The State of Landscape

A recent review of architectural practice highlighted some of the challenges that people who design things to be made and lived in face: we study for the same amount of time as other tightly controlled professions, and certainly longer than those that aren’t tightly controlled, and yet we earn substantially less, whilst at the same time, we also see the work that we trained to do being done by people without the same training and education. Whilst this is causing a buzz amongst architects, it’s not news at all to landscape architects- we’ve always known that we don’t do this work for the early retirement.

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An assessment of the Streets Ahead ESAs

In June and July last year I looked into the legal and regulatory grey area in which the Streets Ahead programme operates.  The next logical step after looking into the regulatory context is to review the early stages of the programme, starting with the assessments. This might seem late in the day or an oblique line of reasoning, but the environmental assessment process is fundamental to the later stages of a project: it sets the tone for the project, identifying the type and extent of works required and frames the standards of work that are expected. Whilst it is tragic that so many healthy, beautiful and useful street trees can be felled legally, the process within which Streets Ahead is being carried out is so obscure that careful analysis of the original documents and practices is essential to finding out how it was decided to fell so many trees.

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Existential and catastrophic risk : a landscape perspective

There hasn’t been much added to the notepad over the past year but this is not for lack of activity- a lot has been going on and I hope that over the coming weeks I can start to share progress on the Magnolia research and our work at the Yorkshire Arboretum, as well as an update on the landscape assessments that were carried out of Sheffield highways and some commentary on the recently published 25 Year Environment Plan.

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Landscape architecture and the future of the professions

The continuing steps to broaden the membership were discussed again at the Landscape Institute’s Advisory Council this week: on the face of it, I think the steps to broaden our membership and formally recognise management-orientated skill sets is really positive but there are a number of implications that do not sit comfortably, and I feel need further investigation. I wonder to what extent other landscape architects feel the same?

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Sheffield’s urban forest

The plight of Sheffield’s trees is well known: you’ve probably seen articles in the news with Sheffield residents and  famous faces up in arms over the dramatic changes to the city’s streets. But alongside the anger and passion there is a question: how can such a seemingly dramatic programme of felling be allowed to be carried out in an era of unprecedented red tape and environmental protection?

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Open source landscapes

There’s an exciting movement that appears to be gaining critical mass: open source is changing architecture. Using parametric design, a CNC and an open mind, it’s so exciting to see what what groups like Architecture 00 are doing. Whilst open source has been a powerful movement for years, with organisations like Opendesk publishing designs for practical furniture that anyone can take to a workshop and build, projects like the Wikihouse are the next logical step. Lots of designers, builders and users coming together to share ideas and skills and approach challenges we come across every day from new perspectives.

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The language of landscape

A discussion with James Hitchmough today reminded me of an interesting article in the New Statesman a while ago which asked if we need a better term for ‘tree’. The author writes that our collective use of language to describe the natural world is so impoverished that this prevents us from connecting with it and thus appreciating its richness and our relation to it. The limits of our knowledge define our reality: if we only know one word for tree, the argument goes, we are only likely to see one type of tree, and so a cycle of environmental degradation is entrenched.

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Innovation in Plant Biosecurity

Biosecurity and plant health is an awkward area for landscape architects to engage in: we tend to be generalists and biosecurity is a fast-changing and highly technical field with environmental, political and economic implications. Nevertheless, it’s an essential strand to what we do and understanding how our designs and actions affect biosecurity is a challenge.

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Brexit White Paper: a summary for landscape architects

The Government’s policy approach to Brexit was set out in a White Paper[1] in February 2017 and the post below is a technical summary submitted to the Landscape Institute Biosecurity Group. The general approach in the White Paper is to ensure that all EU regulations which are directly applicable in the UK, and all laws which have been made in the UK implementing EU directives remain part of domestic law on the day we leave the EU.

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Right plant right place

Finding the right plant for the right place is one of the biggest challenges for landscape architects. Henrik Sjoman’s paper on matching the range of tree species to urban environments shows how to do this with trees, and with the recent publication of the BSBI’s distribution database, we can start to use UK data to help us. There are loads of potential applications for this, whether it’s drawing up plant lists for meadow restorations, highways verges, SuDS schemes, street trees and community woodlands…

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Re-evaluating Vanbrugh’s work at Castle Howard

During the course of our work at the Yorkshire Arboretum we made some interesting discoveries about the landscape history of Castle Howard. The starting point for this is the work by Kerry Downes and the book edited by Christopher Ridgway, the Castle Howard archivist, Sir John Vanbrugh and Landscape Architecture, and it was interesting to re-evaluate their work in the light of the  surveys that we carried out during the master plan. This post looks at the landscape that Vanbrugh worked with when he laid out his designs in the early eighteenth century.

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How long do landscapes last?

In the news today is a report of Martha Schwartz lambasting Manchester City Council for destroying Exchange Square, the place her team designed in the mid 1990s. When it was built, it was much-photographed and awarded but over the years, interventions by MCC have diluted and then destroyed the space. Part of the issue here might be that these interventions should have been considered in the design stage through a more extensive consultation and assessment process, but it brought to mind a question I’ve had for some time: how long do landscapes last for?

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When is a tree a trees?

We all know what a tree is, don’t we? But when does a tree stop being ‘a’ tree and start being something bigger, more complicated and perhaps even plural? Francis Hallé has approached the question from a morphological perspective by showing that through reiteration, trees can actually be forests, with branches functioning as individual trees or trees-in-waiting, and I was fascinated to read this paper which touches on this same question from a different perspective, showing that up to 40% of the carbon in a tree’s fine roots might actually have been produced by another tree.

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