comparison to Greenwich eg ‘We recognise that some people consider that street art makes a positive contribution to the urban environment. If your property has a piece of street art or mural on it, you must contact our Environmental Enforcement team to let us know that you would like to keep it.’ BUT the Hackney Hedgehog is on a building marked ‘to let’ so it was probably done without the owner’s permission. Does this make it graffiti and an act of vandalism attributable to migrants from Eastern Europe? The poor beastie looks a bit underfed. Or is it political activism by deep ecologists who want more more planning for nature in urban areas?

Image courtesy gruntzooki!

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

by Tom Turner @ 6:20 pm March 5, 2014 -- Filed under: Landscape Architecture,landscape planning,Sustainable Green Roofs,Urban Design   


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

 

 

 

The landscape architecture of Maidan Nezalezhnosti = Independence Square Kiev

by Tom Turner @ 5:36 pm February 25, 2014 -- Filed under: Landscape Architecture,Public parks,Urban Design   

Independence Maidan Kiev

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?
independence_square_kiev_maidan

A Landscape Manifesto, by Diana Balmori

by Tom Turner @ 6:47 am February 21, 2014 -- Filed under: Garden Design,Landscape Architecture,Urban Design   


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.

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

by Tom Turner @ 11:39 am January 27, 2014 -- Filed under: Landscape Ecological Urbanism,landscape urbanism,Urban Design   

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.

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