In the twists and turns of justice and politics, landscape architecture has a few insistent issues to raise. Some sort of sensible stewardship of the land has to be at the basis of any political and financial solution. How should we grow our food? How can we store water and energy locally and distribute them more fairly? What sort of buildings should be built and where? How can we cohabit with one another and nature? How do we stay sane? Can we hold on to the wit and spirit of what has gone before and let it inspire new ideas and design?
These questions are the basics of landscape architecture and this book tries to look at some of the issues raised in my work over the last three decades. It starts with land and water. The sacred Russian monastery of Solovki presents life on the edge of existence. For five thousand years, human civilization has managed to cling to the rim of the Arctic Circle, gathering food, light and inspiration in a climate where humans struggle to survive each winter. It is a place of brutality and belief. The Saxon villages of Transylvania work on the same careful principles of stewardship, but are more challenged by politics and economics than climate. These are places of magical and monstrous histories that show how mere survival can frame landscape, buildings and beliefs.
Back in England, the Thames Landscape Strategy makes a striking contrast, exploring the evolution of a rich, fertile river valley and its ability to infuse a culture and an empire. It links to a repeating Arcadian idyll that, in varying shades, has obsessed the Augustan poets of Rome, the Florentine Renaissance, the English Enlightenment and contemporary ideas on sustainability in Europe and America. My projects at Villa La Pietra in Florence, the Oxford and Moscow botanic gardens and Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania explore these ideas of water, soil and food.
From land and water, we move to life: wild and human. Wet meadows around Winchester demonstrate an ancient relationship between wildlife and agriculture. The chalk streams of Hampshire provide some of the rarer habitats in the world and I look at how landownership, management and design can combine to create a precious landscape of arrested adolescence. In other words, how to manage rich young habitats like wet meadows in order to keep them open rather than letting them gradually transform into dense woodland. The transformation of the grounds around the Natural History Museum in London has given the opportunity to look at life on Earth from deep time to an urbanized future. While across the road, the stories of human culture have shaped the spaces at the Victoria and Albert Museum and the war memorials of Hyde Park Corner. Finally, the community garden of Hyde Abbey in Winchester, Maggie’s Centre in Swansea and ideas for burying the dead in the City of London Cemetery consider urban spaces in differing complexities.
More recently, my work has concentrated on new settlements. The pressures to find space for housing, water and food may at first seem to be in competition, but the redevelopment of Chelsea Barracks in London and the new towns of Madinat al Irfan in Oman and Fawley Waterside in Hampshire show some ways of combining these elements symbiotically.
12 LED BY THE LAND