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This year’s Capability Brown Festival is looking forward as well as back, as the winning entries to a competition demonstrate.

Four winners have been announced in the Capability Brown Design Ideas Competition. The competition, hosted by Natural England and run by the Landscape Institute, was organised as part of the run up to this year’s Capability Brown Festival.

Entrants were asked to develop contemporary design ideas inspired by Capability Brown’s work and practice, together with thought-provoking ways to engage people with Brown and his landscapes and how and why they were created.

The winning designs will be used to inform what is implemented on the ground at a real site – Moccas Registered Park and Garden, with lessons to pass on to other sites.

Entrants were encouraged to ‘let their imagination and creativity soar. What kind of landscape would Brown have designed if he were living today? How would you create a contemporary landscape following his design principles and building on what he designed? How can you make Brown and his landscapes meaningful to audiences today?’

They were asked to develop creative ideas for the design and layout of part of Moccas Grade II* Registered Park and Garden near Hereford, a Brown-influenced historic designed landscape, that also incorporates Moccas National Nature Reserve (NNR) and Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).

The aim was not to create a pastiche Brown landscape but to produce a contemporary, multi-functional landscape, inspired by Brown and in harmony with the rich natural and cultural heritage of the site and the surrounding landscape. There were two categories, one for students and one for professionals, and there were two winners in each category.


PROFESSIONAL

Matthew Wigan Associates

The concept for the design is to provide a framework in which the influences of Capability Brown, of the Picturesque Movement, of the requirements and personal involvement of the Cornewall family and the historical context of the period can be understood, while creating an attractive landscape for visitors to enjoy, and a woodland pasture habitat which complements and extends the habitat of the adjacent Moccas Park National Nature Reserve.

Historic routes and viewpoints are to be recreated, illustrating the routes which were implemented during Brown’s influence on the estate, and the viewpoints which were created overlooking Moccas Court from the brow of Woodbury Hill. New extensions to these routes aim to provide a satisfying and varied landscape experience for visitors, providing a circular walk with extensive views over the Moccas Court Estate, and to the surrounding hills – in particular, the Black Mountains to the west of the site. The route would incorporate features of historical interest such as the earthwork stock enclosure, remnant hazel coppice to the south-east of the site, and the Bronze Age barrow. Interpretation boards would be provided to explain key viewpoints, and the site’s ecological, cultural and historical influences. The approach to the planting and conservation management of the site will help contrast the qualities of ‘picturesque’ landscape with ‘the beautiful’ (such as a typical Brownian landscape with smooth grassland and artfully placed trees), and ‘the sublime’ (the ‘savage’ and dramatic Black Mountains viewed to the south-west of the site).

In the ‘picturesque’ areas of the site, decaying trees, rougher grassland, and the encouragement of scrub layer developing beneath the trees contrast with an idealised Capability Brown landscape.

In terms of enhancing the site’s ecological value as an extension of the Moccas Park National Nature Reserve, a ‘picturesque’ management treatment that allows the development of scrub (particularly with nectar producing species), the retention of deadwood in damaged or dead trees, and variety in the length and degrees of roughness of the grassland, would complement efforts to promote biodiversity.

Deadwood would provide habitat for saproxylic species, and potentially bat roosts. Scrub with flowering native shrubs, and longer grassland with wildlfowers would provide nectar for insects.

The judges describe this as ‘a very detailed analysis of the historic influences connecting with the concepts of the Beautiful and Picturesque, with practical scope for sensitive wood pasture and habitat creation.’

Colvin and Moggridge
This entry sought to link Capability Brown’s naturalistic style with modern ideas of nature conservation. It does this by extending the deer park onto the ridge and encouraging NNR and SSSI habitats to extend, but also including an area for public access for education and enjoyment. In this way, a productive and ecologically rich landscape would be developed that could be managed easily.

A route would be developed with nine points of interest on the way that could be explained via an app on mobile phones.

These points of interest would be:
  1. Veteran treetop walk – at first this would lead visitors through the five veteran coppiced beech and oak trees. Over time, the magnificent habitats that these offer would be extended.
  2. A climactic view – this is the view that Capability Brown opened up to Cross End Farm.
  3. Exactness of composition – an explanation of just how carefully Capability Brown placed his trees ‘artlessly’ to achieve the ends he wanted.
  4. Variety of experiences – The route passes by a medieval earthenwork stock enclosure close to a natural spring, once used for hefting, and then passes through a section of coppiced hazel with standards.
  5. Emerge to fantastic views to north and south – simple stone-backed seats provide shelter from the wind.
  6. Specific views – A densely planted mostly evergreen walk of yew, holly, beech, pine and larch leads to a view of Moccas Court attributed to Humphry Repton.
  7. Folly – there would be a brief for a competition to be run by the RIBA. A new footpath would pass through the ground floor.
  8. A sunny food bank and habitat bank designed for people and wildlife – this would be a productive landscape that was resilient to change.
  9. Burial mound clearing – a simple stone circle would mark the mounds, with the hilltop managed as an open glade with hawthorn, a connection to Bronze age landscape.

The judges described this entry as ‘packed with detailed analysis, backed up by an array of design ideas to complement this site and inspire others’.


STUDENT

Jo Phillips and Owen Byrom, MMU
Called ‘Moccas Skyscape’, this project uses Brown’s method of drawing the human eye through the landscape by manipulating the scene. Brown punctuated vistas with trees and built elements to create a relationship between the viewer and nature; a visitor to his landscapes was skilfully located in an apparently natural world which was entirely pleasing to the viewer. Specimen trees were allowed to develop their full character whilst smoothed contours and reflective pools permitted a feeling of stillness, ease and control over the landscape.

The new design enables visitors to achieve states of reverie by locating them within the wide skies of Woodbury Hill. It offers opportunities simply to view, gaze and reflect, day and night. It does not feed information to the visitor, but rather uses Brown’s ways of seeing to draw them in, to play with experience and perceptions of wild and tame nature. It celebrates the ever-changing skies by simply allowing time and space for viewing.

Habitat creation through renewed wood pasture is at the heart of this proposal, which seeks to tread lightly on the land and allow layers of past and present use to co-exist. Extensive tree planting will reduce run-off and soil erosion, sequester carbon and provide dead-wood habitat in the long term. Use of tree seed and root suckers from Moccas Park should maximise tree survival. Wood and stone for the build and maintenance of the design could be sourced from the site itself, as modes of production are resurrected, connecting the place with its past.

The judges described this as ‘a striking concept that connects people with trees and the sky. A design with a strong spatial structure which optimises the emotional effect of openness and enclosure and takes advantage of the available views.’

Leopold Taylor and Naomi Rubbra, ECA
This proposal seeks to integrate Capability Brown’s revolutionary idea of ‘a journey through landscape’ with the contemporary needs of society, the local community and habitat restoration. The pair have reinterpreted many aspects of Brown’s landscape, looking closely at the successes and failures. They then adopted and interpreted some of the characteristics of his work, such as the idea of the ‘framed view’ and of having a number of different paths to reach the same destination.

Their proposals included meandering timber walkways, subtle meadow trails and designed vistas. The site would participate fully in the Capability Brown Festival. After the festival, there would be a variety of activities, many of them ecologically focused. The aim is to make a stimulating, educationally and ecologically vibrant park that would cater for all visitors from holidaymakers to the local community.

The judges described this scheme as ‘work of a very high quality, full of interest and invention and beautifully presented in a style redolent of the 18th century... an enchanting masterplan which reflects the hand of the contemporary Brown’.

Honourable Mentions
In addition to the winners, there were three honourable mentions. ACL Paysages, Matt Machouki and a team comprising Harrie Carr, Emma Henderson, Emma Thompson and Kit Bowen.

21st century Capability

By Ruth Slavid

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