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A lot to learn

By Ruth Slavid
Ruth Slavid

Ruth Slavid

One of the great advantages of landscape
as a discipline is that it is ‘baggy’. Universities of course teach a defined curriculum, particularly if they are decent and have courses accredited by the LI. But it is always difficult to determine where landscape ends and other subjects begin. Anybody for ecology, planning, urban design, horticulture, sociology and architecture? There are others as well, I am sure.

Perhaps ‘porous’ would be a better word. There are boundaries around landscape but knowledge and ideas travel through them in both directions. Having spent a lot of my career writing about architecture, there is a difference that strikes me between architecture and landscape. Architects are fascinated by other areas – by boat building, by photography, by history – but they like to subsume them all into their discipline, to ‘acquire’. Landscape seems to me to be far less interested in acquiring specialisms and much more about genuine exchange.

You can find some of the exchanges throughout this issue. Simon Brown, a young landscape architect who is eager to redefine the concept of rural practice, talks about the influence of his first degree in anthropology. Nicola Dempsey, one of the researchers at Sheffield, describes her work which gives landscape professionals the benefit of her earlier efforts in tourism and architecture and now in planning.

Sheffield features strongly in this issue. We have focused on it because of the forthcoming LI conference which will look at the interfaces between education, research and practice. We examine an exercise that students undertook recently, guided by a local practice which, while keen to ‘give back’, will also benefit by positioning itself to attract the best graduates.

James Hitchmough, the head of department, talks about the ways that research can be disseminated to practices, also saying that he would like more practices to sponsor research. There are of course practices that engage considerably in research – Arup and LDA Design spring to mind. Keith French, whose practice Grant Associates is masterplanning the revitalisation of the main campus at Sheffield University, explained that his practice is compiling a list of trees and shrubs that can resist climate change and disease.

These exchanges don’t just need to be between traditional disciplines. The publication of journalist George Monbiot’s book Feral has had an enormous influence, not least on LI president Noel Farrer who is now looking at his beloved Lake District with new eyes. He told me, after his daughter was cut off in Kendal for three days by flooding, ‘It is strange how you can all of a sudden, after a lifetime of rose-tinted conservation based romanticism, see the bare hills for what they are. Wounded, shaved and vulnerable landscapes where the stress of grazing has reduced them to poor unsophisticated places.

‘The protection of “rare” species under the name of conservation of the rural economy, derived from this stress is nonsense. I now cannot look at where I live in the same way. I now see in my mind’s eye the true natural context, the hills with rich verdant sides and tops. The advantages are enormous, but
in the longer term it means the residents of Kendal will have 67 times less chance of flooding than now as the soil under trees holds 67 times more water!’

Landscape is so rich as a discipline, because it learns from everywhere, including personal experience.

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