In the Architects’ Journal, journalist Hattie Hartman posed this important question: should all masterplans be landscape-led? We believe the answer is yes. Here’s why.
When we create a new place, we’re not creating it for buildings; we’re creating it for people. Wherever new homes are being built, a sense of community must be a priority. Most current development does not do this.
Space has traditionally been conceptualised in relation to buildings, but this leads to shape-making rather than place-making. When you put shapes on the site plan first and everything else has to fit around them, the fitting becomes the purpose of the design. So you end up with sunless canyons; windy spaces with dead edges and chilly seating; ill-defined and leftover space used for car parking; weak and unclear connectivity; and a pale shadow of green infrastructure squeezed into a few pockets on the site.
Leading with the landscape means starting with people and how they live; then moving onto the spaces and places that support this; and only then sorting out the buildings. It is about making a place where people belong, which is the Old English meaning of landscape.
Landscape-led masterplanning is about much more than good public realm with more trees. It is about changing the order of our thinking. It’s about understanding what makes a successful place where lives can overlap. A place is not a static thing. It is about memory, history, chance encounters and experiences with the outside world, things beyond the site, a glimpsed view or seasonal change.
Bringing landscape architects to sit at the table at the very start is a recognition that the spaces outside are equally as important as the spaces inside buildings. Belonging to a place and belonging to a community is just as important as the functionality, comfort and safety within buildings. Maybe, it is more important.
What if the obvious main entrance to the site is also the natural place for play space which could be shared with an adjacent school? By starting with the landscape, it becomes easier to identify these opportunities. Or you might watch how the sun moves across a site, and make the land which gets the evening light a destination, with routes in and around the site supporting that. So the landscape drives the layout of buildings rather than the other way round. This approach creates extraordinary environments and specific kinds of value. It elevates respectable architecture. It produces welcoming spaces that work for a more diverse society. It heightens the senses.
This is what leading with the landscape means and why it is so important. What it doesn’t mean is pitching architects against landscape architects. Quite the opposite, it is about improved collaboration and more meaningful conversations. In time, everyone will realise they have to lead with the landscape, if they want to create a place that works for people. They will use landscape to direct thinking about everything to do with the site. It will result in. But right now, leading with the landscape is very rare. This needs to change, and quickly.
Read our short essay for developer St William, which includes eight steps to put landscape-led masterplanning into practice.
Image: How to belong. Download LDA Design’s How to Belong and see the difference leading with the landscape makes.