Shape My City: Session 2

This blog post was written by the Architecture Centre's Creative Intern, Isobel Plent.

On 14 April the Shape My City group met for their second workshop. The focus for this month's session was on Landscape Architecture, and the group welcomed landscape architect Catherine Haigh from HABHousing and Architecture and Town Planning Recruitment Consultant Phoebe Hookway from Thatchers Associates. For the starter exercise the group were presented with a variety of images of public  spaces and were asked to divide them into good and bad spaces and give reasons for their choices.  In general the group were drawn to the open, well designed communal spaces that encouraged intergenerational activity, such as a beautiful geometric garden with different levels and an abundance of planting and seating areas.

Following on from this, Catherine spoke to the group about her education and career choices so far. Like many of the other Shape My City visiting professionals, Catherine made clear that she hadn't had a pre-defined route into her current profession. She studied Geography, Sociology and Art & Design at A-level and went on to do an art foundation course. She then did an undergraduate degree in Geography at UWE. The prominent focus of her degree was on “people within cities, a very human geography”.

Following her degree she undertook a conversion masters in landscape architecture at Sheffield University. Since graduation she has worked in a number of practices, as well as for ecologists, town planners and also with developers. She explained how she felt that it was good to have landscape architects from varied backgrounds, whether that be from horticulture, geography or biology, as it meant that each brought something different to the project. Catherine is inspired by the natural world and loves the city and people. Her career allows her to merge those two loves.

Catherine was asked to tell the group what she feels the best and the worst parts of her job are. She explained that being able to influence and to be a part of the process of creating a vision for a place, whether for a “fun, playable landscape” or an “ecological, dynamic landscape”, and then seeing it built, is the most fulfilling strand. She explained that good designers need more than just good design skills and that design work accounts for a relatively small part of day to day work.

Much of the working hours are spent connecting and working with all the other professions involved in the in a project, an element of her role that she likes a lot. These include urban planners, landscape architects, architects, archaeologists and ecologists. A project she is currently working on features lines of houses that will look on to a large, wild meadow that needs to be grown and cultivated. Part of her work for this project will be to think about how to actually build the meadow, assessing the soil and thinking about planting and irrigation.

When asked what advice she would give her teenage self, Catherine said she would tell her to “go with your gut feeling. Then you can’t have any regrets”. A question posed by one of the Shape My City participants Emily to Catherine was, “when you’re thinking about the design of an open green space, what are your thought processes, as it’s such a large area?” In response Catherine emphasised the importance of firstly considering the needs and desires of those who will use and occupy the space, which will greatly impact the design.

She stated that it is equally important to consider the character of the area, whether the landscape is flat or undulates for example, as the design would need to complement that. It was interesting to hear from Catherine the extent to which working with others and in areas that aren't necessarily your own specialism, is crucial to the overarching role of the landscape architect.

Onto the design activity for the week. The group were tasked with creating a playful and healthy public space on the Bristol Harbourside. The group were encouraged to think about the character and function of the space of their choosing, as well considering the needs and desires of a diverse public in their design.

 The first group chose the Lloyd’s building and surrounding waterside amphitheatre as their site. They chose to attach reflective panels onto the front of the building so as to mirror the shimmering water. They placed a strong emphasis on wanting to make the site greener. They propsed planting vines and climbers at the base of the building so that the front would be covered in foliage. At night the facade would be lit up and make for a more appealing place to sit and congregate.

The second group chose the abandoned and overgrown plot in between the Architecture Centre and the Arnolfini. They were considerate of those who live in the houses behind the space and have a rear view of the water, by suggesting that the development should be low rise. They wanted their space to be suitable for families as well as those taking a break from office work, who desire a space to sit and relax in. They chose to keep some of the existing shrubbery and build a circular, paved garden with seating and a water feature in the centre. At night the space would be lit up by dainty lights in the trees and lining the pathways.

The third group also chose the Lloyds building and the surrounding amphitheatre for their design. Phoebe enthusiastically encouraged them to visit the site in order to gain inspiration and ideas before they put a design on paper. Their final design showed an understanding of the need to make a space accessible and stimulating for different users, in this case for the skaters that are often use the space as well as the general public. A colourful and attractive bridge would allow pedestrians to cross over the site and give the skaters more space and freedom to skate on the concourse below.

Once again it was a thoroughly enjoyable session. The group showed great enthusiasm and the ability to take on board Catherine's advice to consider the diversity of user's needs and desires, as well as the characteristics of the landscape itself, in their innovative and thoughtful designs.

Useful links:
Be a Landscape Architect - careers resource
Landscape Institute
HAB Housing
University of Gloucester - Landscape Architecture (degree)
Sheffield University - Landscape Architecture (masters)