Mark Turnbull, who died suddenly and unexpectedly at the age of 73, was a modest yet self-confident man.
Mark Turnbull, who died suddenly and unexpectedly at the age of 73, was a modest yet self-confident man. His ability to absorb information and to determine a path to a solution with minimal fuss instilled confidence in the people he worked with and he was highly respected by the public and private sectors. There were few things Mark enjoyed more than to be presented with a Gordian knot, which he could observe, analyse and pick away at until it unravelled on his desk and he could allow himself a brief moment of triumph before moving on to the next task.
It was not always thus. Born in Edinburgh in 1943, he left school with few academic laurels. Happily, his was a time when there were alternative paths to a chosen profession and within a year of being apprenticed to the Edinburgh architect John Carnegie he had compiled a portfolio sufficiently good to secure a place at Edinburgh College of Art, from where he graduated in architecture with distinction.
After a stint with Reiach and Hall as an architectural assistant, Mark was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to study for an MLA at the University of Pennsylvania on the course that had been set up by the Scottish landscape architect Ian McHarg. After graduating, he worked with McHarg in Philadelphia between 1968 and 1970 during which time he contributed to Design with Nature, the volume on landscape architecture and land use planning that would shape his thinking and kindle his interest in computing and the opportunities computer applications presented to assist with large- and small- scale landscape projects.
In 1970 he moved to California where most of his time was subsequently spent, and for four years he was assistant professor at the University of Southern California. Teaching architecture and landscape architecture, he was responsible for research and development of computer applications and visualisations; all the while continuing to work as a landscape architect in the public and private realm.
America and all things American would remain high in Mark’s affections long after he returned to Scotland in 1974 to work with WJ Cairns and Partners as an associate and then a partner. He brought the skills and lessons learned in the US to the practice, and played a leading role on award-winning infrastructure projects, including the Flotta oil terminal and Meggat reservoir.
In 1982 he formed the Turnbull Jeffrey Partnership (TJP) with Alan Jeffrey and continued to develop the practice after the partnership was dissolved in 1988. Over a period of 17 years, Mark developed TJP into a large practice operating across the UK, completing assignments with imaginative, award winning solutions.
In 1984 Dr Ian McAulay joined Mark at TJP to enhance the computing capabilities of the practice, developing programs that would be tailored to the requirements of individual projects. This collaboration continued after the sale of TJP when Mark formed Envision3D with Ian in 1999 and, in the same year, set up Mark Turnbull Landscape Architect (MTLA) as a small design-led practice concentrating on masterplanning, landscape design and visual and landscape assessment.
MTLA provided Mark with the opportunity to work on projects, small and large, with people he had encountered along the way, in a relaxed and friendly atmosphere. For those who were fortunate enough to have worked with Mark during the MTLA years, these were happy and stimulating times.
Mark was generous with his time and had tremendous energy. He retained his interest and involvement in education acting as an external examiner at Heriot Watt during the 1980s. He held a firm belief in the importance of contributing to public service and he participated with many agencies and bodies. He was chairman of the Edinburgh Green Belt Initiative, a member of the Countryside Commission for Scotland, director and vice chair of the Lothian Greenspace Trust, Member of the Royal Fine Art Trust for Scotland, Chair of the Landscape Institute Scotland (LIS) and chair of the Landscape Institute Technical Committee and consequently a member of the board of trustees.
In 2011 when Mark took over the chair of the LIS he identified that the branch needed to become more dynamic and that the relationship between Scotland and the Landscape Institute (LI) in London needed to be rebalanced. Under his chairmanship the LIS was placed on a business footing, had greater ambitions and enjoyed wider recognition. His drive, enthusiasm, ability to network and also to persuade senior and junior landscape architects to engage with the LIS resulted in the branch becoming the strongest and most active branch of the LI.
He advocated stronger links with education, increased activity for members and greater presence in the public and political arena. Alongside William Cairns he secured a stronger voice for the profession within the Scottish Government, established stronger links with Architecture and Design Scotland, raised the design profile through the LIS Place Awards and co-led the successful conference ‘Managing change in Scotland’s landscapes’ sponsored by the LI and LIS in conjunction with the National Trust for Scotland, SNH and the John Muir Trust.
Mark was a chartered landscape architect, chartered architect, a fellow of the Landscape Institute, a fellow of the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland and a member of the British Computer Society. He was a major contributor to the LI’s Guidelines for Landscape and Visual Impact Assessments and collaborated on numerous studies for Scottish Natural Heritage and other clients now recognised as ‘best practice’.
Driving and sailing
Alongside the serious practitioner there was a, kind, jovial man with a big laugh and a passion for high-performance cars. A passionate sailor, Mark co-designed a state-of-the-art yacht that he loved to sail around the West Coast of Scotland.
Old friends and new acquaintances were impressed by Mark’s capable and honest approach to life. LI president Merrick Denton-Thompson commented, ‘I only got to know Mark over the short time we were together on the board of trustees but we became good friends. He had a laser-sharp mind that went straight to the point and a wonderful sense of humour. We will miss his influence and the Institute will be the poorer for his loss. For me, Mark was an example of humanity at its very best.’
Pioneer, advisor and friend
Mark’s early years may not have presaged a rise to such eminence but rise he did; a potent reminder that for many, time is key to discovering the right course through which to achieve one’s potential. He was a pioneer and leading advocate for many areas of professional practice that are recognised as core skills within the profession today. He was a loyal and principled advisor to his clients and a best friend to those that work in the landscape profession. He was respectful of others and was able to articulate, with clarity, complex ideas and solutions; a man of few words, when Mark Turnbull spoke, people listened.
He remains a role model for slow starters everywhere of what can be achieved with hard work and dedication, and has left his own mark across Scotland within the landscape he championed and loved.
He is survived by his wife Sharon.
With thanks to Alan Cameron, William Cairns, Marc van Grieken and Vanessa Stephen for contributing to this obituary