Author Archives: Lawrence

See the entire world as a blazing inferno. Then, when all has turned to ashes, enter bliss.

I often light candles for people I know in European churches and cathedrals. I don’t really know why I do this because I am not a Believer. I am also fascinated by the use of incense in Asia. I like the habit even more now that I have just read this:

The practice of offering incense, with a bow, to the Taoist altar is called Baibai. As the incense burns, smoke rises, and ashes fall. The ashes represent impure air that sinks; the smoke, pure air that rises. So the offering represents the separation of pure from impure – the refinement and purification of internal energies. It also symbolizes the human body as being the meeting-place of Heaven and Earth: as the smoke rises, and the ashes fall, we make a connection with both earth and sky.

This temple is in the countryside around Chongqing and houses a rock Buddha some 9 meters tall, the building makes its own connection between the earth and the sky. The title quote is from the Vijnanabhairava Tantra.

Social and Sustainable Streets

Model Streetscape

Perhaps the designers of this streetscape had already absorbed Robert’s message. Not only the shade trees (Cinnamomum camphora), but lots of heat-island reducing planters too. Not so many parked cars as in Bermondsey, but of course loads of bicycles and mopeds. The great majority of the mopeds in the picture are electric. So far, so sustainable. But, this is also a social streetscape. Behind the arcade on the left are the lunchtime restaurants, the vegetables are prepared on the pavement under the arcade and the customers enjoy a cigarette after their meal on the benches and raised walls in the balmy, late autumn sun. The large, evergreen shrubs – Osmanthus fragrens – fill the air with their light scent. Residents dry their washing on the clothes racks outside their apartment windows without the use of machines. One of many such streets in the Pudong New District of Shanghai, all not much older than 15-20 years.

Will China become a Nation of Gardeners?

One thing that strikes visitors to China immediately is the love of the population for flowers. Large, colourful blooms are the most popular and plantations are often visibly stressed by the masses of photographers that swarm over them. The best displays attract large crowds throughout the day and into the evening. Even on the rooftops – where they are accessible – burgeoning green is to be seen everywhere and salesmen on tricycles with impossible quantities of potted plants tour the urban streets where I live. If eating well is said to be one of China’s foremost hobbies, then gardening, or the appreciation of gardens, must also be high up the scale. Who knows what might happen when this emotional bond makes the leap to landscape architecture on the larger scale? And when might this take place? Perhaps, as in Seoul, a process of review will take place on the newly built environment in the not too far distant future and then the Chinese people will surprise us all – as they already have in so many other areas of life – with cityscapes that will be the envy of the western world.

On Top of the World

Vita Sackville-West was depressed by Hillary and Norgay’s ascent to the peak of Everest, believing that there should be places on earth untrod by human feet. How would she have liked the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai? I am afraid that she would be horrified, although this Burj is by far Dubai’s most beautiful building, hopefully now distracting attention from the horrible Burj Arab Hotel. Many people would like to ask God if he regrets Dubai, but now that we can ride the 800 metres plus to the top of Burj Khalifa and look at it from His vantage point perhaps we can see that he might like it the way it is, by night at least.

Economic Downturns and Romantic Landscapes

Economic downturns are the coitus interruptus of major landscape and urban planning projects, but they bring unexpected benefits. In the 1970’s many of us lived rent free throughout central London in the empty properties the local authorities had bought up and then not had the money to redevelop.  During the 1980’s we gambolled through the derelict wastelands of a half-completed Isle of Dogs in landscapes stuck in a charming time warp between the abandoned Port of London and Canary Wharf. We took our girlfriends up to the forgotten terraces of the old Crystal Palace, where sphinxes emerged from clouds of flowering willowherb. All gone, these buildings and places, they are all designed spaces now, some of them very good indeed, all of them contributing once more to the wealth of the nation. But, what is it about abandoned or fallow projects, half completed places? Where does the romance go when we architects, engineers and landscape architects finally get the go ahead from our clients to finish them off? Perhaps it is just me, but these are the places that I remember the best and miss the most. The images show Lulu Island, created at enormous expense off the coast of Abu Dhabi. One day it will be bristling with residential tower blocks and all manner of designed parkland. For now it’s on hold. On the eastern side, the best views of Abu Dhabi City, on the western side a 5 km beach whose shade structures are one by one collapsing into the sand. Why do we have to wreck these places with finished projects?