An interview with Kim Wilkie
“If there’s one element that I think is going to be the most crucial going forward, it is water, the lack of it and how it unites and separates us” – Kim Wilkie
Has your work always been led by the land?
Yes. I was born in Malaysia, moved to the Iraqi desert and was then sent to school in England. Going from such different environments meant that from the very start I was aware of nature and climate and culture. It’s been something that has fascinated me ever since. I have enormous fondness for all the places I have lived. I hope that living in these different locations has taught me not to recreate anything, but to respond to the place that you’re in. It’s much easier to do work with real resonance when it’s something you absolutely understand and a place you can easily visit. The great thing about now working close to home in Hampshire is that I instinctively know how the geology is laid down, how the hydrology works, what all the stories of the place are. Although I work all over the world, I think landscape architects are at their best on their home territory.
Now that you’re living and working in the countryside, is your focus more rural than urban?
Well I’ve still got projects such as Chelsea Barracks to do. I think what’s very interesting about the moment is that it’s a perfect storm of unpredictability. Climate change and financial change are going to bring about quite radical political change. It’s a really crucial moment for landscape architecture to make a contribution to how we live better on the land and resources we have. The issues that face urban and rural are paralleled. So the idea of how you harvest water, grow food and manage land has influenced my ideas for Chelsea Barracks quite profoundly. I hope that all my experience of agriculture and stewardship first hand will help to make for better urban environments and solutions.
Can the industry efficiently tackle these issues?
I think there are a lot of landscape architects out there who would love the opportunity to bring stewardship much more into the focus of the projects that they do. I suspect that the pace of change and the awareness of the wider public will make it possible for us to have a much fuller role than just shrubbing up the curtilage of buildings. Maybe that’s being idealistic, but I think we’ve got to believe that we can make a difference. If we give up at this stage, it would be a shame. I think there’s a real appetite for a wider and deeper role for landscape architects.
What are your current projects?
I’m working on a setting at the Grange Opera House in Hampshire. It’s an extraordinary landscape that needs a bit of love and attention. I’ve been inspired by Le Grand Meaulnes by Alain-Fournier, which is a fantastic story of a teenager who discovers a ruined chateau and has an extraordinary four-day party there. It’s the idea of having these big performances, music and parties in a very wild, ruined landscape. I am also writing a book about water and how landscape is eroded, formed and irrigated by water. If there’s one element that I think is going to be the most crucial going forward, it is water, the lack of it and how it unites and separates us.