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John Hopkins remembered

John Hopkins


The sudden and unexpected death of John Hopkins in January at the age of 59 has saddened the profession. On these pages some of those who knew him best remember a man who had achieved so much, and had so much still to achieve.

Peter Neal
John Hopkins was a true professional; focused, applied, wellconnected, almost always calm under pressure and never afraid to say what he believed. I first met him on the shop floor of Clouston’s London office in ’89 and soon realised he was not one to take life too seriously. For me, and many others, he has been a rich mix of colleague, mentor, ally, co-writer and trusted friend. His influences were extensive and most definitely American-centric, including John Dewey, the philosopher, and Herman Daley, a pioneer of environmental economics. More recently he became a close friend of the celebrated urban planner and public parks expert Alexander Garvin, who he met whilst travelling on aChurchill Fellowship. But the list must also include Gary Larson and Tommy Cooper for, much to the consternation of his colleagues, John loved a good gag.

Highly adept at working across scales — S, M, L, XL and even XXL — he clearly understood the need to connect landscapes to make them work properly. A retrospective would contain many highlights. S - the fine-grained crafting of the Newcastle Draw Dock on the Isle of Dogs. M - his pro-bono advocacy for the de-culverting of the Quaggy River that ran at the end of his garden in south-east London and led on to the ground-breaking Sutcliffe Park. L - his work on the Olympics, for which much has been written. XL - his central role in framing and structuring the East London Green Grid, and on through to XXL which includes his significant contribution in developing the framework for the Thames Gateway Parklands.

Much of this was achieved through committed collaboration with a broad professional network that he maintained faithfully throughout his career. He relished opportunities to push boundaries and was tireless in refining the detail. He gained a reputation for taking clients and colleagues well beyond their comfort zone to gain as much from a project as possible. It was a trait he occasionally adopted when pitching for work, which wasn’t always received as well as it was intended.

Clearly the Olympic Park was John’s tour de force. He would be the first to acknowledge that its success is attributed to many, but for John it was his Quaggy writ large. It took the earlier themes of an integrated and multifunctional landscape and played them out on the larger and far higher-profile canvas of the lower Lea. He relished the opportunity to demonstrate practically what he had been seeking to achieve through the strategic park systems and green grids of the wider Thames Estuary.

A tribute from James Corner, who encouraged John’s return to the States, emphasised that ‘a large part of the success of the Olympic Park is owed to John’s unwavering tenacity and commitment to excellence. His subsequent time as visiting professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Design saw him bring that same level of passion and deep, deep knowledge of the field into the purview of students and the larger field. He cared so very much, and will be dearly missed’.

But the Olympic Park may not have been John’s greatest legacy. Bang on schedule, and just ten days before he died, he submitted the first two chapters of The Global Garden. It was to be his vision for a new ecologically centred economy and infrastructure to replace the worn-out and energy-hungry infrastructures of past centuries. Landscape architects, he argued, must be at the heart of this process, for it is the profession’s skills that are critical to building beautiful and truly sustainable communities of the future.

And how exactly would that be achieved? I bet he would answer — ‘Just like that’.

Peter Neal is a landscape architect, landscape consultant and a fellow of the Landscape Institute
Annie Coombs
Football fan, musician, wordsmith, thinker, team player, visionary. This was John Hopkins. I first met him in the mid ’80s when we were both working in Hong Kong for the Clouston office. One of the projects on which we worked together was Wo Hop Shek Interchange. It was part of a new town’s infrastructure, close to a huge cemetery where thousands of people came to pay respects to their ancestors and to sweep graves twice a year. We wanted it to reflect the Chinese culture, respect the spirituality of the area without resorting to pastiche. John pushed the bounds of the design; I pushed the engineers to let us include our (mainly his) ideas.

Come the ’90s John seemed more assertive in his deeply held beliefs in sustainability, more serious about the ethics of what the profession was doing. Maybe this emanated from time at university in the States, or recessiondriven business pressures and certainly fatherhood. He cared passionately about Rosie and Jack. Whatever it was; he still liked a pint, still supported Blackburn Rovers (or Liverpool if Rovers was losing) and was still making music (at this time with Brian Clouston’s son William).

He was thoughtful, quietly determined, persuasive, tenacious, and poetic. There was an underlying steeliness and hardness that sometimes surfaced. I’m glad he had these latter characteristics – they will have made all the difference to winning professional battles, of which I am sure there were many on that Olympic park.

That’s where I next worked with John. Through CABE, I was asked to help support the brief-writing for the landscape architecture commission for the Olympic Park. A gap of 20 years, a reversal of roles — he was the boss this time — but we still worked as a good team; respecting each other’s strengths, communicating well and thinking about people, places, legacy and design.

Annie Coombs is a consultant and enabler and a fellow of the Landscape Institute
Alan Tate
When we first worked together in the Clouston Hong Kong office in the mid 1980s, John was already a model professional. And he showed it when we worked together again in Clouston’s London office in the late 1980s — after John had earned his MLA at Louisiana State — and when we joined Jacob Rothschild’s Clifton Design, and from 1992–97 in our own partnership — Tate | Hopkins — a roller-coaster ride in recession-hit London.

We taught each other everything we knew or thought we knew about public parks before we dissolved the partnership ahead of my move to Canada in 1998. But we never dissolved our friendship.

And in 2006, when I was thinking about returning to work in Britain, John nominated me as project director for the Olympic Parklands. After a telephone interview in early 2007 and a longer than expected wait for a decision, I got a call from John to tell me that, after reading the job description, he decided it was too good an opportunity to miss — and he would be starting the job next month. Even that didn’t destroy our friendship. I thanked him and told him that he’d better not fuck up! In summer 2011, before he left to start writing about the almost built-out park, he took three of us for a sneak preview ... and after our visit he reminded me of that phone conversation. And he didn’t fuck up. The boy done good. The boy done very good. Thank you, John, for everything you did for me and for what you did for London.

Alan Tate is professor and head of landscape architecture at the University of Manitoba
Neil Mattinson
John Hopkins, in his role as Project Sponsor and Director for the Parklands and Public Realm London 2012, was LDA Design’s client for four years.

John had been in post for approximately 12 months when we were appointed, during which time he had been working tirelessly to write a landscape design brief for the project which would prove to be the most rigorous and all-encompassing we had ever seen as practitioners.

He drove the necessarily time-poor process at a fierce pace from the outset. His commitment and strength of belief was clear to us all. I recall a number of long day and late evening / early morning design sessions in which John participated with us; the debates were often heated with frank exchanges of views from John, but at the close we, as a team, were at one.

One of his uncompromising objectives was not only to create a park that would look stunningly beautiful but also one that must work hard in terms of delivering biodiversity and sustainability and become an essential piece in the jigsaw of the social infrastructure of East London. We are fortunate and immensely gratified to know that John was able to see and share with us a number of ‘firsts’ for the Olympic Parklands in terms of planning, design, biodiversity and sustainability.

As a client, John was a ‘critical friend’, steering and engaging the team to deliver the best work we had ever done. Nothing short of excellence would be good enough. The following piece, in John’s own words, is a fitting reminder for all landscape architects of our fundamental raison- d’etre.

‘What we achieve, as landscape architects, is bound only by our personal and collective limitations. Our personal and collective moral authority and power will come from a fully fashioned environmental ethic supported by creativity, technical expertise, political awareness and eloquence. We have a critical vested interest in the creation of good places where we can dwell and where we and many future generations may live ... for we are the music makers and we are the dreamers of dreams ... we are the movers and the shakers of the world forever, it seems.’

John Hopkins 2008

Neil Mattinson is senior partner at LDA Design
Marion Bowman
John was one of the first landscape architects I met after arriving at the Landscape Institute. I was on a mission to understand the profession in order to raise its public profile. A new script was needed to move things on from inward-looking preoccupations with the encroachments of architects and garden designers. Within minutes of meeting him I knew I had found someone who was key to the future. Wherever anyone looked there was talk of sustainability, climate change, ‘one planet’ living. John brought these abstract ideas to life and was second to none in helping lay people understand what the landscape profession could offer. We talked about making a television series about Britain’s gift to the world of the public park. Whether it was Birkenhead or Bow, John was able to talk authoritatively and accessibly about the social and economic benefits of landscape and to make listeners see the world, and value life, afresh.

As a Fellow, John was always ready to help with Institute initiatives though completely uninterested in holding office. Later, when I became vice-chair of the Tree Council and he was at the Olympic Delivery Authority, we successfully nominated John to chair the panel that DEFRA set up in 2011 to distribute £4m in grants for tree planting. His favourite book was Jean Giono’s The Man Who Planted Trees. John had great joie de vivre and, for someone so relaxed, he never wasted a minute, whether he was quaffing beer with relish, composing and playing music, fishing, or reminiscing about his family’s pie business in Lancashire.

Our last contact was during the Olympics when we corresponded about his latest book proposal, The Global Garden, discussing topics as diverse as land grabs in Africa and megacities in China. He was a true public intellectual, combining wide interests and deep knowledge of history, political ideas, and the diversity of life on earth and applying them to his published work, practice, talks and teaching. John took the long view but lived in the present. He was an inspiration. His legacy in the Olympic Park and elsewhere will sustain many for generations to come.

Marion Bowman was director general of the Landscape Institute from 2005 to 2008
John Hopkins CV

Born: 1953
1976 – 1978 Student landscape architect, Central Lancashire Development Corporation
1978 Diploma Landscape Architecture, Thames Polytechnic
1978 – 1980 Landscape architect, Central Lancashire Development Corporation
1980 – 1981 Landscape architect, Alam Bina Yuncken Freeman, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
1981 – 1982 Senior landscape architect, Environmental Partnership, Sydney, Australia
1982 – 1985 Brian Clouston and Partners, Hong Kong
1985 – 1986 Louisiana State University, Research MLA (Summa cum Laude) and design tutor, 3rd year studio
1986 Master Landscape Architecture, Louisiana State University (Summa cum laude)
1986 – 1987 Freelance consultant landscape architect, Ben Thompson and Associates, Morice and Gary, Pat Loheed, Boston, Massachusetts
1987 – 1989 Senior landscape architect, Brian Clouston and Partners, London
1989 – 1990 Director, Clifton Design
1990 – 1996 Partner, Tate Hopkins
1996 – 1998 Associate director, EDAW
1998 – 2007 Partner, LDA Design
2007 – 2011 Project director, Olympic Delivery Authority, London
From 2011 Visiting professor, University of Pennsylvania

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