Monthly Archives: January 2009

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.

landscape of ambiguity 2


so we have our site!

i’ve marked down a likely location for the wine bar area, and a couple of other things beside. the surrounding buildings cast a lot of shade.  of course we’ve know way of knowing what time of day/year the image was taken, but can count on the bottom (south) end of the site at least getting less light.

cant make out whats in the alcove created by the buildings at the bottom of the site, it could be a lower rooftop or something at ground level. it looks structural

the right hand side of the site (which i’ve marked down as the formal entrance) could presently be used for parking. an annoyance depending on whether or not we decide to acknowledge it.

also note how the building at the top of the site reflects a lot of light back into the site, creating patterns upon the ground. useful?

Greenways and Green Infrastructure

Noticing that the Landscape Institute (LI) has produced a draft policy statement on Green Infrastructure which does not contain the word Greenway, I did Google searches on the two terms. The results were:

This inclines me to the view that, at present, the Greenway Concept has more public visibility. There are three problems with the Green Infrastructure Concept: (1) the literature is thin (2) it is unclear whether “green” means “vegetated” or whether it is used as in “green politics” (3) the term “infrastructure” is much better understood by the built environment professions than by the general public. London has many greenways.  Some are excellent and others in urgent need of better landscape planning and design.

Landscape Instutite Library and Archive

I attended the meeting of the Landscape Institute yesterday, held to discuss the future of the Library and Archive, which is threatened with disposal. Many people remarked on what a pleasure it was to have a general LI meeting – and what a pity that it had to have a negative objective: to stop the disposal of the LI Library. When I moved to London in the early 1970s there used to be regular general meetings of the Institute at Carlton House Terrace. A friend remembers playing musical chairs with Sylvia Crowe, Brenda Colvin, Cliff Tandy,  Bodfan Gruffyd, and others.  It was appropriate that Hal Moggridge, who also attended these meetings, was the first to speak in support of the Library and Archive.  Since the Chapters/Branches were formed the community has lacked well-attended general meetings. Our predecessors would be pleased that the points made at the general meeting on 22 January 2009 were more positive than negative.

There was strong support for the principle of retaining the Library and Archive in the ownership and custody of the Landscape Institute. To some, it felt like keeping family photographs: one may not look at them very often but one wants to know they are there. They are our heritage; they define our identity; they are the seed from which the organization will grow.

There was strong support for the principle of re-directing the Landscape Institute’s administrative energy towards the exertion of influence on public policy. Having been urging this change since 1990, I was very pleased to hear people speak in its favour. The economic recession, which was officially recognized this morning, makes the task urgent.

There is an appreciation that the LI Council and Secretariat have become detached from the membership. The LI is spending too much money on administrators. They are not landscape architects and they do jobs which used to be done by members working as volunteers. This is expensive and, as ever, a volunteer is worth ten pressed men or women.

Here is my own suggestion:  the LI should hold another General Meeting to formulate ideas and set the agenda with a series of Policy Statements, as Geoffrey Jellicoe did in the even darker days of the 1940s and 1950s. People can speak with passion at meetings, making the task of writing the policy statements simpler and faster. Instead of a few glossy documents on vague topics we should issue monthly press releases accompanied by two good illustrations and two sides of A4. The Friend’s Meeting House would be a good venue for a Policy Meeting.

A landscape of ambiguity


Here is an approach to creating a space. This is just the first post…so watch the design develop in this blog space… I am not able to visit the site, so I may be using considerable creative license! (Anyone who knows the site is welcome to assist me.)


The initial idea was to acknowledge the bleak surroundings [See Tom’s post ‘Barking Town Square’s Elder Brother‘] and compliment them with fine elements: crystallized glass and an enclosing wall of screens. The colour accent is an iridescent blue. This is to illuminate the night sky and to connect with colours in the deepest ocean. Warmer tones of apricot and honey-wood are used to balance the cool colours. At present they will be used to theme the day time appearance of the space with naturals and neutrals. Planting is used to soften the space and to define different sections, giving privacy and a sense of ambiguity as to whether the space is inside or out. The furniture is comfortable and modern. The sound mood is set by the music of the string quartet – a leisurely evening pace for sipping wine and conversation.


The space is a moonlight garden or Moon Garden. All planting is white. At present the screens may be 1) actual visual screens in which case they can display any scenery or create any mood OR they may be 2) a projective surface OR 3) merely a textured surface. Conceptual elements further define the space.

1. A water curtain on the side of the building suggests a water fall over a cliff face – and can be used for visual screenings.

2. Vertical signage on a building identifies the space.

3. Vertical planting also provides perimeter lighting. [This element is inspired by the Great Beech Hedge at Miekleour – height – and Stefan’s blog.] The aesthetic is not literal… I am aiming for ‘ultra contemporary’…so we have a way to go! [I was thinking Stefan might help here.]

4. A central water feature, with a black base [see Ethel Anderson’s article on Moon Gardens], has an active inner pool and and a passive outer pool with planting. The outer pool is a flat rim; and the inner pool has with a wide but shallow V-sloped basin in solid stone.

5. There is perimeter bench seating – possibly white.


Outdoor spaces have a long existence – which is a preferred as a sustainability strategy. The design is conceived as a semi-public semi-park. It functions at night as a wine bar and during the lunch hour as a formal cafe space. The park elements need to be considered as permanent. While the cafe elements are temporary.

There can for example be:

1. Exterior paving AND a removable wooden platform with rubber inlay for wine bars etc.

2. Permanent public lighting and seating for a Moon Garden.

3. Removable task specific lighting for the wine bar and seating islands.

4. Removable commercial seating islands for wine bar patrons.

5. Permanent planting for the Moon Garden.

6. Removable planting for lunch venues/wine bars.

The space should be ambiguous: is it landscape or architecture; is it interior or exterior? Is it for day or night? Is it a park to be in or a space to eat in?

lurie garden


to go along with the discussion about planting design raging below, i thought i’d post this as an example of what can happen when a good designer and a good plantsman work together.

as part of Chicagos Millenium Park it references the indigenous landscape of the Midwest. the beds are contoured so the visitors walk along with the gardens at knee and waist height immersing them in colour. the native perennials (over 200 species) were carefully selected to create a dramatic sequence of colour and seasonal change. the effect is like a painting whose tone continually shifts throughout the year. if anything, i think it shows, if you want to create abstract effects 1. you cant be lazy about it and 2. you have to know your stuff

photograph copyright: Scott McDonald

drawings copyright: Gustafson Porter Ltd