Will Alsop Martha Schwartz debate landscape architecture

Having criticized Martha Schwartz and long considered Will Alsop the ‘Clown Prince of Architecture’ I was curious to hear them discuss Alsop’s philosophical notion that ‘No landscape architect should ever get hold of these [landscape] commissions because they have completely institutionalized the idea of public space’. As you can see, Alsop’s main complaints against the landscape profession are (1) there are too many about  (2) they do not know their trees (3) they are doing too much urban design and master planning (which Alsop would rather do himself?).

Schwartz does a passable job of defending her turf but eventually blurts out the truth ‘You and I are very much alike in how we work’. It would also be interesting to hear Hitler and Stalin debating the philosophical notion that ‘Dictators should never be allowed to run countries’. They might even have agreed to design a Satellite Town – in Poland.

I was sorry to hear Schwartz slagging off garden design. It is a fine art of the highest order and it has laid the basis for the world’s most admired urban designs: Isfahan, Rome, Paris, Georgian London, Beijing and Washington DC. I would also like to refer them both to my proposed definition of landscape architecture.

Can anyone dispute that buildings must be designed in relation to landform, water, planting, and paving? Or that outdoor space should be beautiful, ecological and and socially useful? Are architects or landscape architects able to achieve this? Some are; some are not. Martha Schwartz seems better at aesthetic composition than at dealing with social and ecological issues. Alsop is a bozo: all sop with a dash of pop.

13 thoughts on “Will Alsop Martha Schwartz debate landscape architecture

  1. Robert Holden

    Bit of a love in … well sure Alsop is right to say landscape architects should know their trees… meaning they should have a profound understanding of the biosphere and of botany and horticulture… but what does he mean by saying there are so many, in the UK they are 3000 memmbers of the Landscape Institute (half the numbers in Germany and far fewer than the 30 000 architects in the UK) and yes so much English landscape architecture is institutional. Can’t think what he means by the slate and railway sleepers encountered when working in Paris, Mien Ruys popularised railways sleepers and Ben Jakobsen and John Brookes used them quite a lot in the 1960s.

    Note sure why landscape architects cannot act as urban designers and indeed as masterplanners. Sounds all rather like professional masturbation. Martha needs to know that when an English man of Allsopp’s generation calls a female “My dear” he means abase yourself. She sucked up to him.

    Interesting range of audience reactions ranging from the wide eye worshippers to the eye tightly closed thinking how can I bear any more of this.

  2. stefan

    interestingly, most of those names are designers who try to design the landscape in an architectural style. i’ve always thought that landscape should never try to be architecture, although i understand the temptation. its alright for an architect to try and create a ‘wow’ building, and get a lot of press, but landscape architecture is a more subtle business. often the point of a landscape scehme is NOT to draw attention to itself, but work and flow quietly.

  3. stefan

    its okay for a landscape to contain architectural elements, but thats a different thing

    i think the public has the right to wary about architects getting involved with public space. after looking at the visual history of my own town, im aware of how their experiments with modernism and urban planning, not to mention their egos! have ruined it beyond repair, as they have with towns and cities across the country. not a record to be proud of. approach with caution i say!

  4. Nick

    I think Andy is correct.

    It’s clear the Mr. Alsop is quite threatened by LA’s. For whatever reason, as I can’t believe he actually believes what he’s saying, he conveys a very ignorant point of view more consistent with someone either just out of work or just out of college. I’m not sure what this will do for his reputation ultimately.

  5. Tom Turner Post author

    I love art and I respect the total right of every artist to follow his/her own soul.
    Landscape design can be a fine art but it can also be a social art and it is important not to muddle the two. If a client wants social design then there is no good in giving them a work of art. This applies to both architecture (eg Will Allsop) and to landscape architecture (eg Martha Schwartz). But of course: if the client wants a work of art then that is what they should have!
    PS: what do you mean by a ‘true’ person?

  6. Tom Turner Post author

    Thank you for the link and the explanation. I tried a machine translation and found the text very interesting – but not quite good enough to be sure of the meaning. What do you think of this as a US account of a true person, in song:

    Fighting soldiers from the sky
    Fearless men who jump and die
    Men who mean just what they say
    The brave men of the Green Beret

    See also

    I have the idea that Chinese people are very good at ‘plain speaking’ but that they see it (like laughter) as a pleasure for ‘friends and family’ rather than something to do in public – and I think the reason for this is that China has long been a highly organized society in which the good of all the people has been seen as more important than the good of an individual. And I am probably wrong!
    Americans are very good at plain speaking in public and the British are half-way in between. And I should not make generalizations of this type!

  7. Ying

    Yes, you are right,although you are not Chinese( I guess):-)

    But most of Chinese,they even cannot speak straightly.Can you believe? But it is true.
    In order to let you know this clearly, I take myself as an example.
    I have two friends A and B.One day, I found that A changed her normal attitude to me.Just I felt. Afer some days, I talked with B.B told me that A had said many things about me.But the truth is that all of A’s thinking is 1000% her misunderstanding about me.

    I found that the Chinese person like A is very stupid.1) why they donot speak to me straightly when they feel something not happy? maybe I will help them to get the right thinking 2) what they want to do? to speak to the other one 3)what are they thinking everyday? to make a better life,a worse life? Therefore, I found that the TRUE is much much better, so I love the true persons.:-) I HATE most of the Chinese who think like this. But most of the Chinese are like this!

    BACK TO MARTHA, I like her very much,she is true,she is very close to my spirit. I believe that EVERY LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTS WHO THOUGHT THAT “SHE IS CRAZY”, will like her after they meet her.

    Anyway, I like this peom very much. It is a shame that my English can not compare with my Chinese. So I cannot write English Peom or understand English peom very well. But I can feel the “pictures and stories” in the poem. Thank you.

  8. Tom Turner Post author

    You are right: I am not Chinese!
    I guess it is partly that Chinese people have reason to worry about getting into trouble for speaking truly, and partly that speaking truly does not do much good. Here is a report about environmental activists who spoke the truth about the Three Gorges Dam: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/article2537279.ece
    But similar criticisms were made of the Aswan High Dam, in Egypt, and it seems to have let the population double several times!


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