FOREWORD BY DIETER HELM
The landscape we know is man-made. It is organic: it has, at least until the last couple of centuries, evolved as a gradual symbiosis between us humans and its natural capital, of which we are a part. It is not wild and it has not been ‘wild’ for millennia. Wild, in the sense of non-human, passed away long ago. Returning to the ‘wild’, leaving humans out, is to suggest a value for nature’s sake and not our own. Nature doesn’t care: we do, or at least we should.
Landscapes have been sculpted by this symbiosis. We have, in Kim Wilkie’s terms, been ‘led by the land’, and the particular form of the moulding of the land by us is as important as the design of the built environment. There is no blank canvas: it is already populated. The buildings we create sit in the land. We add to what is already there. When we respect the natural processes and what our predecessors have done, the results can be stunning – as the photographs in this book show. The contrast between what Kim Wilkie has achieved, and so much of the brutalisation of the land through intensive farming and many housing estates plonked down without regard to their surroundings, is stark – whether it be in the approach to his own farm or the design for the Fawley Waterside project he is currently working on.
The unifying theme which runs through Kim Wilkie’s work is a positive and progressive one. It is one of optimism, not despair. His hero is Alexander Pope, whose enlightenment philosophy placed humans back at the participating centre of nature. It is this enlightenment spirit rather than the often anti-humanism of some romantics and many environmentalists that sets his work apart. Wordsworth wanted to keep the railway out of his beloved Lake District, for fear of the people who might also enjoy the natural capital he so valued. Kim Wilkie does not want to keep people out. Whether it is the Transylvanian village, the urban space outside County Hall in London, the vertical green walls of the Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania, or the stunning formalism of the landscaping at Boughton House, all his projects are ultimately full of optimism about what we can be and what we can become. There is spirit here. Led by the land yes, but not constrained by its current state.
Building on the past does not mean nostalgia. We are the product of our past. We have history, and that history shapes our understanding and it is the platform upon which to build our future. That is the great insight of historians. Even revolutions get brought down to earth, our earth. It is not hard to deduce that Kim Wilkie is an historian by training. The natural capital that we have inherited has been fundamental to the great economic transformation