Landscape architecture and urban design

A friend with enviable portfolio of major projects, says that ‘We have to call ourselves urban designers to get the work. But we have to employ landscape architects to get the work done’. Another friend who spent many years teaching urban design to architects, planners and landscape architects remarks that ‘the landscape architects were the best’. 

The Circus in Bath (UK) is a fine example of architecture+landscape but the idea (from John Wood) was of course inspired by Bramham Park (photograph of The Circus courtesy Casey Picker).

One can easily understand why the name ‘landscape architect’ is such a non-starter for clients. Most of them think landscape architects must either be garden contractors or the  artistic inheritors of Capability Brown. So why should they be so good at urban design? I think it is because they are trained to think about SPACE rather than about the OBJECTS WHICH CONTAIN AND DEFINE SPACE (buildings, walls, trees, mounds etc).  In urban design it is good practice to think about what type of space is required BEFORE thinking about what elements can be used to contain and define the space. As Laozi wrote:

Thirty spokes share a single hub,
Thirty spokes share a single hub,
And the central void makes the cartwheel useful.
Clay is moulded into a vessel,
And the empty space makes it valuable.
Doors and windows are cut out in the walls,
And these openings make the room livable.

Were Laozi to visit Bath he might comment that:

The central void makes The Circus useful.
Buildings are moulded into a vessel. 

Or would he have noted that The Circus is more Visual Space than Social Space and remarked  that landscape+architecture= urban design?

3 thoughts on “Landscape architecture and urban design

  1. Christine

    The crescent at Bath has a series of brilliantly useable outdoor spaces on the ‘private’ side of the building.

    I think that it is always a question of scale. At what scale has the use of the space been considered? Is it part of a web of spaces or has it been considered as a discreet space?[One way to re-think this is to consider how much thought you put into the position of the salt & pepper on the dining room table…a little or a lot?] Can you locate them easily? Can you identify the salt from the pepper easily? Can everyone reach them easily? Are they easy to use?

    Walter Burley Griffin is unusual amongst architects for his interest in landscape and planning…[]

    As a young professional in Chicago Walter Burley Griffin (1944-1947) exhibited architectural interests that transcended the design of individual buildings. His early if somewhat rudimentary training in what would only later be called landscape architecture at the University of Illinois led him to think of the site and its treatment as of equal importance to the buildings upon it.

    From a 1933 thesis on Griffin for the University of Sydney annotated by Griffin himself (in brackets):

    “In 1892, he worked out, also in the fly­leaf of his school book, a scheme of town planning, which was afterwards incorporated in the plan of Canberra. This first plan was [to find a way to accord] dignified positions to all buildings, suitable to their uses, and with economical rectangular building plots and terminal vistas in substitution for the indefinite sprawling character of grid­iron planning…. In the spring of 1897, [when in the second year of his Architectural Course at the University of Illinois] he submitted a theme on the possibilities of Town Planning [and made an] investigation of what had been published on the matter, and was astounded to find there were no books on the subject of any import, except in German, references to which he was able to obtain in French publications; whereas in the English language were only reports of several lectures, most of them having references to [the] remarks of [a certain General] Haupt. Wren’s plan for the reconstruction of London, came to his attention at this time [in confirmation of his own first steps]. The plan of Washington he had long been familiar with”.

    Writing in 1935 or thereabouts, Griffin recalled that “in 1897 after 5 years experimenting in the design of cities and formulating certain principles, therefrom, I searched the libraries of my University and the 3 metropolitan libraries in Illinois for comparisons and found only some German contributions of which I had to read the English and French periodical abstracts.”

  2. Christine

    Yes. It will be interesting to see what the future brings! Although, I think there is probably much more [horizontal] space available in urban environments than we realise! It isn’t until space gets really tight that you realise just how much space there actually is….

    The Japanese are masters of small spaces.

    Shakkei (借景), “borrowed scenery,” is a technique Japanese gardeners use to make a small garden seem more spacious. It is said that by careful planting shrubs to block the view of nearby structures, the viewer is encouraged to look up toward the mountains, and to think of them as part of the garden.



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