Northumberlandia has received a great deal of complimentary attention – but not from the honorary editor of Landscape, the Landscape Institute Journal
Tim Waterman, who previously stirred controversy when he criticised Jencks’ designs in the first of his polemics on bad role models in landscape architecture, was interviewed on the BBC about the opening of Northumberlandia, where he regretted that the sculpture, created from waste material from a former coal mine, did not have much to do with the area’s mining heritage.
Waterman, who seems to have become a bit of a lone voice among the general acclaim, was unrepentant, later saying, ‘Charles Jencks’s Northumberlandia appears, in the aerial views through which she is most commonly represented, to have fallen from a great height in some tragic accident. It is not just her stiff, unnatural pose that is disconcerting, but that she is a symbol for all that the best contemporary landscape architecture is not. She is an empty and wooden concept, the solipsistic vision of the ‘starchitect’. Form for form’s sake, she is divorced from her local context. She exemplifies the attitude that separates “high” design from sustainable design, which is a fading hangover from a bad trip on the dark side of modernism. To this destructive ethic, Jencks adds in the worst of postmodernism – the “anything goes” attitude that allows meaning and significance to be dispensed with. This treats landscape, the most rich of all mediums, as tabula rasa.
‘So there Northumberlandia is, floating in her meaningless void, accompanied only by a whiff of sexism and arrogance embodied in an anonymous female form that is there to be climbed, mounted, dominated. What a terrible shame, what a terrible symbol, what a mountain of waste.’