Capital projects show centrality of landscape, tree seminar hears

Architecture/planning practice uses conference to emphasise need for quality public realms.

Letherland: conference speaker - image: HW
Letherland: conference speaker - image: HW

The head of urban design at Farrells, Kohn Letherland, told the Trees, People & the Built Environment II conference earlier this month (2-3 April) that well-designed, pedestrian-friendly public realm is key to more liveable and competitive cities.

It is an approach that Farrells is already putting into practice in projects across London.

Sir Terry Farrell's recently published Farrell Review (see panel) enshrines the importance of landscape in development (HW, 4 April).

"Landscape is often the part of developments most valued by the public but least valued in terms of fees," said Letherland. "Yet it is a relatively low investment to create places."

This he exemplified with several projects in and around London ranging from the "almost complete" redesign of the Tottenham Court Road/Euston Road junction away from the existing "traffic engineer-designed" layout to more hypothetical "visions" that the practice is instigating, such as greening of the Isle of Dogs, in either linear or encircling form.

The approach has a pedigree going back to Humphry Repton and Capability Brown, who also asked themselves: "What can this place become?" Letherland explained. "We need more planning and the right kind of planning that includes the bigger picture."

He described the area in front of Buckingham Palace, which Farrells is redesigning, as "a symbol of national identity and focus for events, but a traffic island" and he pointed out that London's post-industrial land is where the city will grow.

"There are huge opportunities to create a more liveable London to compete with the rest of the world," said Letherland. Beyond the city, Farrells' work on the Thames Gateway has been largely misinterpreted, he added. "It wasn't about urban so much as rural regeneration," he said. "The aim was to create a national park.

"The estuary should equal the Thames Valley upstream of London. It is, after all, where Dickens set many stories and Turner painted. There are some amazing places there but a lack of an overall vision of what everyone was working towards."

Farrell Review - More clout for landscaping

Sir Terry Farrell's Government-commissioned Farrell Review of Architecture & the Built Environment, published last month, could give landscaping more clout at policy level.

Among the review's 60 recommendations, it urges the Government to establish a PLACE - Planning, Landscape, Architecture, Conservation and Engineering - leadership council with ministerial, public and private-sector representation.

Its mandate would be to review and improve design quality of the everyday built environment, such as high streets and housing estates, as well that as of national infrastructure projects such as rail, road and aviation improvements that are not subject to normal planning.

The proposed council should also lead "a culture change in favour of proactive planning ... like other countries", it adds.

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