English picturesque is restricting contemporary design, says Bihan

The lasting international legacy of picturesque English landscapes has stifled the contemporary evolution of landscape design, a top US landscape architect said this week.

US landscape architect Rene Bihan said the British Empire was an incredible exporter of landscape and there was an "iconography" about English landscapes.

"They are practically everywhere, which is frustrating," said the principal of SWA Group, a top-flight landscape architecture practice based in San Francisco.

Bihan, the main speaker at the UK Landscape Conference in Liverpool, said: "I recently went to Mexico and the lawns were lush, there was box and there was topiary.

"It's hard for people to understand the contemporary context when the existing type is so strong. The contemporary expression is a challenge for the British culturally."

Bihan also said many people were confused about what landscape was because they failed to distinguish between natural and designed open spaces.

"There's a misunderstanding on what landscape is versus nature. Landscape is a constricted environment. I see myself as similar to a product or industrial designer.

"Many of the architectural cliches, such as 'form follows function', are applicable to landscape. Landscapes must be legible and understood."

Bihan was keynote speaker at the awards ceremony of the UK arm of the Landscape Award of the Council of Europe, won by Durham Heritage Coast.

The winning design, crowned "UK Landscape of Year", will represent the UK in the European Landscape Award, due to be held in Strasbourg next March (see next week's HW for more details).

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