Monthly Archives: August 2008

London's Olympic cycling routes

When London cycle routes are safe, beautiful and direct, they will be very popular. Motor vehicles can then be confined to indirect backstreets.

Doubtless, the 2012 athletes will be provided with excellent tracks. But will the cycle paths used to reach the Olympic path be of a decent standard? Maybe.

London had a ‘Cycle to Work Week’ c1974 and I decided to take part. Since then, I have been a regular London cyclist. It felt like pioneering to begin with but cycle usage in the capital has been increasing steadily. Official policy on cycling has also changed and now appears to be as follows:

  1. Appoint platoons of cycle planning officers to commission regiments of consultants on cycle planning.
  2. Include cyclist-friendly policies in local plans (UDPs)
  3. Proliferate signs to mark the London Cycle Network (LCN)
  4. Paint any unwanted patches of roadspace green and call them cycle routes
  5. Ignore routes which are popular with cyclists
  6. Spend as little money as possible on cycle routes
  7. Use traffic calming devices, known as chicanes, to kill and maim as many cyclists as possible.
  8. Introduce bendy busses, described as ‘public transport’, to mop up survirors and make London safe, once again, for vehicles powered by the infernal combustion engine.

So, on the whole, I am lack optimism about the legacy of the London Olympics including a single high-quality cycle route. There are only two reasons for optimism: London’s Mayor (Boris Johnson) and the present leader of the Tory Party (David Cameron) are both keen cyclists. But so was a former Minister of Transport (Sir George Younger) and he managed to achieve nothing of value.

In order to make cycle routes useful and beautiful, cycle route planning and design should be taken out of the hands of transport engineers. The job should be done by landscape architects – but only those who are themselves cyclists.

The Olympic landscape architecture of firework displays

With the hatred of competitive sport one learns best in a boys school, the only parts of the 2008 Olympics I watched on TV were the opening fireworks and the closing ceremony. China’s ancient prowess in fineworks and landscape painting were much in evidence.

Edinburgh: fireworks with landscape and architecture

My home town, Edinburgh, ushers in each new year with brilliant use of its castle as a stage and Princess Street as the front stalls (photo Jenni Douglas). Beijing had fireworks running around the Bird’s Nest and dashing into the city (photo Kathy Zhuang). London had a great display on The Mall in 2002 to celebrate the Queen’s Golden Jubilee. In 2012, it should have a display which bursts out of the Olympic Park, tears up Thames and visits each of the Royal Parks. Such a show, would be a small thank-you to all those unfortunate Londoners, like me, who are forced to contribute hard-earned cash to an otherwise hateful sporting event. Obviously, landscape architects must be involved in planning the landscape fireworkitecture.

See notes on London’s 2012 Olympic Park Development Project.

Roofscapes as citywide landscape architecture

The Dirt (ASLA) blog has a post on “living buildings”. It reviews the idea that in future a building ‘won’t just use less water; it will collect and treat it. It won’t just force air; it will filter it’. This reminds me of the excellent example ASLA set the world by putting a green roof on its own office building – and suggests a possible future for the profession. ‘Landscape architecture’ is, I believe, one of the world’s most important professions, but the general public has never come to terms with its name. We could and should give it a new slant by taking the lead in ‘the landscaping of architecture’. As the photo of the ASLA building shows, a focus on the landscape treatment of individual buildings in not enough. We should develop citywide landscape strategies for buildings with useful exterior surfaces. They can be used for recreation, carbon sequestration, food production, rainwater harvesting and much else. The diagram from a 1996 City as landscape essay on Eco-cities, suggests a citywide approach to the landscape treatment of roofscapes – and has a slight visual kinship with Michael Van Valkenburgh Associate’s design for the ASLA green roof.

Garden graduates from the University of Greenwich

Sarah Eberle, garden designer, receives a Doctorate in Design from the University of Greenwich

We congratulate Toby Buckland on his new role as presenter of BBC Gardener’s World and Sarah Eberle on receiving a Doctorate in Design from the University of Greenwich. Sarah was the second University of Greenwich graduate, after Bunny Guinness, to receive a doctorate in garden design. They confirm our view that education in garden design and landscape architecture can lay the foundations for exciting, rewarding and glamorous careers.

The Garden Rant blog, which I like, questions whether the BBC should have appointed a woman instead of a man to the post. It is a very fair question but not one to be decided on the sex of the presenter. What matters is who will attract the most viewers. Gertrude Jekyll is popular because of the quality of her work: nothing else. I lay claim to the distinction of being a third generation feminist, because my grandfather was a keen supporter of the suffragette movement, but all he, my mother and I ever wanted was equality.

Landscape architects, including Martha Schwartz, covered in mud

Kevin McCleod on Channel 4 looked at three landscape projects in Castleford on TV last night. Martha Schwartz did worst. Tempted into describing herself as one of the ‘Two Queens of Landscape Architecture’, she forced a celebrity design for a park amphitheater down the reluctant throats of a mining community in the North of England. There was a community ‘consultation’ exercise in which she was told they did not want it. So English Partnerships paid the £1m project cost. It was built. The community do not like it and do not use it. Sic transit gloria mundis.

Parklife, a London landscape firm, also did a community ‘consultation’, and then provided the adventure playground which was requested. Very sensible. It cost £200,000. But the landscape architects refused to provide a fence and so the vandals are pulling the park to pieces and ripping out the plants, night after night. Very stupid. Sic transit gloria hortus.

A local community leader said the first step in making a public open space was to build a high fence. She did this and then forced the designers to make what is now called the Cutsyke Play Forest. It is popular and remains in excellent condition. Very sensible. I congratulate her. See our essay on Parks and boundless space for a discussion of the role of boundaries in the planning and design of public open space.

Beth Chatto as a garden designer

Beth Chatto's Dry Garden is well planted but spatially boring

BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour was broadcast from Beth Chatto’s garden today. You can find the Podcast at Beth Chatto was introduced as ‘one of England’s best-loved and most influential gardeners’. She explained that the two main influences on her garden had been her husband, who studied how plants grow in their natural habitats, and Sir Cederic Morris, an artist and gardener who lived at Benton End. Beth Chatto said she did not give much thought to colour harmonies and that her interest in plant groupings derived from an earlier love of flower arranging. She then made friends with, and was influenced by, Christopher Lloyd and Graham Stuart Thomas. Her correspondence with Christopher Lloyd, who became her friend, began when he told her off for being ‘cruel’ to her Dry Garden – by not watering the plants. I guess history will judge Christo wrong on this issue. Beth Chatto also remarked that ‘I didn’t read Gertrude Jekyll for, oh, years. But when I did, I felt a real warmth for her’.

She came over as a plain-speaking gardener. On the layout of her garden, the most telling remark was that ‘A path needs to go somewhere’. While full of admiration for her plants, I find the design of Beth Chatto’s Garden disappointing. It is flower arranging on the scale of a garden. There is little imagination and the spatial composition is weak. Indeed, one has to wonder if Christopher Lloyd’s approach to garden design was similar. It could well be that it was the work of his father, and of Lutyens, which give Great Dixter its charm. A dress can be made out of the most beautiful fabric without being well-cut or stylish.