New season, new beginnings! I'm delighted to be embarking this autumn on a course in landscape architecture at the School of Architecture & Design, Birmingham City University . For some time now my practice has focussed on place-based projects, working with communities to research the layers of places, enhance them with creative interventions, and envision their possible futures. I'm excited to be adding the lens of landscape architecture to my toolbox. The discipline feels like a natural home with like minds who are engaged in the question of how to unite the design disciplines, in search of a holistic approach to the interface of natural and human-made places.
Sharing this update with friends has got me thinking. I've been surprised how many people have asked, "landscape architecture - what's that?", or "landscape architecture - is that buildings, or trees?". Like many practices which are integrative and interdisciplinary, it resists easy categorisation and so remains below the radar of public awareness. But when it comes to real life schemes (local examples that come to mind include the Broad Meadow pedestrianisation scheme by LDA Design, or Low Traffic Neighbourhoods) absolutely everyone is aware of them, and has passionate opinions to share.
My own awareness of the field was sparked by the tremendously exciting movement now underway across the world, to try and turn around the oil tanker-like legacy of car centric planning - a legacy that continues to kill several people every day in the UK, not counting those impacted more widely by inactivity and pollution exposure. To a large extent this interest is motivated simply by my own needs: I want the freedom to walk the streets and fields, comfortably and safely. A freedom I have tasted, in those places which are thoughtfully designed with the human being in mind! I don't want to choose between safety and speed on my cycle commute. I don't want to live in hostile streets choked with exhaust fumes. I don't want to be deprived of green space because my local park has facilities only for male-dominated team sports. Alongside the fuel provided by frustration with the status quo, are a host of positive reasons to enter this field. The interface between public art and spatial design has such rich potential, for example the thoughtful layout of sustainable drainage systems which double as public sculpture, or street furniture that also hosts flowerbeds and murals. And of course, my studies are helping me nurture the tough discipline of daily sketching - one of my favourite activities, and true joys of life.
I wonder how a familiarity with landscape architecture could be more widely shared. Looking back, I'm shocked to think that built environment disciplines weren't included in any of my art & design education up to A-level, or even on the Art & Design Foundation Course I did, which was in a totally separate department from the architecture school. It's tragic that these silos persist between disciplines, which could so fruitfully unite in the service of a better world. While I feel sad that it's taken me so long to discover this fascinating field, I'm incredibly excited about the integrative projects and collaborations of the future which are waiting to be discovered.