Exploring landscape architecture: a healthy and playful Bristol harbourside

This blog post is written by Lottie Morris, the Architecture Centre's new creative programme intern.

For the third Shape My City workshop of 2015  (11 June), the group welcomed Catherine Haigh, a Landscape Architect who works for HAB (Happiness Architecture Beauty). HAB believe in better quality housing and environments, respecting the local context and biodiversity of a space and making sure the sites are supportive of the people who live there and always take into account the history, character, community and landscape.

Before Catherine told the group all about her exciting practice, the group got stuck in to the Spaceshaper warm up activity. They were split into small teams and given a range of postcards with different outdoor spaces on (including playgrounds, parks, community gardens and even the familiar Millennium Square) and had to decide whether they thought the spaces were good, bad or mediocre and discuss why.

There seemed to be unanimous agreement that clean, green spaces, combining natural and urban features were good spaces. Open and light spaces that contained water features, had artistically placed trees and well-kept grass all made it to the good side too. The bad spaces were those that looked unloved, had worn away grass, not enough seating or features, too much bland concrete and excessive graffiti tagging.

Catherine then gave an introduction to landscape architecture and showed examples of various interesting UK projects including the Tidal Lagoon in Swansea Bay, the Olympic Park in London and Eastside City Park in Birmingham. She explained that there is lots of variation in landscape architecture. You could work on: planning a new city or a small garden, work in collaboration with architects, ecologists or artists, work on specific planting details and be involved in natural and urban environments.

Catherine explained that landscape architects design something that is living and can change. People from diverse backgrounds often become landscape architects - this helps to broaden perspectives and brings dynamism to the profession.
Catherine studied Human Geography at UWE. As architecture and built environment modules were taught in the same building she found her way into finding out about landscape architecture. She then went on to study a Masters in Landscape Architecture at the University of Sheffield. Catherine first worked for a small landscape architectural practice where she found her feet and passions, followed by a period working on ecological design then on into a commercial practice with architects. Projects Catherine has worked on include: a skate park in Manchester; a tricky alleyway that needed enhancing; and a range of housing developments.

When asked the best and worst parts of her job Catherine explained the best were: creating something real and physical; collaborating with artists, engineers and architects, and making people’s homes better. The worst bits were the very long hours, tight schedules, deadlines and intensity, however she assured the group that it was always rewarding and she has now found a good balance through experience.

With the group now in-the-know and inspired by Catherine’s talk, they were presented with their landscape design challenge. The theme was trying to create healthy and playful public spaces -  a chance to redesign/enhance an area of the Bristol harbourside. A brief step outside to take real inspiration from the area got ideas flowing as the group discussed potential plans with Catherine.

Back inside the teams discussed ideas and sketched out designs, looking at Bristol harbourside maps to get an idea of where improvements should happen. The teams considered how people of all ages could play within these spaces and keep healthy in body, mind and soul. They had to consider the potential different users, existing historic features and the materials that would need to be used. The teams came up with some really innovative and playful designs, spaces that would definitely keep the harbourside fun and healthy.

  • Team one designed a running track that led a circular route (with a new bridge) around the harbourside. Free water fountains were provided, route signs designed by artists, and gym equipment suitable for both young and older people was added to the plan. Catherine thought it was a great idea, praising the way the track ran through a range of different environments that the harbourside provides, she suggested fruit trees could be planted to give hungry runners a healthy snack en route.
  • Team two chose one of the last semi-derelict areas of Bristol harbourside (near Redcliffe Caves) to design an outside sports area, where basketball and tennis could be played for free. Inspired by Bristol’s 2007 temporary beach the group also brought the beach back to the same place, with an added shelter complete with green roof, public toilets and changing rooms underneath the sports centre. Catherine really liked the mix and suggested the design could be linked with group one’s running track.
  • Team three designed a new bridge where the harbourside was lacking one; it was a garden bridge included water features, plants and seating. The bridge was on different levels, enabling users to look out at the view from different heights and read information signs about visible landmarks. Catherine said it seemed like a great place for reflection, to sit, relax and enjoy the view, as well as a functional bridge that increased connectivity on the harbourside.

The designs really did complement each other well and were filled with a variety of fun, useful and healthy ideas to improve Bristol’s harbourside. I think the facilities would be very popular with the public, making exercise free and accessible would encourage people to be healthy whilst enjoying the Bristol harbourside’s unique environment and encouraging a range of different people to spend time there.

The group were left with some advice from Catherine, on what she would tell her 16 year old self, knowing what she knows now: 'don’t be too worried about your end goal in terms of a career, just get out there and explore as many different things as possible. Don't be afraid of making mistakes, as they are often the best way of learning. And lastly, don't forget to have fun!'. Sound advice Catherine, thank you for leading a great session this month.

#livebuild update
Next month instead of the usual Shape My City group workshop, participants will be joining the Asylum Seekers Allotment Project (ASAP) on the first ever #livebuild project, a collaboration between Engineers Without Borders, UWE students, Tangentfield and the Architecture Centre's Shape My City project. Last month’s session saw the young people come up with design concepts for an outdoor shelter and cooking area for the allotment site located in East Bristol. You can read more on the project blog.

Useful Landscape Architecture links:
Landscape Institute's I want to be a landscape architect careers resource
University of Gloucester Landscape Architecture courses
University of Sheffield Landscape Architecture courses


  1. It really sounds like there were a lot of things that were done to ensure that we are able to get the most out of our landscaping areas. Something that really stood out was that you mentioned how there are specific teams that work on specific areas. I've actually been thinking about going into this kind of industry to get the most out of our landscape and being able to plan additional landscapes for cities and whatnot. Thank you for sharing. http://www.mcdonaldgardencenter.com/landscapes


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