I became a landscape architect, way back in 1999 ( yes, I partied) because I wanted to work on projects to transform the environment, and empower communities to engage with changing their place for the better. One of the first projects I worked on was the forecourt of a call centre somewhere in Scotland. I never visited the site : why bother, there was nothing there but an area of grass overlooking the River Tay. What my employer wanted, thinking back, was a quickly produced, cheap to build, turning area for cars that would look nice in front of the building, and require no maintenance. What I did instead, and which was probably chucked out as soon as I resigned in a huff, was created a break out area, for the call centre staff to be able to commune with nature in their breaks. I struggled like this for about 15 years, trying to find the space for people and nature in what was supposed to be an environmental design profession, and not really succeeding. I wanted to work together with communities to design spatial solutions that worked to improve people’s lives, not just produce attractive images for publication : aesthetic design / landscape as art was fine as far as it went, but to me seemed shallow :
Then in 2005, everything changed. I had a baby, did my maternity leave, and found that the worth of my many skills was invalidated by my need to work ‘part-time’, which in architecture means having to leave the office, not just at a regular time, but basically ever. The fact that this causes a skills drain is the subject of regular bemused hand-wringing in the professional and mainstream press :
I am and have always been, incredibly ambitious : On the last day of college I had a conversation about aspirations with a fellow landscape graduate, that has stuck with me : I was not intent on a particular area of design, but I did want to do useful public projects that would be significant to real people. She replied, ” I am sorry, but I really look down on those kind of ‘worthy’ projects : I am much more into minimalist design”, which one sentence would be a whole blogsworth of unpicking in itself. But, she is probably at least the head of a practice landscape team that…yawn. Sorry, what was I saying?
If anything, I have got more ambitious, while earning less money, and doing ‘lower status’ work : I work with people in urban areas to design and run sustainable systems for growing food and maintaining their landscape. Its a job that has no actual title : its permaculture, yes, but calling it that doesn’t necessarily help : I have settled for the moment on Community Landscape Architect ( I removed the ‘Chartered’, because that also doesn’t help.) Why people think gardening is easy, I don’t know : the knowledge and experience you need to do everything well is perhaps why our best ones are the oldest!
This work is actually Revolution, but disguised, so as not to bring the government’s new water cannons out, as Gardening. My ultimate design would be a place that looked as if it has not been designed at all, but had occurred naturally : so that my peers, my boss, my trainer, and actually, my lunch are all Nature herself.
Every time someone says something like :”I have never thought about that before” or “I’ll remember that, next time”, or when people who scream at the sight of worms stop screaming, and start looking, I feel that I am helping to build the revolution, one thought at a time, and one person at a time, which is the most powerful way there is.