About a week ago, I was in London for a day of appointments. With about 45mins to spare between meetings I took a stroll through Bunhill Fields. For those of you that don’t know it, this ancient Graveyard just outside the old City of London walls has been a burial site for at least a thousand years. Amongst the 123,000 people known to have been buried there before it was closed for interment in 1854 were many famous literary and non-conformist figures from the nineteenth century including Daniel Defoe, William Blake and Susanna Wesley.
Anyway, so much for history. I had scurried though this space on a number of occasions before – indeed our office used to be located close by when we first started up. This time however, I tarried a little and discovered something that fascinated me. After the Second World War, Bridgewater and Shepheard were engaged to carry out improvements to the graveyard. Peter Shepheard, who was one of the leading young landscape architects of his generation, re-planned the memorial gardens to the north part of the site. The work is unmistakeably English and of the post war modern movement. Peter Shepheard’s great strength was the effortless simplicity of his designs. Like many of his peers, he was completely comfortable with the Edwardian arts and crafts heritage, and did not see it as a millstone in the way that later generations did. The smooth lines of the Yorkstone path, edged with brick sweeps confidently through the grass beneath the huge plane trees that define the space. In contrast the [relatively] small orthogonal beds with evergreen shrubs, Liriope, Vinca and other plants typical of the period are a pleasantly restrained contrast. The use of fallen gravestones is both practical and I would argue reverential whilst giving a nod to the history of the site.
I have fond memories of Peter (as he liked to be known) or Professor Sir Peter Shepheard PPRIBA, PPILA, as he was when I knew him (there were probably a few other letters that I have forgotten.) He was an modest man, full of stories of his colourful career. I was lucky enough (with Chris Bowles) to work on the restoration of Charlston Farmhouse. We also worked on Winfield House (in Regents Park) and a few smaller projects. I particularly remember Peter’s wonderful pencil sketches and his plans, all in pencil and filling the sheet completely to the very edge with a sort of evenness of texture and graphic. As well as having a keen understanding of space, he was also a master of herbaceous planting (unusual for someone who had trained initially as an architect).
Perhaps we have something to learn from the gentle and unselfconcious blending of style shown here. Have we really learnt so much in 65 years?
I recently went to see ‘Worlds End’, the final part of Edgar Wright’s ‘Cornetto Trilogy’. For those who don’t know it, the film is a science fiction comedy, the third in a short series of action films starring Nick Frost and Simon Pegg. I saw it in Letchworth, in the Broadway cinema. Why is this relevant? Well, Letchworth forms the backdrop to most of the movie; it was filmed there and indeed the Broadway Cinema was one of the locations in the film (‘The Mermaid’).
The first Garden City has long been held up as the apex of good urban planning, including by the current government, so it was interesting to see it used a somewhat sarcastic comment on Britain today. As Peter Bradshaw put it in his review of the film for the Guardian: “It is different from the locations that usually show up in movies: London or the leafy countryside. This is New Town Britain, Visitor Centre Britain, the suburban commuterlands and hinterlands: bland and agreeable.” The film is multi-layered, but one of the underlying themes is that living in the suburbs turns you into a robot. Hardly a new message, but ironic that they chose to illustrate this by using the crucible of the garden city movement, whose principle aim was to counter the way that industrialisation had de-humanised people.
Regular readers of this blog may remember my post from last year – “Where have all the trees gone?” (http://www.bowleswyer.co.uk/blog/?p=132). In this, I began to explore why many developers don’t really plant trees and how this might be addressed. I followed it up with a lecture at a conference in Devon (staged by the excellent Barcham Trees) in which I postulated that the garden city movement was indeed a turning point in modern planning, but it was also where it all started to go wrong. I pondered on what it was that made particular housing estates ‘successful’. For the moment, let’s ignore esoteric or academic definitions of success and instead look at market or colloquial definitions. The most expensive, the most sought after areas of housing are dominated by something larger than the houses – trees. And not just any trees; large, mature, forest species – horse chestnuts, oaks, planes trees, limes, even sycamores. So clearly, green leafy suburbs are what we aspire to. In fact estate agents and the media frequently use the word ‘leafy’ as a synonym for affluent when they are talking about neighbourhoods.
If we trace the roots of housing development back 100 years or so ago, we come to the genesis of large scale housing development the garden city movement. Before that, during the Victorian era, most development had been urban. At both ends of the social scale, mass housing as a concept had really only come into being at the beginning of the C19th, with developments such as Bath and the Nash terraces in London for the wealthy and mass terraced housing for the working class. But the rise of a middle class in late 19th century England meant that a different demand started to emerge. The landed gentry wanted their town houses to be elegant and urban – gardens were not a part of that. The working classes could only afford back to backs. Whilst the middle classes could pay more for housing, they could only afford one house. What they hankered after was mini version of the country estate. Both the architecture and the gardens point towards this – half-timbered houses evoking an idealised view of Elizabethan country houses; lawns, which had previously only been the reserve of the very wealthy, became available to all with the invention of the lawnmower in the C19th.
The garden city movement pulled many of these threads together. It distilled elements from the arts and crafts movement (with which it was closely allied), social reform (particularly of the Quakers), town planning, and mixed all this with a heady dose of social idealism with which all great reform movements are imbued. For me this is
where it all started to go wrong. The fork in the road where it all seemed so nice led us after sixty years ago from Letchworth – pleasant enough, to some of the more horrible modern housing estates. One of the reasons that the Garden City idea was so popular was that it plugged into the
English Dream. But continual watering down of that dream has made it into something of a nightmare.
In city centres, one clear way forward is to go back to a landscape-dominated high density development model. There have always been versions of this around – look at Darbourne and Darke’s Lillington Street for example (a social housing project for Westminster City Council c1961-62, and a beacon in early 60s architecture-landscape partnership), or Janet Jack’s landscape around the Alexandra Road development in Camden – one of the last great social housing schemes. I would argue that both these developments are relevant today, although Alexandra Road has suffered from poor maintenance. I first went to Lillington Street in 1977 – it was one of the things that caused me to choose to train as a landscape architect. I revisited the scheme more recently and it has fared
very well. It feels as fresh and relevant now as when it was first designed 50 years ago, although the trees are bigger! There is no vandalism, and although people do have small areas of defensible space, the overall quality of and scale of the landscaped spaces is such that the estate is really leafy (there it is again!) despite being very high density. The overall feel is (not by accident I am sure) similar to traditional London squares. These principles are applicable to smaller scale developments.
We have tried to use similar principles ourselves in design of dense urban housing developments. Admittedly, these were privately funded; I suspect that the days of well-funded grand (or even modest) social housing are over, at least for the moment.
Both the Collection and Tercelet Terrace developments adopt this approach of public landscape at the expense of private space. Actually, in both projects the cost of the landscape was a very small percentage of the total.
What this shows is that the truth here is somewhat counter-intuitive: that in urban development at least, up to a point, higher density is actually a pre-requisite of good landscape and greater biodiversity, rather than acting as a restriction, as one might expect. It creates the opportunities for more meaningful spaces and often provides the funding to address those opportunities. The counter to this is that suburban development does not create good quality spaces, particularly at the densities mostly being built in recent years. Perhaps the government should apply more joined up thinking in this respect.
Rural development is another story – another post on that coming soon (or perhaps another movie?)
I met up with some old friends a couple of weekends ago. Not just any old friends, but a 30th reunion of graduating from Manchester with our postgraduate diplomas in landscape architecture. As you can imagine, there was a lot of catching up to do. Lunch merged into dinner followed by a couple of beers as we put the world to rights. As we compared our working experiences over the last couple of decades, differences began to emerge and crystallise.
There was something of a north south divide – no real surprise there. Actually, this was more of a local authority/private practice divide than a north south, but it just so happened that most of the people working for local government were based in the north of England. Many of these people were disillusioned. My experiences of working for a local authority were exhilarating, but were thirty years ago. Not surprisingly, things have changed since then.
The overwhelming theme seemed to be one of lack of funds and skills completely driving the agenda. Even when there was money available for capital projects, the complete dearth of maintenance/management funding meant that the design of projects was severely clipped to meet the skills and funds available. One colleague told me that she had been told to do only schemes with ‘trees and grass’ as ‘trees needed no maintenance and we can cope with the mowing’. Another told me of a flagship city-centre garden restoration scheme in the north of England that received funding. He spent some time working on the restoration – it was the best project he’d had in a long time – and it was installed complete with planting by a competent contractor. When he revisited it a year or so later, he described it as ‘The great hedge-trimmer massacre’. I’m sure I don’t have to explain what this means – I witnessed a similar thing on my way to work this morning. He has just taken ‘early retirement’ at the age of 56 and is going to work in the private sector.
The final irony was that we were having the last part of the conversation in a coffee bar in Piccadilly Square – which looked pretty sad. Most of you will know this as the recipient of a highly prestigious landscape scheme a few years ago as a result of a design by Tadao Ando and EDAW. It all had a rather tired unloved look. Some of the seeds of this were undoubtedly in the design – like the timber benches (see left), and of course all city centre spaces get well used and show the signs of wear, but given that this is Manchester’s ‘mantelpiece’ I had expected a bit more. This is a sad state of affairs indeed. You might recall that this is a bit of a pet subject of mine; I wrote a previous blog about it – ‘The whole life cost of a Citroën’ and also spoke at a recent conference on the subject – SGD spring 2013 conference.
There are a number of lessons that emerge. The first is an obvious one – there seems little point in spending money on capital projects which are then not going to be maintained adequately. This is a downward spiral, because if future capital works funding is sought, but the evidence of previous schemes is unconvincing (because of poor maintenance) then bids are unlikely to be successful, or least that should be the case.
The second is a broader though parallel one on the design community. Why will practices invest time and care in projects that they know are not going to be looked after? This applies to commissioners as well – the effect is pervasive.
Finally, the whole process exerts a downward spiral on wages and profits in the landscape industry. Excessive profits at the expense of public bodies is clearly bad for all of us, as taxpayers. Nonetheless, profits are essential for re-investment in companies, for resilience, innovation, training and all the other things that make our industry great. Take this away and you end up with a sector made up of under-resourced, demotivated companies staffed by under-paid demotivated people. Hardly a good omen for the future.
The sad result of all this is that the industry is just reinforcing stereotypes and preconceptions that outsiders hold about it. Maybe some of the direct works departments of the 70’s and early 80’s were lazy, bloated and inefficient. But they were also great training grounds, fantastic centres of horticulture and beacons of local character. Has the pendulum perhaps swung too far the other way?
In a recent trip to Paris, I made a point of visiting Parc André Citroën to the western side of the city. Wikipedia describes this succinctly as “… a 14 hectares (35 acres) public park located on the left bank of the river Seine in the XVe arrondissement (district) of Paris.” It was designed and built in the early 1990s by Landscape Architect Giles Clément and Architect Alain Provost on the site of a former Citroën automobile manufacturing plant, and is named after company founder André Citroën.
The design is daring and the scale breath-taking. The central lawn alone is 275m long by 85m wide and refreshingly there are no restrictions on games (unlike most Paris parks). The design is a very strongly structured. Two vast pavilions overlook the park from the south east end. Between these is a paved terrace with a field of water spouts in which children splash around (similar to those at Somerset House and elsewhere). The central lawn is effectively sunk below the surrounding ground.
On the south-west side it is flanked at the higher level by a canal, punctuated by at regular intervals by monolithic stone pavilions, alternatively housing staircases and cascades. On the other are colossal blocks of pruned hornbeam backed by a raised walkway. It is cut beneath by routes through to a series of secret gardens and also by enormous water chutes echoing the cascades on the other side of the lawn. Or it would be. Because sadly, most of the water features no longer function. The monumental canal on
…And the canal as it is now.
the south west side lies forlornly empty, with nothing but a ruckled butyl liner to remind you that it was a water feature, along with a slightly ironic sign in French saying ‘for your safety, please do not enter the basin’ fixed to the concrete upstand in place of a missing coping stone. None of the water chutes on the other side function either, although the field of water jets still delights the children. The basic maintenance – grass cutting, pruning etc. has been carried out carefully. However, there is little evidence of ‘gardening’ in the half dozen or so themed gardens and whenever something breaks or fails, there is either no will or resources to replace it. The net result is a gradual decline in the park.
This is hardly an unfamiliar story to English ears. We have countless public parks and open spaces that have suffered the same fate. What interests me about Parc Citroën though, is how much of a part the original design (and perhaps more interestingly the commissioning process) played in its eventual decline. An article in the Boston Herald had a very good line on this. It said that “Citroën — for better or for worse — represents high-concept triumphant over public participation.” The article postulated that a project such as this could never have happened in Boston (and by extension I would say in the UK). The combination of vision, funding and single-minded project management meant the French Government was able to drive this project through with great speed and force. The piece went on to point out that there were good and bad sides to this. Interestingly, it was written shortly after the park’s opening, but the central point becomes even more strongly reinforced as time passes.
The design relies heavily on vast water features for much of its impact and structure. As landscape professionals, we all know what the implications in maintenance terms are for such features. How could the designers be sure that the funds would always be there to maintain and refurbish these features? The running costs alone are significant, but when the annualised costs of pump replacement, relining, etc. are taken into account, the bill becomes pretty much unsustainable in the longer term. Parc Citroën remains a great achievement and an exciting space. It is a reminder of what can be achieved by single minded vision. But clearly there is another lesson here. Perhaps we should all take more care to consider both the cash and skill resources that are likely to be (realistically) available for the future maintenance and management of a project before we let our imaginations (or should that be our egos) run wild.
As landscape architects or garden designers, many of us spend a good deal of our time designing (though perhaps not as much as we would like). This is probably the most important and distinctive part of our work. Yet try to get designers to talk about how they go about this and one is confronted with blank looks of misunderstanding. During interviews I almost always ask prospective staff – how do they design? Blank. What processes do they go through? Blank. What do they actually do? Few people can even put one sentence together about the design process let alone come up with any coherent analysis.
At college most of us were taught the ‘Survey-Analysis-Design’ method, which grew from and is linked to the modernist mantra of “form follows function”. This principle is so deeply rooted as to have become almost unassailable. At its core is the idea that an object is inherently beautiful if it fulfils the use for which it was designed. In other words by satisfying the first two Vitruvian principles of commodity and firmness, the third (delight) is automatically satisfied. Whilst in many cases this is true (Mies van der Rohe’s buildings for instance) it is also flawed. Do you suppose that the beauty in Calatrava’s work is purely an expression of form follows function? I think not.
Calatrava’s stunning work in Milwaukee. Photo credit: Jonathan Choe (http://www.flickr.com/photos/crazyegg95)
The essential inconsistency in ‘Survey-Analysis-Design’ (SAD) is the implication that it is made up of three equal and similar partners. On both counts this is untrue. Survey is a process of gathering information and although there is a subjective element in the filtering and recording of information, it is essentially a quantitive process. Analysis on the other hand is essentially a qualitative process. Nonetheless, both elements have established methodologies and rely on ordered and rational procedures. At this point we are expected to make what Tom Turner calls “the creative leap”1. The SAD method is taught as though the design grows naturally and organically from the first two stages. If this were true, we would all (like first year college students) come up with the same solutions to design challenges. In fact the creative process is quite different in its nature. It relies on ‘ideas’ that are filtered and modified against a rational framework to make them work in the real world. Thus the SAD method is a way of modifying ideas rather than originating them.
So where do these ideas come from? To most of us it is a mystery. As Mattias Konradsson puts it: “..ask a friend to think up something creative on the spot and he’ll look like he ate a bowl of ice cream in a hurry. It’s indeed an elusive process. Creativity and ideas don’t come on command, they seem to spring up when we least expect it”2. Much of the writing on the subject of design theory intellectualises this process. Methodologies, systems and theories have been put forward, but most post-rationalise what is essentially an intuitive process.
Instead of trying to dissect and categorise the process of idea origination, it probably makes more sense to try and examine how the brain works. Most designers are exposed to myriad cultural, spiritual and other influences that are clearly inspirational. Nonetheless, most people still talk about ideas coming ‘out of the blue’ and we are all familiar with the way in which they can be triggered by unexpected sources. One theory that looks at this in more detail is that of brain hemispheres. The “left brain – right brain” hypothesis was initially put forward by Roger Sperry who won a Nobel Prize for his work in 1981. In simple terms, he postulated that the left part of the brain controls the rational, analytical, objective, and detailed parts of our thinking; generally in a conscious fashion. The right part of the brain is responsible for the intuitive, random parts of our thinking. It works on a subconscious level and focuses on aesthetics, emotions, creativity and subjectivity. It is certainly true that the subconscious plays a critical part in the generation of ideas.
Perhaps it is impossible to successfully analyse creativity. Some people are naturally creative designers, and others will never be. For most of us in the middle, the ability to create and develop ideas that are the seeds of designs is something that can be fostered and refined. This partly happens through practice, and partly by the adoption of specific strategies.
In my experience the most successful design strategies work by giving the subconscious parts of the brain more free rein to work. The most effective of these is the deadline. If I have all day or all week to work on something, most of it is spent in a state of constipated frustration. Instead of producing something better I produce something worse. The other strategy I use is to do something else. Absorb the details of the site and then work on other things for a week or so before coming back and working ideas up quite quickly. Often just when I think I have things right, the client changes some parameter. I reluctantly rework the scheme only to discover that I have come up with a better solution than the original. All of these indicate that if we constrain our thought processes with too much methodology, we limit our ability to generate ideas. Of course, these ideas are loose fluffy masses which must be clipped and beaten into shape against a framework of principles. These may be site specific or more general and are part of the signature of individual designers as well as determining how practical their schemes are.
So where does this leave us. Survey-Analysis-Design is not really a method at all. The best ideas come while you’re in the bath. And if you try to design things by a method you can’t do it at all. Best not to think about it I say. Now, about that deadline…..
This article first appeared in Landscape Magazine under the title ‘Finding the form’.
What are your favourite ways of stimulating the design process? Leave a comment.
Tom Turner. Garden Design Journal Autumn 1999: ‘Timeless with delight’
Mattias Konradsson. ‘The Creative Process’ A List Apart ISSN: 1534-0295. 12 March 1999 – Issue No. 8
A conversation in the office the other day between John and Jeff went something like this…. John ‘ I met up with Mr A.nonymous designer last night’ Jeff in reply ‘Cotinus Grace!’. Jeff is a passionate horticulturalist but he has a broad vocabulary and frequently uses words that are not plant names to communicate a point. So why the reply … well this was the plant that Jeff associated with the Mr A.nonymous when he used to plant his schemes back in the 1990’s. Thereafter the conversation spread and the question.…what plant do you associate with schemes of a certain age became the topic of the day!
Do certain plants really identify a planting scheme, can a Cotinus Grace be used as dating evidence like a pottery shard on an archaeological dig? Well no, Cotinus Grace still provides a lovely splash of purple today and we have planted it in several schemes without fear of being branded passé. There is however definitely something to this, I have certainly visited a landscape in need of a refresh without a precast slab or shoulder padded client in site and still with a swoosh declared it so 1980’s!
So plants are probably associated with a time or fashion in the same way that a mini skirt is associated with the 60’s but still finds its way back into fashion and certain high streets on a Saturday night. Some fashions and plants are probably best left in the era they are associated with such as Houttuynia cordata Chameleon and super glue spiked hair – the Bowles & Wyer publicity shot of 1977 should definitely not be repeated…..
Best left in the archive…..
A bit of a B&W office poll and the following plants were listed:-
1950’s Roses, esp hybrid teas Ena Harkness, Prunus Kanzan, privet, monkey puzzle, fruit trees as Britain started to try and feed its self again after the war
1960’s Heathers, dwarf conifers (esp Elwoodii), Mahonia aquifolia, variegated plants in general, ‘Japonica’ (Chaenomeles), pampas grass, bare root roses (in the post)
To define garden design, first we have to decide what a garden is. Personally, I love the idea that for something to be considered a garden there has to be a gardener: there is a poetic circularity in the definition. Some would argue that garden design is a branch of landscape design. It is not less of a skill for that, if anything the reverse. There is ‘nowhere to hide’ in garden design. Every element is important and there is no chance of fudging the design.
In these straitened times, all spending decisions are understandably tightly controlled. Councils and voluntary organisations have seen their sources of funding dwindle. For landscape projects, this funding drought is actually much more serious than the literal drought we see developing week by week in the south of England. But as traditional sources of money dry up, are there new springs that we can seek out?
The UK planning system is going through a major upheaval at present. There have been a number of pieces of legislation culminating in the Localism Act (enacted in November 2011) and the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) which was published the Government today. This document has reduced 1200 pages of planning guidance to about 50. Some may argue (and I would be amongst them) that this is an over-simplification and that although 1200 pages is a bit much (‘growed like Topsy’) most of the guidance and policies are there for a good reason. However, let’s set that aside for the moment (or alternatively read my blog post ‘We all like to make plans’). Lurking back in the Planning Act 2008 was a section on something called ‘The Community Infrastructure Levy’ (CIL). This has only really come into force in the last year or so*. In simple terms, it is a charge that a local planning authority can set for all new developments in the Borough, to be paid by the developer to the Council. The collected money will be put into a central pot and will be spent on improving infrastructure in the Borough. This process has been reformed and simplified in the Localism Act of 2011. “The changes would require local authorities to pass a meaningful proportion of receipts to the neighbourhoods where the development that gave rise to them took place, clariﬁes that receipts may be spent on the ongoing costs of providing infrastructure to support the development of the area and provides more local choice over how to implement a charge.” (from Dept for CLG; link to document here). The real points here are twofold. Firstly that the CIL must be spent on infrastructure which in simple terms means something that requires construction of some sort. The second point is that the levy (or most of it) should be used to benefit the neighborhood in which it was raised. Now what is really interesting about this is that all local authorities are required to provide proposals for a green infrastructure. Do you see where I am going with this? One last piece in the jigsaw: Neighbourhood Plans. The point here is that under the Localism Bill, these are legally binding on Local Planning Authorities. Effectively local communities can force their local planning authorities to include aspects from the neighbourhood plans in the Local Development Framework (‘The Core Strategy’).
So, let’s put these pieces together: a mechanism for channelling funds from developers into infrastructure that will benefit local communities; a mechanism for neighbourhoods to to demand certain facilities from their local planning authorities, and a requirement on local authorities to provide proposals for ‘green infrastructure’ (which by the way is fairly explicitly defined – for once**). This represents a significant opportunity for community and other groups to gain access to funding that is otherwise disappearing fast. The Government has already said that priority will be given to projects that would not normally receive funding under local authority spending. Under the current squeeze this is an chance that most communities should recognise and pursue vigorously.
*The Community Infrastructure Levy regulations 2010 made the ﬁrst use of these powers and came into effect in April 2010.
** An explanantion of how CIL works (in Havant DC) can be found here, there is a good list of what is defined as ‘green infrastructure’ on page 7.
It’s 6am and my old friend the snooze button (god bless him) can’t rescue me anymore! I shower, change, wake the kids, dress the little zombies, stuff them with a good dose of strangely coloured cereal (fortified with vitamins so they say!), trip over school bags and run around like a Basil Fawlty for 20 minutes before finally ambling out of the door. I can’t be late for my meeting in London I protest, I must catch that train or I am doomed!
After dropping off the kids and racing like ‘The Stig’ to the station I find I have no parking money, and surprise, surprise the only parking spaces are miles from the station office! After more expletives, rushing about and waiting behind the longest person in the world (I mean who buys their season ticket at 7.30am?) I finally get my ticket and place on the London Midland express! This meeting better be worth it!
Much to my dismay the meeting turns out to be a complete time waster and not the ‘important’ one the project manager had built it up to be. Landscape was of course the last item on the agenda with only minor queries, which could have been dealt with all to easily via email or over the telephone. Still, at least there was coffee this time!
The problem with meetings, especially in a large design team environment is other consultants often don’t appreciate how much of our time is wasted when we are asked to attend those that don’t really concern us. Involvement is different for architects, structural engineers and M&E consultants as they usually cover broad areas both internally and externally on projects. As Landscape/garden designers we are generally only concerned with the exterior spaces (with some exceptions). Whilst knowing how much duct work can be run through the ceiling voids is interesting for some, it is not usually our favourite topic of conversation nor does it benefit our work!
This is where the art of meeting selection plays an important part of our armoury as landscape designers. Learning to pick the right meetings to attend and those to avoid is vital if you are to maximise productivity and most importantly profit on a project. Judging the number of meetings you will attend in fee quotes can be an extremely difficult task but a very important one none the less, especially if you hope to recoup fees for additional meetings at later date.
Increasingly on larger projects we try to bottom out with project managers, clients and architects if they really do need us at all the meetings scheduled. By simply asking the question you can end up saving a huge amount of time for both yourself and your clients which can only be a good thing in the long run, not to mention allowing you to get reacquainted again with the faithful Mr Snooze!
As designers there are times when we become fully absorbed in our own work, and rightly so. This happens frequently when projects are running at full tilt and we barely have time to sip that treasured early morning coffee, let alone pause for contemplation.
Whether you work in a small studio or large office it is important to take a step back to review work when the opportunities arise. More often than not constructive criticism from our office colleagues encourages us to look again and consider alternatives available. This often leads to better design development and the results are often more successful.
Can we rely on our colleagues too much though? There can be a danger that the criticism we receive becomes diluted or even too friendly if we are not careful. This is where collaboration with other external professionals can be useful from time to time to refresh creativity.
Recently at Bowles & Wyer we were involved in a public realm design tender for an exciting regeneration project around the St Mary’s site at Elephant & Castle. Lend Lease and Southwark council are working in partnership to transform this site as part of an overall £1.5bn, 55 acre development programme. We were shortlisted down to the final two designers but sadly we were not awarded the final contract despite our best efforts. The experience however proved beneficial.
Jeremy Rye Studio were initially invited to tender by Lend Lease and approached us to work in collaboration with them. Jeremy Rye worked previously for Kim Wilkie, recently setting up his own practice in 2011. His key strengths lie in masterplanning and sustainable design and he felt this would complement our own experience in detailed design of urban spaces, roof gardens and high quality residential developments.
It quickly became apparent from our first meeting that we had similar ideas and values, helping us form a strong bond. We made sure we communicated regularly and most importantly gave un-bias ‘outsider’ criticism of each other’s ideas. The result was a robust response to the design brief and we were left convinced our ideas had the potential to be successful.
Criticism from fellow landscape practitioners is not something we all have the luxury of during design stages of projects but something that can prove useful with the right team of people. Results can be surprising with exciting outcomes often different to those produced in isolation. Maybe we should all consider the benefits of collaboration once and a while to challenge our thinking? Certainly in tough economic times it is no bad thing to have allies closer to home.