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.
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.
Having criticized the lack of context-sensitive landscape architecture in China, it was a pleasure to find a contrary example: the Tanghe River Park Red Ribbon project:
- it is beautiful
- it is undeniably of its own time
- it is in sync with a long tradition of Chinese landscape architecture: the red colour, the dragon curves, the composition of walks with planting and water
So: well done to Professor Kongjian Yu of Turenscape 俞孔坚教授土人!
Old China had elegant concubines with bound feet strolling in lang corridors. New China can have fleet-of-foot girls bursting with energy as they race through the urban landscape.
Context-sensitive design is a problem for every country – or rather, one should say, for every region. Samuel Johnson remarked, on April 7th 1775, that patriotism is “the last refuge of a scoundrel”. Little did he know how nationalism was going to ravage civilization in the next two centuries. For landscape architecture, it is not so much that it should be “Chinese” in China as that it should be regional: there should be different approaches in Jiangsu, Guangdong and Xinjiang, relating to culture, climate, history, vegetation, geology, hydrology and habits concerning the social life of outdoor space. There can be no part of the world with such a severe shortage of landscape architects as China.
See also: landscape architecture competition for Tiananmen Square, Beijing, China 2009-2010
As the author of a an old report on Towards a green strategy for London, I should be pleased to see a sudden and dramatic green turn on London’s South Bank. And I am. Green is a good outdoor colour, kind to the eye and calming for the nerves. But I would also like the Greater London Authority to adopt a serious Green Strategy for London. ‘
Congratulations to Whitelaw Turkington for sponsoring a landscape contribution to the London Festival of Architecture. A group of landscape architects marched through South London on Saturday 12th July 2008, carrying trees and with periodic pauses to consider the relationship between trees and London. Congratulations also, to one of the firm’s principals for becoming a tree bearer.
It is always good to see landscape architects on the march. But I wonder if they don’t need more political courage. Way back in 1983, I proposed to the then-chair of the Landscape Institute’s South East Chapter, that we should protest against the failure of the London Dockland Development Corporation (LDDC) to commission a Landscape Strategy. The proposal was that every landscape architect in London should keep their Christmas tree until it went brown. We would then carry the dead trees in procession from the Palace of Westminster to the HQ of the LDDC, cast them down and, should anyone be so brave, light a funeral pyre.
I wish we had done it. Although there are a few good things, the landscape planning of the Isle of Dogs is predominantly disastrous. Had they spent a few pence on a landscape plan, the cost of the re-development would have been significantly lower and the environmental quality would have been significantly higher.
When Dame Jennifer Jenkins was appointed to chair the UK National Trust she commented that the main criticism of the gardens they manage is that ‘They are all the same’. It is not quite true but they do have an alarming similarity. This was brought home by visits to some visits to Yorkshire gardens this year. Studley Royal, run by the National Trust, has not had the ‘curse of Sissinghurst’ laid upon it. Of course I love Sissinghurst and of course it attracts busloads of visitors, but I do not want to see England’s historic gardens getting ever more like Sissinghurst. Studley Royal retains its independent dignity but it IS getting more National Trusty. Perhaps the paths are being too well kept; perhaps too many seats are appearing; perhaps that terrible Visitor Centre has an existence outside my drawer of garden nightmares. I can see that the architect had a lot of fun but the National Trust does not exist for this purpose. Its not such an ugly building: it just does not belong at Studley Royal.
From Studley Royal I went to Bramham Park – and was delighted to see how un-National Trusty it remains. In parts the standard of maintenance is higher then the National Trust would attempt. In other parts is is lower. In other parts, like the tennis court on the front lawn, it is entirely as the resident family wish it to be. It is a real garden.
Chatsworth Garden was also a pleasure to visit. Apart from its unique historic character, it has an individuality which, I can only assume, results from the kindly care lavished upon the estate by the Devonshire family. The food was also a great deal better and cheaper than in a National Trust multiple.
These considerations remind me that a friend of my grandfather’s was one of the National Trust’s first 100 members. In the 1950s, they both resigned with the explanation, in my grandfather’s words, that ‘They will be just like the monasteries, and all monopolies, when they get too large and too wealthy, they become lazy and corrupt’. He thought the National Trust was doing too much to become larger with ever more jobs for ever more boys and ever more girls. Instead, he argued for a plethora of smaller trusts each with its own role and its own policies. I think he was right.
Let us hope the National Trust’s new chairman, Sir Simon Jenkins, can do something more effective about the problem than Dame Jennifer Jenkins. He has long argued for effective devolution from Westminster to the regions. The problem he faces is that the great estates can’t very well be returned to their ancient families. One thing he could and should do is rid the National Trust of fawningly busybody interference of the kind pioneered by Graham Stuart Thomas during his reign as gardens advisor to the National Trust.