Monthly Archives: June 2011

The landscape architecture of Parliament Square, Westminster, London UK

Does Parliament Square need a new design or new function?

There are many proposals for the re-design of Parliament Square and the above satellite image (courtesy of Google) reminded me of its natural use. It is a great place for political demonstrations. The photograph is probably of the 2010 Peace Camp but might also be the 2009 demo against the final assault on the Tamil Tigers. Boris Johnson wants to pedestrianise Parliament Square. I support the idea, and would like to see this part of London become a ‘ten times’ congestion charge zone. But what does Boris think a pedestrianised Parliament Square would be used for? Happy voters massing to express their gratitude at the wisdom of their elected representatives? No Boris. It would become a world centre for political protests AND QUITE RIGHT TOO. MPs come here to Westminster to express their views. Let us welcome the peoples of every nation to do likewise, conditional upon the demonstrators being well-behaved. The people of Zimbabwe set an excellent precedent for how to behave with their regular weekend protests in the Strand and, when visiting the RIBA Library, I have often been inspired by the serenity of the Falun Gong protest in Portland Place. Falun Gong also use Trafalgar Square.
What alternitive functions might go towards a design brief for the re-design of Parliament Square: five star outdoor eating? a rose garden? the best fountain in London? a biodiversity garden? a carousel? a street market for pre-owned souveniers? a city farm? a waste-recycling facility? an outdoor art gallery? the best-kept lawn in Europe? floral bedding? a facility for the homeless? a collection of memorial sculptures? a permanent memorial to Brian Haw? Very obviously, the social role of Parliament Square must be considered before it can be re-designed.

250 years of Parliament Square history: John Roque's plan of 1746 and an Ordnance Survey plan c 1896

From White-on-White to Green-on-Green: Suprematist landscape architecture and garden design

With the creditable exception of Burle Marx, and perhaps James Corner, landscape architects have been slow in responding to Suprematicism. Kasimir Malevich used this term as an alternative to Non-objective Art, which is itself an alternative to the more common Abstract Art. Malevich was thinking of its supremacy over previous art movements. Part of Malevich’s inspiration, like Corner’s, was from aerial photography: he abstracted patterns from landscapes. His suprematist ‘grammar’ was based on the elemental geometric forms, particularly the square and the circle. In the Eastern Orthodox tradition the holy family were believed to have a presence in icons. Comparably, a square is a square: it is not a picture of a square. This gives non-objective art a supremacy over representational (objective) art. Landscape architecture shares this type of supremacy over landscape painting: it is about making real places, not pictures of places. But landscape architects should also be fine artists in the sense of expressing truths about the nature of the world. Green-on-Green abstracts a truth about humanity’s relationship with the natural world: the works of man are always part of nature and always distinguishable from nature. We can guess that the term Abstract Art did not appeal to Malevich because of its use to mean ‘abstracted from the external world’. Malevich believed that art is spiritual. One can however, imagine that Malevich would have been happy to describe the ‘other’ type as Concrete Art, using concrete in the logician’s sense as an opposite to abstract.

Geography and the origins of landscape architecture in Scotland

The geographical origins of landscape architecture in Scotland

More geography graduates should think about postgraduate courses in landscape architecture and careers in landscape architecture, especially if they are from Scotland’s Central Belt. About 500m years ago, in the Silurian period, England and Scotland belonged to different tectonic plates. They were mostly underwater and separated by the Iapetus Ocean. In the Devonian period the plates collided on the line of the Forth Estuary, shown on the photograph. There was much volcanic activity in the region during the Carboniferous period and a volcano formed the Bass Rock, also shown in the above photograph. When the Romans brought an urban civilization to Britain it did not extend north of the Forth and the culture of Highland Scotland remained tribal until the eighteenth century – at which time Edinburgh, some 30km west of the Bass Rock, was one of the most important intellectual centres in Europe. The geography of the landscape Central Scotland is very interesting – and I wonder if this contributed to the region having given birth to many of the the most important landscape analysts, landscape architects and landscape planners of modern times.
James Hutton lived 15 km south of the Bass Rock and used the geology of the region to support his Theory of the Earth, which argued that the Earth had evolved slowly, rather than being created in a week (as described in the Bible).
Gilbert Laing Meason invented the term ‘landscape architecture’, in 1828. Meason lived near Forfar (60 km north of the Bass Rock) which might be visible on the above photograph if it had been taken on a clearer day
John Claudius Loudon was the most prolific writer on gardens and architecture of his age. He designed some of the first public parks, proposed a system of Breathing Zones for London and transmitted the term ‘landscape architecture’ to Downing and Olmsted . Loudon spent his childhood at Gogar 40 km west of the Bass Rock
John Muir is regarded as the Father of America’s National Parks. John Muir was born in Dunbar (15 km from the Bass Rock) and the estuary in the foreground of the above photograph is now the John Muir Country Park.
Patrick Geddes, the first European to use ‘landscape architect’ as a professional title was the most innovative town and country planner of the twentieth century. Patrick Geddes was born near Perth (25 km north of the Bass Rock) and lived in Dundee and Edinburgh
Ian McHarg wrote the most influential landscape architecture book of the twentieth century (Design with nature) and contributed to the development of Geographical Information Systems (GIS) McHarg was born in Clydebank, 80 km west of the Bass Rock and near the boundary between the tectonic plates which were joined to make Britain

George Eliot wrote, in Adam Bede, that ‘a gardener is Scotch, as a French teacher is Parisian‘. She lived 1819–1880 and would have been on even stronger ground if writing about landscape architecture and planning!

The Bass Rock (centre of photo) is one of many extinct volcanoes which form the landscape architecture of Scotland's Central Belt

See map history of How Britain was Formed. When the sun is setting (above) one gets a glimpse of how the region looked when the boundary between the Gondwana and Euramerica plates was full of volcanic activity, as Iceland is today, but the Devonian climate was hotter and drier.

And/Or & Both – when more is more.

It would be unfortunate to lose the distinction between [1] garden design and [2] [3] landscape architecture much as the trend towards [4] interior architecture is actually unfortunate for [5] interior designers. The differences of focus and attention to scale provide a variety of design insights which are not replicated.

Why? Because the rich tradition of garden design is the foundation and a source of inspiration to landscape architecture, to urban design and to city design. In the future we may say more as gardens move from the [6] ground plane to vertical surfaces and [7] roofs. Parc Eduardo VII in [8] the city of Lisbon is an example of the axis and hedges of gardens informing the structuring of city vistas.

There is much to be said for the process of abstraction. Landscape architects, arguably coming into being with the [9] English landscape tradition, have evolved a language and way of working of their own, which is continually evolving. Viva la difference!

Image courtesy Artifolio

GM Green Wall in Trafalgar Square designed by Shelley Mosco landscape architect

It is a pleasure to have a green wall in Trafalgar Square this summer, to cover some scaffolding. The green wall was sponsored by GE and the National Gallery, as part of its Carbon Plan. It was designed by landscape architect Shelley Mosco. It is based on Van Gogh’s Wheat Field with Cypresses (below left). Shelley’s planting design (below right) uses pointillist planting blocks for texture. The wall has 36 different species in 250x500mm modules, each containing 14 cells of 125x76mm). The living green wall is 4.8m x 7m and has over 8000 plants. Shelley is also interested in living green walls made with native plants,using a GIS system to guide plant selection for particular localities.

Sir Geoffrey Jellicoe – a Blue Plaque for a landscape architecture but not for Susan

English Heritage Blue Plaque Scheme marks the dwellings of famous Londoners with Blue Plaques. Only one landscape architect has been honoured in this way. It is Sir Geoffrey Jellicoe. Famed for his design projects, his books and his role in founding the International Federation of Landscape Architects in 1948, the honour is well deserved. It is however regrettable that the family’s suggested inclusion of his wife’s name on the plaque was not acted upon. Married to each other and to landscape architecture, they were partners in every sense. Susan was an extremely capable woman who worked with Geoffrey on all his schemes. A friend told me that Geoffrey was vague about the difference between deciduous and coniferous plants. Susan did all his planting design and edited his books. Her contribution to the Landscape of man was even more significant: she took most of the photographs herself, did the picture research for the other photographs – and probably wrote the captions. We should also remember that the International Federation of Landscape Architects might not have been founded but for her linguistic skills. If English Heritage was not overtly sexist, it was less than generous in its decision to leave Susan’s name off the Blue Plaque. The Blue Plaque on 19 Grove Terrace, Dartmouth Park, NW5 IPH, reads: “Sir GEOFFREY JELLICOE 1900-1996 Landscape Architect lived here 1936-1984”