Monthly Archives: March 2012

Does Greenwich Park have the oldest avenue of trees in England?

The most important avenue in Greenwich Park, because it is grass, not tarmac, and because it has so many ancient chestnuts, is blocked by a Royal Bin Store for the cafe (above left - also note the design of the picnic tables, and sigh). When the bin store is removed the view on the right will be revealed. Queen Elizabeth I was born in 1533 in the palace of Placentia, in Greenwich, and learned to ride a horse in the park (not in this avenue, which was not planted until 1660-1, possibly on the recommendation of John Evelyn).

The candidates for ‘oldest avenue of trees in England’ include:

  • The yew trees in Westbourne said to have been planted in 1544.
  • The Bucklebury Oaks, also known as The Queens’ Avenues, which may have been planted to commemorate a visit by Queen Elizabeth I as well as a later visit by Queen Anne
  • Joris Hoefnagel’s drawing of Nonsuch Palace makes it look as though a line of trees leads to the entrance and there was a similar feature is shown on reconstructions of the Palace of Beaulieu

But the ‘correct’ answer depends in the interpretation of the question:

  • the processional route at Stonehenge is often described as an avenue and probably passed through trees for some or all of its length. Other stone circles (eg Callanish) also had what are assumed to be processional routes, as did Egyptian and Mesopotamian temples
  • the word ‘avenue’ (from the French avenir) was not used in English until the mid-seventeenth century. A similar feature made before this date would probably have been called an alley (from the French aller)

So on a strict interpretation of the word ‘avenue’, the oldest avenue in England may be in Greenwich Park. The chestnut trees, which survive, were planted c1660 and John Evelyn, who is recorded in the OED as the first English author to use the word ‘avenue’, may have advised on the layout. He had an avenue, which does not survive, in his nearby garden (at Sayes Court in Deptford). The best-looking avenue of old trees in Greenwich Park runs north from a point near the intersection of the Great Cross Avenue with Blackheath Avenue. The view along this avenue was blocked a few years ago by the erection of a ‘hit-and-miss’ fence round an outdoor rubbish dump for the park cafe. It makes one think that the Royal Parks, who manage Greenwich, either have no knowledge of garden history or no interest in garden history. So one does not know whether to conclude ‘forgive them, Oh Lord, for they know not what they do’ or whether to conclude ‘forgive them, Oh Lord, for they know exactly what they do’. But I regard the positioning of this rubbish dump as unforgivable. When an airplane crashes, an accident investigation team is established. There is a need for a similar investigation of the Royal Parks Agency. The Commission of Enquiry should have plenipotentary powers to call for papers, to summon witnesses, to take evidence under oath and to make binding recommendations, if necessary for the future involvement of expert garden historians and landscape architects in decision making for the Royal Parks. How many managers of Royal Parks have qualifications in garden history? Are there any qualified garden historians on the agency’s payroll? Several excellent landscape architecture firms have given advice on Greenwich Park but, so far as I know, no trained designers or historians have had a role in the Greenwich Park management hierarchy. And it shows. Greenwich Park is to be closed for a month in 2012 for the Olympic Equestrian Events. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the rubbish dump were removed as part of the Olympic legacy to Greenwich Park?

Space and place

Famous Danish Urbanist Jan Gehl after a nine month study of central Sydney in 2007 called for the addition of three new public squares along George Street:

“His report paints a picture of a city at war with itself – car against pedestrian, high-rise against public space. “The inevitable result is public space with an absence of public life,” he concludes.

His nine-month investigation found a city in distress. A walk down Market Street involved as much waiting at traffic lights as it did walking. In winter, 39 per cent of people in the city spend their lunchtimes underground, put off by a hostile environment at street level: noise, traffic, wind, a lack of sunlight and too few options for eating.”

If the City of Sydney was to implement his vision how would the addition of public space improve the perception of place in Sydney?

The City of Miami is also feeling the lack of a public centre. In considering the attributes of good public squares they describe a few of the most successful spaces in the US, including Union Square and Madison Square.

Feel free to nominate your favourite public square and tell us why it is so good!

Cycling policy in Amsterdam and London

With thanks to Christine for the link, I am delighted to extend the availability of this history of cycling in Holland. Britain had a Conservative Government at the time of the 1973 oil crisis, which is identified as the starting point for the Dutch cycling policy. The response of Heath’s government was pathetic. They (1) gave a few grants for 50mm of roof insulation (2) borrowed a lot of money to keep downt he price of fuel (3) did nothing whatsoever about cycling. Today we have a Mayor of London and a Prime Minister who are keen cyclists. Please can we do what the Dutch did after 1973. And please can the London Cycling Campaign stage some really good stunts. I would, for example, like to see Whitehall, The Mall, Trafalgar Square and Parliament Square CARPETED WITH PRONE CYCLISTS for the state opening of parliament. I’ll the there, sun, wind or rain.

Parliament square urban landscape redesign LCC

London Cycling Campaign re-design of Parliament Square landscape

Congratulations to the London Cycling Campaign (LCC) for publishing a re-design of Parliament Square’s urban landscape, also discussed on this blog this last year (see The landscape architecture of Parliament Square, Westminster, London UK). My comments on the LCC design are:

  • it concentrates on traffic at the expense of other considerations
  • the urban design history of the space is crucial: it began as New Palace Yard. The Square was a nineteenth century addition
  • the future use of the space is also crucial: just creating a patch of grass is insufficiently ambitious
  • the LCC design proposals also lack ambition: the fountain is perfunctory and the roadworks are ugly

The LCC’s scheme opts for a ‘Trafalgar Square’ solution on the north and west sides of the square. It would be better to revert to the historic idea of a ‘palace yard’ in which paved space was shared between vehicles and pedestrians. This is now known as a ‘shared space’ and Exhibition Road is a good recent example. With regard to the future use of Parliament Square, it should be a place for the elected representatives of the people (MPs) to meet the people they represent and the people who are affected by their decisions (you, me, cyclists, drivers, visitors to London). The below maps show the evolution of New Palace Yard into the Parliament Square Traffic Gyratory

Who is carrying forward Britain's landscape design tradition?

Saitama Plaza, the "Forest in the Sky"

Some years ago now I visited Japan – a country in which I had previously lived for a good many years – in order to write an article for Landscape Architecture Magazine. It was 2004, and ASLA had given its Design Award of Merit to Saitama Plaza, a collaboration between Peter Walker and Yoji Sasaki, who had kindly agreed to an interview.

Sitting in his office in Osaka he reminisced on their first encounter: a meeting between teacher and student, as Sasaki was then attending the Department of Landscape Architecture at the University of California at Berkeley, where Walker was Head of Department. He was offered a challenge: Japan had a remarkable landscape tradition, but who was carrying that tradition forward, interpreting and reinventing it for the late twentieth century? With the benefit of hindsight perhaps that was one of the defining moments in Sasaki’s career. You can judge for yourselves here.

Our interview over, he returned to his earlier topic but this time turned the tables on me. Who in the United Kingdom was carrying on the grand landscape tradition of Capability Brown, et al? For him, and perhaps for many others, this represented the zenith of British landscape design.

I have pondered his question ever since then and it is one that I pose here.

Located in "Saitama City" a short distance north of Tokyo