The Landscape Guide

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The Single Tree Principle

Precedents from two of the older professions, medicine and the army, are relevant in any discussion of professionalism in landscape architecture. The Hippocratic Oath states that 'Into whatever houses I enter, I will go into them for the benefit of the sick' and I believe the German army has changed its regulations to prevent the Nurenberg Defense ('I was only following orders' ). Soldiers are now advised that the inner voice of conscience has precedence over inhuman orders. When cycling in London I use this principle to justify cycling on sidewalks when they are pedestrian-free: I break the law and am willing to take the consequences.

For landscape architects the question arises when asked to work on a project which gives them qualms. This could be a nuclear power station, a missile silo, a factory farm (a hate of mine) or, as discussed on the L-Arch Forum in April 2004, a Wal-Mart Store. Should the professional refuse to work on these projects or should we do our best for the landscape?

Lets take an example nearer to our profession then death and war. I remember giving the example (in a letter to Landscape Design) of a hypothetical proposal to build a dead straight 50-lane highway from London to Dover. I said then, and still believe, that if, as a landscape architect, the only improvement I could secure was a single tree to be planted midway between the 2 cities then it would be better to secure the planting of that tree than to reject the commission. An added attraction of the proposal was that the tree could become a cause celebre 'They only planted one tree!' people could shout. Applying the Single Tree principle to Wal-Mart, I think it better to have the tree than not have it, though I realise this is not at all what the firm is proposing.

Tom Turner


The Oath by Hippocrates (400 BC)

I swear by Apollo the physician, and Aesculapius, and Health, and All-heal, and all the gods and goddesses, that, according to my ability and judgment, I will keep this Oath and this stipulation- to reckon him who taught me this Art equally dear to me as my parents, to share my substance with him, and relieve his necessities if required; to look upon his offspring in the same footing as my own brothers, and to teach them this art, if they shall wish to learn it, without fee or stipulation; and that by precept, lecture, and every other mode of instruction, I will impart a knowledge of the Art to my own sons, and those of my teachers, and to disciples bound by a stipulation and oath according to the law of medicine, but to none others. I will follow that system of regimen which, according to my ability and judgment, I consider for the benefit of my patients, and abstain from whatever is deleterious and mischievous. I will give no deadly medicine to any one if asked, nor suggest any such counsel; and in like manner I will not give to a woman a pessary to produce abortion. With purity and with holiness I will pass my life and practice my Art. I will not cut persons laboring under the stone, but will leave this to be done by men who are practitioners of this work. Into whatever houses I enter, I will go into them for the benefit of the sick, and will abstain from every voluntary act of mischief and corruption; and, further from the seduction of females or males, of freemen and slaves. Whatever, in connection with my professional practice or not, in connection with it, I see or hear, in the life of men, which ought not to be spoken of abroad, I will not divulge, as reckoning that all such should be kept secret. While I continue to keep this Oath unviolated, may it be granted to me to enjoy life and the practice of the art, respected by all men, in all times! But should I trespass and violate this Oath, may the reverse be my lot!

This translation is from Francis Adams The genuine works of Hippocrates. London, 1849. See also a modern translation by Heinrich Von Staden.

(from Tom Turner, City
as Landscape, p. 109)