There's nothing wrong with normal
©: Agnese Sanvito
Just under a year ago, the fashion world coined the word ‘normcore’. According to Vogue, New York trend agency K-Hole came up with the term last October, to describe the idea of dressing like everybody else, in regular clothes that don’t immediately shout about their design – jeans, T-shirts, sports shoes, that kind of stuff.
Since this is the world of the trendy, there has to be a twist. The fashionistas may look pretty middle of the road to most of us who are what film stars patronisingly term ‘civilians’, but the cognoscenti can spot, through the odd careful detail, that what at first glance looks unexceptional is actually excruciatingly expensive and exclusive.
That kind of sartorial in-joke is the last thing that one would want to translate into landscape. Just imagine: ‘It may look like an ordinary gravel path, but actually it contains a significant number of uncut diamonds’. It wouldn’t and shouldn’t work. But turn the concept on its head and it becomes more appealing.
Giving a great deal of attention to the quotidian, so that it works extra well (and not at inflated prices), is one of the best things a professional can do. Celebrations of the everyday are even more important than of the special. In her article about landscape planning on pages 9–12, Rebecca Hughes explains that where once effort went only into understanding the ‘special’ landscape, there is now a growing understanding of the importance of the everyday, especially to locals.
Dominick Tyler’s big picture (pages 6 and 7) comes from a project that celebrates local and disused terms for describing landscape – a way of helping us all appreciate what is around us, since once something has a name we consider it to be more significant. Our technical feature on smell and the city (pages 45 to 47) talks about ways that we can better understand the ordinary world that surrounds us, and design for it. And, in ‘A word’ on page 66, Tim Waterman argues against the mindless embrace of the icon.
Landscape architects are often criticised for being insufficiently assertive, but making modest places special in a quiet way is not a self-effacing thing to do. It requires skill and confidence, and probably the ability to fight some battles. Noel Farrer’s presidency is taking housing as one of its main themes, and that is an area where numerous high-quality but ‘ordinary’ spaces are required. Read Jo Watkins’ piece on housing on pages 23–28 and you may decide that, while ‘normcore’ has already peaked in the fickle world of fashion, dealing with the normal in landscape architecture is an approach whose time has probably come.