LI Northern Ireland organised a special ceremony

Gold Medal presented to Robert Carson in Belfast

Peter Hutchinson, joint Chair with Emily Smyth of the Landscape Institute Northern Ireland, welcomed Landscape Institute members and guests to the Barge, on the River Lagan in Belfast at Lanyon Quay for the special Landscape Institute Gold Medal Award ceremony for esteemed member of the landscape architectural profession in Northern Ireland, Robert Carson, MBE. 

Having been a member of the profession for 39 years, and known Robert for all of that time since his start in Craigavon Development Commission, Peter commented that it was great to see so many faces, old and new. On behalf of those present, Peter stated his delight to be part of this significant public gesture in the presence of Robert Carson and his daughter Rachel, and Noel Farrar, now president of the Landscape Institute. 

Getting to the heart of the problem
Recognising the difficulty of sufficiently encapsulating the importance of Robert and his work, and of doing him justice in such an introduction, Peter observed that one of Robert’s core talents is his ability to get to the heart of a problem – and resolve it.  Paired with Robert’s incredible modesty and humility is a vigorous curiosity and enthusiasm, and determination – influenced by the authority of Ian McHarg and the time Robert spent studying and practising in USA.

In appreciation of Robert Carson’s leadership throughout the evolution of the profession in Northern Ireland, the Landscape Institute Northern Ireland committee recently assisted him in a compilation of the story of his practice. Undertaken by Sarah Flynn with Robert himself, and overseen by Peter Hutchinson, Emily Smyth and Sally Visick, as ‘design editors’, this project enabled observation and appreciation of 50 years of Robert’s practice, and the continued relevance of his concerns and ambitions. 

Pioneer of the profession
A pioneer throughout his career, both in setting up his own landscape architecture practice (as the first member of the profession in both Northern Ireland and in the Republic of Ireland), and also as a partner at Ferguson McIlveen, Robert was crucial in creating  seminal works in Northern Ireland. 

He provided detail and master-planning layout for major projects which are largely still successfully functioning and appreciated today in the manner of his original design, and continue to provide role models for all similar projects since. 

Roads, parks and hospitals
These include roads schemes and civils projects (M1 motorway, dams, and M3 / Lagan Weir in Belfast), significant parks and leisure areas (Marine Gardens at Carrickfergus, Ulster Folk and Transport Museum, Ulster American Folk Park, and Carnfunnock Park), the grounds of hospitals and academic institutions (Antrim hospital, University of Ulster at Jordanstown, and aspects of Queen’s University Belfast), and urban civic spaces such as Newtownards town centre. 

Robert also saw the need for, and provided, illustrated guidelines in Landscape Aspects of Roads Design for the Ministry of Development in 1969,  which are still relevant today. Many of his works were a first for such projects and principles of design in these islands. 

Influencing three generations
Charting unknown territory, and ‘going where no man has gone before’, Robert paved the way for others in Ireland to become landscape architects and subsequently establish practices of their own. His mark is stamped throughout the province, and Robert’s direct personal influence extends to three generations of landscape architects, planners, architects, engineers and others. 

Applauding Robert’s contribution to Landscape architecture in Northern Ireland, Ireland and throughout the United Kingdom, Peter’s conclusion was enthusiastically supported by those present – proclaiming that, indisputably, we are all enriched by Robert’s presence and his work.

A giant of the profession
Robert is a giant in the landscape architectural profession, level with any of the other greats. There have been only five other recipients of the Landscape Institute’s Gold Medal: Dame Sylvia Crowe, Sir Geoffrey Jellicoe, Peter Youngman, Preben Jakobsen, and John Hopkins. Our profession of landscape architecture is much indebted to these and others, and we hope that respect for their integrity and the strength of the profession of landscape architecture will endure and prosper. 

Robert Carson's response
It was a great honour to all present to hear Robert’s moving response, included here in full:

Mr President, Officers, Members and Friends:

Thank you very much for your kind words, and thank you Mr President for coming here to present this award.

I feel very honoured to be given this prestigious medal, and humbled to be seen in the same company as those fine leaders of our profession who have previously been recognised in this way. I would like to thank the members of the Landscape Institute Northern Ireland, both past and present, for nominating me for this award.

During my student days I didn’t set out to become a landscape architect.  In the Fifties I worked as an architect and a planner, having studied architecture in Sheffield and planning in Edinburgh. There were no qualified landscape architects in Northern Ireland at that time, at least not as local practitioners. After a few hints from some colleagues, I decided to follow a career in landscape architecture.

My previous experience had provided me with a good foundation in design and helped me see the need for co-operation between different design disciplines. So now I was able to apply my skills and experience through this new medium of landscape architecture.

I have had a very fulfilling career, and it has been a privilege to have had a small part in the changing face of our environment. I have collaborated with professionals, from so many backgrounds and disciplines. 

I would like to thank all the colleagues, clients, consultants and contractors with whom I have worked over the past 70-odd years, with a special mention to Gordon Clarke, Patricia Gilbert, Catherine Adams and Paul Tully.

About three years ago I was asked to compile an archive of my work, a task which, for me, was a huge undertaking. I am grateful to my assistant Sarah Flynn, for all her skill and hard work to pull it together. Thanks also to Peter Hutchinson, Emily Smyth and Sally Visick for help with editing and proof-reading.

The archive is a snapshot memento of my career, which has become a great aid, even to me, now that my memory has become so limited. I hope it will allow others to see and understand how my ideas have taken shape, with some of them becoming reality, and how landscape design can ensure that the built environment, and the natural environment, can be brought together.

I would finally like to thank so many friends and colleagues for all their support to me and my family during my serious illness last year.

Thank you.

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