The conference inspired the Gardens Trust’s campaign, Compiling the Record – the essential mid-to-late 20th century landscapes
Wendy Tippett CMLI, Landscape Director at Andrew Kenyon Architects in Bristol and Conservation Trustee of Avon Gardens Trust, reports on the Gardens Trust conference held on 5 June 2017.
The recent redevelopment of Sylvia Crowe’s Grade II-listed landscape scheme at the Commonwealth Institute on Kensington High Street, in order to accommodate the new ultra-prime apartments associated with the Design Museum relocation, illustrates the vulnerability of our designed landscapes. The loss of this important scheme from the 1960s prompted a discussion about the neglect, fragility and under-appreciation of many landscape schemes from our recent past.
There are isolated success stories, including Geoffrey Jellicoe’s Grade II Hemel Hempstead Water Gardens, which are currently being restored with the aid of Heritage Lottery Funding. Generally, however, there are many acclaimed schemes that remain overlooked, undervalued and at risk. They are underrepresented on the register and often in peril of being destroyed or altered beyond recognition.
Two landscape architect members of The Gardens Trust, Karen Fitzsimon and Camilla Beresford, organised a recent conference at the newly extended Gardens Museum. The Gardens Trust is to be applauded for highlighting the lack of protection afforded to many of the designed landscapes from the mid-to-late 20th century.
The lineup of speakers and attendees was diverse. The speakers were:
- Dominic Cole OBE (landscape architect and President of The Gardens Trust)
- Annabel Downs (landscape architect, former Landscape Institute archivist)
- Oliver Rock (landscape architect at HTA Design LLP)
- Rowan Moore (architectural critic of the Observer and author of Slow Burn City)
- Dr Roger Bowdler (Director of Listings, Historic England)
- Richard Flenley (landscape architect, former Director, Land Use Consultants)
- Elain Harwood (Historic England, post-war researcher and author)
- Deborah Evans (landscape architect, historian and horticulturist)
The conference was chaired by Robert Holden (landscape architect, lecturer and commentator) and Catherine Croft (Director of the Twentieth Century Society).
The stimulating presentations and subsequent discussions left many of us inspired to carry on the research and recording of mid-to-late 20th century designed landscapes. This period of work is associated with the emerging Landscape Institute and the expanding post-war breadth and professional nature of our work. Many well-meaning interventions have caused harm to post-war landscape schemes, often through lack of understanding and over-planting. Unlike buildings, landscape is inherently vulnerable. Many projects have been lost through redevelopment and the escalating value of land. We may be familiar with the name and work of the designer, or remember a mention of a scheme being developed or discussed, and the discovery of the original design sketches and drawings can be an exciting prospect. The recent past can be within the living working memory of some (albeit more mature) practitioners, and there is often a wealth of verbal history and knowledge waiting to be uncovered and shared.
A personal example of this is my own ‘year out’ spent with Preben ‘Ben’ Jakobsen. Karen Fitzsimon studied his work for her recent garden history master’s dissertation, and we met while she was carrying out her research. Karen’s understanding of Ben’s work was greatly assisted by the Jakobsen Collection, which had been donated to the LI Archive by his daughter, Karen Jakobsen, after his death. Karen is director of Bond Books and was also part of the conference.
The 20th Century Drawings Collection was initiated by Annabel Downs (former Landscape Institute Archivist) and Sheila Harvey (former Landscape Institute Librarian), and is now housed at MERL (Museum of English Rural Life, Reading University), and overseen by FOLAR (Friends of the Landscape Library & Archive at Reading). This arrangement safeguards our landscape drawing and library collection, and some of the collections have online database access. The Garden Museum is also compiling its own Archive of Garden Design, which includes some 20th century landscape architects’ work, such as material by Janet Jack including her work on the Alexandra Road Estate, some of Geoffrey Jellicoe’s drawings for Shute House, and Dominic Cole’s drawings for the Eden Project. Many County Gardens Trusts will have local and detailed records, and it is worth checking the local Historic Environment Record (HER).
Compiling the Record: the essential mid-to-late 20th century landscapes
There are many important designed landscapes from the mid-to-late 20th century that are not currently included on Historic England’s National Heritage List for England (NHLE). Landscape sites typically fall within Historic England’s Register of Historic Parks and Gardens. Established in 1983, the Register currently identifies over 1,600 sites assessed to be of particular significance. While this does not give them legal protection as the listing of a building or monument does, inclusion on the Register is a ‘material consideration’ in the planning process, should any proposed development impact on the landscape’s special character.
The Compiling the Record campaign is calling for suggestions for designed landscapes to be added to the Register. Details and instructions can be found on the Gardens Trust website. At this stage all that is needed is:
- the name and address of the site
- the category the site is in (see below)
- the designer, if known
- the date of design, if known
- a short summary of why you think the site is important
The initial deadline for submitting the form(s) is 31 October 2017.
Any further historical information may be requested later. Following the deadline, the sites will be reviewed and a shortlist of 50 compiled. Approximately 20 of the most important of these sites will be submitted to Historic England for potential registration on the NHLE. Successful sites will have a strong design element, a good level of survival (although they may be in a poor condition), and will probably, but not necessarily, be the work of an eminent designer. The landscapes do not need to be set in aspic; they can incorporate change through constructive conservation. The Gardens Trust is also keen to include the work of living designers who are currently still practising.
The sites should be submitted under one or more of the following typologies/categories:
- gardens, public and private, including roof and interior gardens, garden squares, and botanic gardens
- parks, public and private, including arboreta and urban parks
- country Parks, mostly those designated in the 1970s under the Countryside Act 1968
- civic spaces, including government offices, town or county halls, civic squares, and art galleries
- housing and housing schemes, private and public
- cemeteries, burial grounds and memorial sites
- sports sites, including playgrounds, race tracks, lidos, and golf courses
- commercial sites, including business parks, factories, hotels and business headquarters
- infrastructure, including airports, reservoirs, pumping stations and motorways
- institutions, including schools, universities, hospitals, military sites, asylums and prisons
The Gardens Trust has recognised the need to identify important designed landscapes from the mid-to-late 20th century. The campaign will benefit from more Landscape Institute members contributing their knowledge, memories and suggestions.