It is a great time to be a landscape architect. The spirit of place is alive and well and on people’s minds.
During the twentieth century, all the design professions were given a good shake-up. The lay public has taken a new interest in their surroundings. The state of the environment has caught fears and imaginations. It is now part of the public consciousness and the political agenda. The hubris of building architects has received an icy blast. City planners have been ridiculed away from isolated theoretical modelling. Engineers have been prodded back into creativity. And landscape architects are reawakening from decades of timidly shrubbing up supermarket car parks or smoothing out slag heaps.
In some ways the public are demanding a return to the eighteenth-century concept of the architect in a complete role – not sliced up into building- or façade- or landscape- architect. The full concept of an architect as maker is based on approaching the place as a whole – not as sub-sections to be divided up between hermetically sealed professions. During the twentieth century landscape architects, such as Sylvia Crowe, Geoffrey Jellicoe and Nan Fairbrother, have reminded central government that the environment has to be seen as an ecological and cultural continuum. The message has finally got through.
The contribution which landscape architects can make at this point is immense and pivotal. Landscape architecture addresses both the built and the cultivated environment. It thinks about city as well as countryside; housing as well as agriculture; cultural history as well as nature conservation. With their sense of scale and breadth, landscape architects are particularly well placed to deal with the fundamental questions of how the land should be used – if at all. It places and shapes buildings and infrastructure. It deals with connection and movement. It is the general start point from which the particular specializations can proceed.
A new kind of design profession may emerge in this century, one in which the twentieth-century professional boundaries are completely revised. Building and landscape architecture may disappear as single disciplines, but the thought processes and approach of the landscape architect are set to determine the future of design.
Kim Wilkie i.2000