The work and life of Peter Daniel, the first recipient of the Landscape Institute Scotland’s Lifetime Achievement Award, is profiled by Alan Cameron.
In November 2012, Peter Daniel became the first recipient of the Landscape Institute Scotland’s Lifetime Achievement Award which was presented to a delighted Daniel at the Managing Change in Scotland’s Landscapes Conference in Perth.
A further conversation was held with Peter at his home in early 2014, a charming manse in the Scottish Borders filled with an eclectic mix of pictures, furniture, books and memorabilia. Sitting in front of a roaring fire, with a glass of excellent French red, he recounted events in a long and fruitful working life. It started off in a very dangerous place. As a young man, Peter joined the Royal Navy and served on an escort aircraft carrier on the extremely hazardous and uncomfortable Arctic convoys to Russia. Following this he was posted to the Far East in preparation for the invasion of Japan. He joined the carrier HMS Venerable but the planned expedition was cut short with the Japanese surrender. In the wake of this, he enjoyed a period of recreation visiting islands and the coast. He sailed to Japan and visited both Hiroshima and Nagasaki only months after their atomic bombing of August 1945. The photo is restored from a series he took on that trip.
Peter left the navy as a sub-lieutenant, and embarked on a creative career. As a first degree he read architecture at Liverpool University and completed a Masters in Civic Design immediately afterwards. He studied Landscape Architecture externally. It was during this formative period in his new career he came into contact with Geoffrey Jellicoe and Frank Clark, with whom he would later teach with at Edinburgh University.
He worked for a period in Canada, but realised he had different, more socially aligned values than those he found there. He also had wider landscape and environmental concerns and recalls he was less inclined towards their financial imperatives.
Peter returned to England to work on the then current generation of new towns. In this he developed a close working relationship with Victor Pasmore and Frank Dixon at Peterlee. Their feeling was that council housing should be as good as private housing and set about transforming an impoverished landscape characterised by slag heaps and spoil into a good living environment. He believes they were eventually successful.
His next move was to Scotland. He started working in association with a builder, which he recollects was an unusual arrangement the 1960s, before moving to Livingstone New Town in 1962. In that post he produced the physical masterplan for the town, seeking to adopt the methods developed at Peterlee. He left in 1965, began teaching at Edinburgh University and set up in private practice, which he continues to do.
Peter looks back over a long working life. He received his award in 2012, having been a leading light in hugely influential conference A National Landscape Policy for Scotland in 1962, fifty years later he was involved in the organization and contributed to the Managing Change in Scotland’s Landscapes Conference. He has the same passion for landscape now as he had at the time of the first conference.
Peter enjoyed teaching and many Landscape Institute Scotland members consider themselves fortunate to have been one of his students. He was good, perceptive yet practical. He feels that his most important message was that you can not do anything to improve the landscape if you do not understand how it got to be the way it is. This he applies to his own work.
He believes that landscape architects have a big part to play in the future, but worries that things are “too commercial” and that younger members need to be exposed to practical work and “get their hands dirty”. He advocates the need for blended rather than over specialized experience.
He has had, and continues to have a balanced career, combining public service and education with private practice, in the UK and overseas. Masterplanning and assessment have been the backbone of his consultancy. He worked in association with James and Partners Architects in Belfast to produce the masterplan for the new Zageb City in Abu Dhabi in 1969. This new settlement has emerged steadily from the desert and is near completion. He continues his assessment work, including the Botanic Gardens in Scotland with his business colleague.
Peter is confident for the future of landscape architecture and can view it with the perspective reached over a long period. He has, like others, had great successes and enjoyed the many thrills and hazards of practice, but how many of us have had to be concerned with the prospect of being torpedoed or kamikaze.