Melissa Hollingsworth and Dr Jan Haenraet report on the Landscapes of the Recent Future: Conserving the 20th Century’s Landscape Design Legacy, held at Edinburgh College of Art

Landscapes of the Recent Future
Landscapes of the Recent Future

The International Conference on Landscapes of the Recent Future: Conserving the 20th Century’s Landscape Design Legacy, held at Edinburgh College of Art (ECA) was the first step towards the realisation of the DOCOMOMO International Committee on Urbanism and Landscape (ISC/U+L) Landscape Action Plan, which was endorsed by DOCOMOMO International at their bi-annual conference in Mexico City in August 2010.

The focus of the day sessions was to discuss the status of the conservation and protection of landscapes of the mid and late 20th century, raising awareness of the issues, approaches and practical challenges to conservation and stimulating action.

Preserving landcapes of the 20th century

Catherine Croft from the 20th Century Society discussed recent past landscapes at risk, campaigns and current case studies, while John Watkins of English Heritage spoke about the importance of increasing understanding about the origins of the site in the management planning process. Both presentations outlined the mechanisms used in preserving properties and the significance of site-specific conservation.

Landscape historian Chloe Bennett and John Byrom, former director of the landscape architecture programme at University of Edinburgh, discussed legacies and philosophies behind the great designers of the 20th century. After Bennett’s presentation, members of the audience and Byrom shared personal memories and stories ‘of the late Frank Clark’.

Ed Bennis, the former head of Landscape Architecture and Research at Manchester Metropolitan University, demonstrated the value of teaching people to understand the context of design within the preservation of landscapes of the 20th century. Dr Barbara Simms of Birkbeck, University of London, continued on the theme of public perception and the value of appreciating living landscapes, using the example of span estates.

Dr Andrew Saniga, a senior lecturer at University of Melbourne, used the example of Serpentine Dam, Western Australia, designed by John Oldham, to define and interpret modernist landscapes of post-war Australia.

Chris Rankin, of RankinFraser and a lecturer at ECA, gave an example of how introducing new contemporary design elements into a landscape from the recent past can enhance key features from the modern era, a concept which was also illustrated by Saniga.

An evening masterclass entitled Conserving Landscapes of the Recent Past – Increasing our understanding of key problems, roles, initiatives and required actions by Dr Haenraets gave an overview of findings of an international survey on the key problems and challenges regarding the conservation of the landscape design legacy of the post-1945 period.

The session also reviewed the status of inventory work and conservation initiatives and lessons learned from UK case studies of significant landscapes, leading to recommendations for strengthening action at an international level.

Next steps

From the open discussions at the conference it is clear that there is a need for:

  • The application of current and established standards, methods and principles of conservation and the preparation of international charters, national strategies, local policies, and guidelines to include 20th century landscapes.
  • More efficient legal protection and registration to address the continuing destruction of significant 20th century landscapes and a better understanding of organisations that should be notified if a site is under threat.
  • Recognition of professional achievements of influential designers of the 20th century landscapes of Britain and preservation of their designs.
  • Monitoring significant properties of the recent future, record keeping, and understanding of initial designs.
  • Address Funding for the properties with regards to preservation, and long-term maintenance

DOCOMOMO ISU/U+L aims to contribute to this process through its Landscape Action Plan which will further be developed, taking into account lessons learned from this conference. The Action Plan hopes to stimulate DOCOMOMO’s national working parties to document some of their key landscapes, share understanding and awareness, and inspire other organisations to set up similar actions.

The Landscapes of the Recent Future conference was organised jointly by DOCOMOMO ISC/U+L and ECA with support from DOCOMOMO Scotland.

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