Hal Moggridge remembers Danish-born landscape architect and plants man Preben ‘Ben’ Jakobsen, who died in January 2012.
In 1993, Ben Jakobsen became only the fourth member of the Landscape Institute to receive its Gold Medal. With this award, Ben followed in the distinguished footsteps of Geoffrey Jellicoe, Sylvia Crowe and Peter Youngman who had had this honour conferred on them in the 1980s.
In his early years, Ben rebelled against his family’s involvement in the nursery business and wanted nothing to do with plants. In time, however, he relented and began to study horticulture in his native Denmark, worked in various plant nurseries and, in 1953, enrolled as a student at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. It was at Kew that Ben became interested in landscape design and eventually returned to Denmark to study landscape architecture under the great Danish landscape architect, Carl Theodor Sørenson, at the Danish Royal Academy of Fine Arts. There, he was fortunate to meet with teachers who had either worked with or were influenced by major figures such as Alvar Aalto, Le Corbusier and Frank Lloyd Wright.
Ben returned permanently to England in 1961 and started work for Eric Lyons on Span housing schemes. It was a training and collaboration that lasted throughout the decade, until Ben left to set up his own private practice with his architect wife, Margaret in 1969.
Described by Jellicoe as ‘a designer of outstanding ability’, Ben was considered one of the leading contemporary designers of his time. He was a sometimes controversial figure – ‘Please oneself before the client’ was one of his more thought-provoking statements given at one of the many lectures and seminar sessions that he gave to students and members.
He lectured particularly on plants and planting design, and his deep knowledge on the subject informed his many planting schemes. His most widely known written contribution is to Design with Plants, edited by Brian Clouston for the Landscape Institute, but there are other newspaper and journal articles, particularly in Landscape Design, which featured, or were written by him in the late 1980s to early 1990s.
In 1996, the Building Design Centre held a retrospective exhibition of Ben’s work, opened by Professor Sir Colin Stansfield Smith, a friend and colleague. It was a fitting tribute to a fine landscape architect and former member of the Institute.
Preben Jakobsen, landscape architect, b. 30 March 1934 d. 17 January 2012