Landscape design, understood as the design of outdoor space, is a vital aspect of urban design. It needs to be combined with the arts of architecture, planning and engineering. Co-operation between the professions created Europe’s great historical cities, and could do so in the future.
While the practice of architecture is unequivocally concerned with the creation of buildings, landscape and urban design share a common focus on external space: its organisation, uses, and management. This presents a number of difficulties of definition, both in the eyes of professionals and the public in general, which can best be solved by reference to original meanings.
The earliest clustering of dwellings into settlements (housing communities) implied conditions relating to boundaries and rights of usage, access, light and view. These were formulated, in Classical Greece, into principles of planning and urban design. Plato proposed that the ideal city should have a population of no more that 10,000, and Hippodamus of Miletus (f.450 BC) is credited with introducing wide straight streets with provision for the proper grouping of dwelling houses and public buildings harmoniously related. These principles formed the basis of town planning. They guided and informed the creation of towns, which are often considered to be man’s greatest collective achievement.
The fact that the achievement cannot be measured in terms of planning alone is a major difficulty in the appreciation of urban landscape design. Towns resulted from the interaction of people, including planners, builders, artists and other designers, over long periods for the common good. The Old German word Landschaft, included dwelling, outbuildings, cultivated land, common grazing, surrounding forest, animals, people, and their mutual obligation. Although the conditions of life have changed irreversibly, the sense of obligation persists in the will to provide acceptable living conditions for all. Leonardo da Vinci responded to the growth of Milan by suggesting ten ‘satellite’ towns, each with 5000 houses accommodating 25,000 inhabitants; and he made proposals for irrigated private gardens, and for the segregation of pedestrian and (horse-drawn) traffic: all familiar themes for planners.
The great contribution of the Renaissance designers was their interest in space: in the use of geometry to organise space in the context of buildings and landscape. Mumford called it ‘the ideology of power’. The disadvantage was its portrayal through fixed-point perspective which has indoctrinated western societies with an overriding sense of the pictorial.
The realisation that perception is a dynamic process involving all the senses responding to all elements of the environment began to emerge in the 1950’s, principally through the work of Gordon Cullen. Serial vision described the process of moving through urban space which could be recorded sequentially by means of drawings and photographs. More importantly, it revealed the complex ‘organic’ qualities of certain places, which we have begun to describe as ‘of townscape value’. Cullen called it ‘the art of relationship’ - between buildings, trees, nature(sic), water, traffic, advertisements and so on’. He called it Townscape: we might call it Urban Design. The current term ‘Urban Village’ - imprecise and misunderstood as it is, brings us nearer to that original conception of the fabric, inhabitants and functioning of communities defined in the original conception of landscape.
Contact: Michael Lancaster