40 years to reflect

This summer will mark 40 years since I graduated in Landscape Architecture and apart from a part-time spell for childcare I have worked full time as a Landscape Architect for all that time. In the late 1960s I was drawn to the arguments of the environmental movement and was lucky to meet a careers advisor who suggested landscape architecture. Not only would I be saving the whale, I would be healing the planet too. It took about a month of working to realise that if nothing was built there would be no job for me. Coming to terms with this concept took some time but now it is clear that I can only ‘do my bit’. Development will take place anyway and I might as well join in to help make it better.

The three things that have significantly changed my working life are the sex discrimination legislation (more later in the kiss-and-tell memoirs), environmental laws from the European Union (EU) which have increased workload, and the advent of computers. Alongside this has been the evolving nature of the projects.

In the 1970s we were still rebuilding after World War 2, replacing bombed sites and slums with homes, increasing infrastructure and indulging our love affair with the motor car. The eighties was dominated by the roads programme but intriguingly the Department of Transport led the way with environmental impact assessment before EU legislation arrived; imagine — a government department ahead of the game.

Liz Lake planting a tree at wanstead

By 1985 I had formed the practice and the loss of so many mature trees in the two great storms made the nation more appreciative of our designed historic landscapes; for me this has been the opportunity to work in some stunning landscapes. The obsession with golf came next. The governing body of golf, the Royal & Ancient Golf Club (now the R&A) decreed that hundreds of new golf courses should be built to meet the increasing demand for golf. It seemed every farmer in Essex was hoping to replicate Augusta, home of the US Open. It is just as well that the planning authorities take a measured view to these fads because the prediction was unjustified; golf has declined not increased.

The 90s also saw the rise of the motorway service area. As progressive as they were, the road planners forgot we needed to pee every few hours. The water treatment companies provided work in the late 90s; EU legislation required higher quality standards of water purity and treatment works were expanded.

The first decade of the 21st century saw the introduction of renewable energy and the rise of the wind turbine. A steady flow of housing has usually been there but now we face the need to build homes on an extensive scale to catch up and meet the growth of population; the easy sites have gone and we face difficult challenges with extensive changes in the landscape.

With each new type of project, landscape architects have to evaluate the characteristics of the landscape and visual effects of the development and then find positive ways to mitigate detrimental consequences. The challenges continue and landscape architecture has given me such a fulfilling working life. OK, my part in saving the whale was zero but in my small part of the planet I have contributed ‘my bit’. I owe that careers advisor.