George Hargreaves as landscape architect for the 2012 London Olympic Park

George Hargreaves gave the first Geoffrey Jellicoe lecture to the Landscape Institute yesterday and, in truth, there was something of Jellicoe’s style about it. He began with a terse proposition and then mused through a large set of images. Hargreaves proposition was that the design of public open space takes place around three poles: Site, Sustainability and Memorability. He took us though a portfolio of former projects, so many in fact that common features became obvious: a stylized geometry (which reminded me of Alphand) but projected as sculpture into three dimensions. This worked well on occcasion but, so far as I could see had nothing to do with Site, Sustainability or Memorability. Thinking about the 2012 London Olympics, the first questioner made the point I raised on this webpage when the site was chosen and made again more recently: ‘what about the existing site and its memorability?’ ‘Ha’, said George, ‘we did not concentrate on Memorability for the 2012 Olympic Park. We did not try to keep industrial artifacts because the site was going to have too much traffic’.

Note George Hargreaves' shadow, on the left - is he reaching for something? Could it be a design theory?

So let us turn to the slide which shows the ‘Design Principles’ for the 2012 Olympic Park. They are:
1. Extend Games to Transformation/Legacy
Extend Transformation/Legacy to Games
2. Make more of the river
Make the river visible
3. Accentuate the north park as an environmentally biodiverse park
4. Accentuate the south park as an urban entertainment centre
The principles are fine – but I would call these ‘Planning Principles’ and use ‘Design Principles’ when including the aesthetic aspect of the scheme. If Hargreaves gave an explanation of the park’s aesthetic and artistic principles, I missed it. Most probably they are built into his psyche and therefore appear to need no explanation. As a design historian, I would explain it as geometrically Constructivist and thus a compatriot of Abstract Art. It is the curvilinear component of the Abstract Style Diagram.
As Tom Lehrer might have put it:
Who made me the genius I am today,
The mathematician that others all quote,
Who’s the professor that made me that way?
The greatest that ever got chalk on his coat.
One man deserves the credit,
One man deserves the blame,
And Kazimir Severinovich Malevich is his name.

Hargreaves was also questioned about the differences between his landscape master plans for the Sydney Olympics and the London Olympics. He explained: ‘they are completely different – at Sydney the river was on the edge of the site and in London it is in the middle’. Site is obviously an important consideration.

8 thoughts on “George Hargreaves as landscape architect for the 2012 London Olympic Park

  1. Jerry

    Tom, I love the second photograph!

    I also attended his lecture yesterday and felt that it could be better! I agree with you that the master-plan for the Olympic Park is old fashioned with an old story! While I was sitting there, a very interesting thing happened, I start to dream the future for Parks and POS. They has lots of interesting garden spaces in it and colorful! without the boring geometry lines!

    1. Tom Turner Post author

      One way of categorizing styles of landscape design is Rectilinear/Curvilinear. Another is Formal/Informal. By these measures, Hargreaves design for the 2012 Park – which I believe is going to be called the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park – would be hard to classify. It is more Curvilinear than Rectilinear but it is also more Informal than Formal. This takes us to the word Geometrical. It suggests a Rectilinear design but, as you rightly say, it also applies to Hargreaves’ design for the QEO Park. So this gives me a question: if you design a park WITHOUT geometry then what would it look like?

  2. Jerry

    Very good question! But what do you think about the Old Chinese garden’s design method, it seems that they are designed without the geometry . What is their design theory?- it is a important question. Do you think they also have some geometry thinking and beauty in it?

    1. Tom Turner Post author

      I think a very good question is in need of a very good answer! I do not know nearly enough about modern China to give that answer but as a simple general principle I think geometry and non-geometry make good partners.

  3. Adam Hodge

    Can any of you frightfully enlightend architects point me in the direction of what you deem to be both functional and beautiful in modern day landscape design..I read these very high brow comments both in this particular days blog and many previous days but don’t know what you all see as beautiful ,as I hope you are all striving to beautify our urban world ?!

    1. Tom Turner Post author

      The lack of easy answers is a criticism of modern landscape architecture and garden design. Form, as Louis Sullivan advised, is supposed to follow function. But outside buildings, the tendency has been to produce ‘funtionalist’ designs which lack functions! For me,the designer who looms largest, and best, in the combination of use with beauty, is Herbert Dreiseitl. The combination of use with beauty used to be more common and Stephen Switzer advised that:
      Utile quimiscens, ingentia Rura,
      Simplex Munditis ornat, punctum hic tulit omne
      [He that the beautiful and useful blends,
      Simplicity with greatness, gains all ends.]


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