Robert Holden CMLI reports on this year’s FOLAR AGM, where he and fellow speakers discussed the history and current state of landscape education

    The London Road campus of Reading University, location of the first university landscape architecture course in Britain from 1930

    The subject of the seminar at this year’s FOLAR AGM, held on 1 April 2017, was ‘Landscape architecture and management education in the UK: past, present and future’. Robert Holden CMLI, one of the four speakers, reflects on the event.

    FOLAR (the Friends of the Landscape Library and Archives at Reading) exists to promote the Landscape Institute archives and library, now held at the Museum of English Rural Life (MERL) in Reading. Each year, FOLAR holds a seminar to promote these collections. This year, FOLAR’s seminar dealt with the origins and history of landscape architecture and management education in the UK, their present situation, and the future.

    Professional landscape education in this country goes back to 1881 and the Crystal Palace School of Landscape Gardening. The first university landscape architecture course was at Reading and started in 1930; so Reading was a suitable place for this discussion about the history of landscape education.

    At this annual FOLAR seminar, Guy Baxter, University Archivist at Reading, described the development of the three-year Diploma in Landscape Architecture, which survived until 1959. Jan Woudstra then outlined the development of gardening education in this country from its 17th-century origins.

    Richard Bisgrove described his landscape management course at Reading, which lasted from 1986 until 2009. And finally, your reporter discussed the present scene of course closures, understaffing (compared with overseas), paucity of landscape professors, subsidiary status of landscape education, and failure to exploit the dramatic increase in numbers of applications over the past ten years.

    With the exception of Jan Woudstra’s work, landscape education has been little studied in the past. Look at Tony Aldous’s and Brian Clouston’s history of the Landscape Institute, Landscape by Design (1979), published on the LI’s fiftieth anniversary, which has almost nothing on landscape architecture or landscape management education. One ambition of these FOLAR seminars is to promote an overview of the development of the landscape profession in the UK. One hope is that this will contribute to the centenary of the Landscape Institute in 2029, so that the history of the profession is better developed. Through that understanding, we can plot its development and future.


    The Landscape Institute is currently conducting a major cross-discipline review of education and practice in the landscape sector. Read more and find out how to contribute here.


    1. An interesting account of our history and state of education, which highlights the downward spiral if departments are not independent, lower standards of entry, and have no research status. Above all, it comes back to clarity of identity of the profession. We are not viewed as the go to place that covers all environmental concerns nor attractive as part of the growing design sector; the most high profile urban designers and garden designers only have a loose connection to us; and science and management is not main stream. When you look to professions or other countries that are more successful: architecture focuses on the opposite ends of art and city planning, boosting profile with star names and TV programmes that draw in interest; in the USA there is a tighter bond between the prestigious colleges and an artistically led profession. Artistically led not to the exclusion of the science of the subject, but inspired by it and vice versa. Strategic and confident. Not in retreat and notionally trying to expand at the same time, as we seem to be. e.g.we endlessly talk of SUDs and link it to flooding. Good stuff, but if you don’t go beyond the technical and simultaneously demonstrate the passion for water, as in ancient Islamic design, as the spiritual symbol itself you do not grab the audience’s attention.
      Too much preaching to the converted. Not enough putting ourselves at the heart of the energy, poverty, justice and environmental degradation debate worldwide. Science and maths have taken over, without anyone to pull it together with art and culture….except architects.

    2. just to add, more collaboration, as I know the LI is trying to do, is key to greater influence and a more imaginative future. Film makers, poets, writers, researchers…..Not just the usual crowd, who want to eat us up in the case of planners and architects. Rather than lose our identity it may enhance it.

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