As we publish a selection of some of the most exciting UK water schemes of recent years in our case studies library, Simon Odell looks at the tradition of designing with water.

    The start of the involvement of the landscape profession with water in the UK is perhaps most famously linked to improving the estates of the 18th century elite.

    In his book The Water Garden: Styles, Designs and Visions, George Plumptre describes this vision. “The English park, perfected in the designs of Capability Brown, was a deliberate composition in complete keeping with its context, shaped by the presence of water features on a major scale.  Although often contrived, the whole effect was designed to recreate nature as faithfully as possible and so the sinuous, unpredictable line of lake and stream replaced the geometry of canals and water parterres as the ideal form of water in the garden”

    Capability Brown could even be said to be an early exponent of multifunctionality, since his lakes were designed to allow not just fishing but also boating and visual amenity and – of all things – otter hunting.  They also have a reputation for being resistant to flooding.

    There have continued to be landscape designers who could excel in the construction of large water features, hence the water gardens in Harlow New Town designed by Frederick Gibberd and Geoffrey Jellicoe’s Water Gardens in Hemel Hempstead.  But it was perhaps following the inspiration given to clients and the confidence given by the Water Park designed by Derek Lovejoy and Partners at the Liverpool International Garden Festival in 1984 that the body of practitioners developing water-related construction skills has grown.

    One indicator of what the profession is capable of is shown through more than one hundred water-related case studies submitted in 2014 as part of a competition for their inclusion on the LI website. Many of these have already won national recognition, such as the Olympic Park.View the new water case studies here.

    Plumptre, G., The Water Garden: Styles, Designs and Visions (1993, Thames & Hudson)Image: Nottingham Flood Alleviation Scheme. View the case study. 

    (Subsequent to this blog a Technical Information Note on Water, flooding and landscape was published in 2020).

    Simon Odell CMLI

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