For the second of the rising stars series, I chatted to Anthony, a lawyer from Liverpool now studying part-time at the Manchester School of Architecture on their new Conversion / Masters course.
I wanted to know what motivated him to leave the legal world for a far greener one…
So after doing a law degree Anthony, what’s made you switch to Landscape Architecture?
It took me some time to realise that I was in law for the wrong reasons, and whilst my work on large property development projects has aided my understanding of the bureaucratic side of the design and building process, overall I’ve decided it’s not my cup of tea. My decision to retrain was somewhat of a visceral reaction to losing a close friend. Her passing made me realise that life is too short to not pursue the things you really love. I used to sit at my desk in work doodling plants and trees and gardens longing to pursue something more wholesome. I lived for the weekend when I could get into my parents garden and design and plant until darkness set in. I’d always been interested in ecology, nature and the garden and used to draw and paint in my spare time.
It didn’t take long to put two and two together; next thing I found myself interviewing for a place at university to study a conversion / masters in Landscape Architecture. So far so good!
So what made you choose Landscape Architecture over another profession such as garden design?
As much as I think garden design would have suited me down to the ground, I was after a discipline that was more far reaching. I wanted to learn about materials, and ecology, and use my background in developmental real estate law to bolster a study of town planning and urban design. I wanted to study the ‘bigger picture’ of the relationship of spaces and landscapes with people and their wider surroundings and cultural influences.
What was your earliest gardening/landscape memory?
I always remember spending time in the garden with my gran, she taught me the names of the plants she used to grow. We sowed Sweet Peas, and grew cuttings of Ivy and Roses in glasses of water on the window sill. She would tell me stories about her garden and the wildlife that lived there, sparking an interest that has grown and grown ever since.
So how did you first hear about Landscape Architecture?
I first encountered Landscape Architecture during my dissertation research on invasive species. I’d chosen to look into the plight of the Red Squirrel, which is currently outcompeted nationwide by the Grey Squirrel. I volunteered to do some monitoring at a seemingly natural pine forest, only to learn that no part of the forest was natural at all.
The whole area, including the topography, layout and planting, was designed in the Victorian times as a timber plantation. The irony of the last hopes of a native species being vested in a completely unnatural landscape gave me plenty of food for thought. It brought about a realisation that my interest extended a lot further than just gardening, but rather the use of materials, the relationship of said materials with their surroundings and the wider ecology, and how this combined with planting could tell a story, or represent social or cultural narratives in a given space.
So what is Landscape Architecture to you?
It’s normally easier to just tell people I’m a gardener, but for me landscape architecture is the development of our outdoor spaces in response to the needs of the space at a particular time. But I would like to see it have a much larger focus on what can be done in terms of design to re-integrate nature into man-made spaces, and also in rebuilding the ecology of our agricultural land. It’s a shame that developers don’t treat landscape design as a priority in large scale city development schemes, and I think the planning systems we use are outdated and flawed. I think a solution to this is smarter design and the Garden’s by the Bay in Singapore are a really good example of what I mean by this.
I see Landscape Architecture in the future being one of the frontline professions tackling the effects of climate change and overuse of land and resources. I therefore believe it is important that landscape architects design spaces that are not only aesthetically pleasing and / or culturally relevant, but spaces that deal with, for example, a rising and falling water table in a smart way, or use the elements of the design to recycle resources (such as rain water and the sun’s solar radiation) to heat or cool buildings (possibly?).
What most excites you about being a Landscape Architect?
My favourite buzz word for a while now has been ‘re-wilding’. I love the notion that as a Landscape Architect you can have some influence on the reintegration of wild spaces into our cities and agricultural land. There is a growing consensus that ‘wild’ spaces are not only attractive aesthetically, but are also excellent for our mental wellbeing. I think there needs to be a shift in our attitude to design in the future, with a focus on making more room for plants and wildlife. I am excited at the thought of being in a position to place myself at the forefront of this movement, and welcome the challenge of trying to strike a balance in a world where our populations are growing, and our cities are encroaching ever more on our countryside.
What advice would you give to someone thinking about a landscape based career?
You need to get over the fact that you’re never going to be Monty Don. Once you’ve made that realisation you need to do your research and make sure what you’re pursuing is for the right reasons. It’s quite a hard slog, and there’s a lot to learn.
If you could only grow one plant, what would it be and why?
Digitalis purpurea f. albiflora. For me nothing heralds the arrival of summer more than the lazy bells of the Foxglove coming into flower. Seeing it edging woodlands, standing tall in the dappled sunlight, surrounded by the fresh green growth of the Cow Parsley and trees, or punctuating an old English cottage garden puts a smile on my face.
It has that sense of wildness, is surrounded in folklore, and evokes memories of adventures in the woods as a kid. More importantly perhaps, it is a native wildflower and is really attractive to bees, which I like to encourage into my own garden as much as possible. The let down for me is that it is a biennial, and personally the leafy rosette formed in its first year of growth isn’t that spectacular. Still, I think everyone should have foxgloves somewhere in their own gardens, they look great when in flower, and can brighten up shady spots.
Thanks so much Anthony. I have no doubt you’ll be one of those on the frontline leading the way for our profession. All the very best with the rest of your course.
If you’re inspired to find out more about Landscape Architecture, do check out the brilliant Landscape Institute website www.bealandscapearchitect.com for more information.
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