The top five books for landscape architects as voted for by you and featured in the latest edition of the Journal

The books that shaped the land

View the full list of books submitted by Landscape readers

Like all great works of literature, many of the most successful landscapes are timeless, drawing on the past for inspiration while looking to the future.

We asked readers to nominate the five books that have been most influential during their professional lives. The responses were great in number as well as in variety, from commonly accepted classics to Baudelaire and Primo Levi. Here, we present the top five books as voted for by Landscape readers

The Making of the English Landscape
By WG Hoskins

William George Hoskins (1908–1992) was a pioneering figure in the field of English local history, and in 1965 was appointed as the first ever university professor in that discipline, at the University of Leicester. This book, first published in 1955, has become something of a classic.

Hoskins studied the history of the English landscape for the first time and consequently dispelled the myth that the English landscape was formed by enclosures. He takes the reader along Devonshire lanes and across northern farmland as he redefines the way people look at land. He traverses time from the pre-Roman days to wartime England and beyond, opening the reader’s eyes to a world they did not see before but will notice everywhere in the future.

Jo Watkins, President of the LI, comments: “I can happily spend the best part of a journey from say, London to Manchester peering out of the train window ‘reading’ the landscape. Nowadays we would need a whole team of experts to produce what Hoskins did alone. This wonderful book really should be read by anyone with a modicum of interest in the subject.”

The death and life of great American Cities  
By Jane Jacobs
In what William H Whyte, author of the influential social and business commentary The Organisation Man, describes as “one of the most remarkable books ever written about the city”, Jane Jacobs argues that modernist planning policies destroy inner-city communities.

First published in 1961, her writing heavily influenced the New Urbanism movement that began in the 1980s. Jacob’s love of diversity could be part of the reason for communities such as New York’s Greenwich Village having retained their sense of multiplicity and, in turn, their individual character and aesthetic.

Jacobs was not an expert on her subject and simply sought to look at how modern cities worked. She offered a revealing and often controversial look at the factors affecting cities. She draws stark conclusions such as how slum-dwellers should be incentivised to stay and invest in their slums, sounding a clarion call for government spending to be totally overhauled.

Ruth Shelton of Reading City Council’s parks and open spaces team says: “I was particularly struck by her description of how to treat the boundaries between the built environment and green space in an urban setting. She advocates blurring the boundary and has very sensible suggestions as to how this can be achieved. The resultant, more accessible space is more widely used. I periodically revisit the book to see what else she has to tell me; I would recommend everyone do the same.”

By Lawrence Halprin
In Cities, Lawrence Halprin examines the basic elements of the cityscape – what he calls the “choreography” of the city. His modernist work takes as its starting point the human perspective and how we interact socially according to the surrounding environment.

Halprin described modernism as: “Not just a matter of cubist space but of a whole appreciation of environmental design as a holistic approach to the matter of making spaces for people to live… Modernism, as I define it and practice it, includes and is based on the vital archetypal needs of human beings as individuals as well as social groups.”
The Architectural Forum comments: “The text is sparse and excited: Halprin is obviously enthralled with the urban experience. This is a book of examples, and therefore photographs. They are as exuberant as the words.

“Although most of the images are familiar, it is nice to see them put together in such a handsome package.”

Jim Eardley of Eardley Landscape Associates says: “Cities changed the emphasis from the design of buildings in the landscape and the spaces between them to looking at and appreciating the landscape of cities. This went on to influence their design, from concept to detail.

It was a radical change at that time as America was in love with the suburb. To a large extent, this role in the UK has been taken over by urban designers, but Lawrence Halprin’s book still demonstrates that there is a major role for landscape architects in creating the cityscape. We simply need to build a dynamic profession to realise this role. A marvellous book by one of the post-war era’s great landscape architects.”

Graham Marshall of MAXIM urban design says: “It’s great to read a landscape architect writing about and practicing urban design in 1963 and understanding cities from a social and ecological perspective, not the architectural aesthetic we have today.”

The Concise Townscape
By Gordon Cullen
Gordon Cullen was an influential English architect and urban designer who was a key motivator in the townscape movement.

Published in 1961 and featuring many of Cullen’s ideas in sketch form, this book gave birth to the concept of townscape as the art of organising cities and what they contain – streets, space, buildings – into pictures.

The Society of Architectural & Industrial Illustrators News described it as “a welcome influential work, with acute observations on the English urban landscape, fully backed up with photographs and the author’s characteristic drawings”.

Cullen’s techniques consisted largely of sketchy drawings that conveyed a particularly clear understanding of his ideas, and these had a considerable influence on subsequent architectural illustration styles. The book’s popularity made it one of the most important urban design publications of the century and has consequently been reprinted more than 15 times.

Mark Gundry, project manager at Bristol City Council, comments: “I was really inspired by this very simple book. It opened my eyes to looking at ordinary things quite differently, in addition to mimicking his wonderful sketch style.”

New lives, New Landscapes 
By Nan Fairbrother
Nan Fairbrother’s book is a visionary account of the challenges facing land-use planning in the UK. Fairbrother (1913–1971) was an English writer and lecturer on landscape and land use. She was an early member of the UK Institute of Landscape Architects, now the Landscape Institute.

Fairbrother’s influence on planners, landscape architects and educators continues today. In 2009, BBC Scotland Learning produced two programmes in their Industry series titled ‘New Lives, New Landscapes’, an acknowledgment of Fairbrother’s contribution.

Roger Cartwright, a veteran Council Planning landscape architect, says: “New Lives and New Landscapes helped to consolidate the more ecologically based approach to landscape design and the creative use of new technical equipment.

“Fairbrother suggested many landscape management techniques for new woodland and shrub planting that are now fairly standard procedure at the old ‘New Towns’ and along major roads and motorways. I am always reminded of her book when I arrange for hedge cutting that follows the contours of the land rather than stereotyped traditional cutting.”


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