BA (Hons) Landscape Architecture Course Director
Could you tell us about your experience and how this feeds into your course?
I’ve worked in a lot of different jobs and roles relating to Landscape Architecture. From landscape maintenance work for charities and Birmingham council as a teenager, to gaining experience and qualification, and through to large and small practices in both Landscape Architecture and Urban Design, in various international and collaborative ways.
I’m also working for myself, which is a whole different game, and increasingly in the construction of design courses and in teaching of design. I think my experience has fed into my development of a framework for a dynamic course, but it’s a course that I wouldn’t claim as just my own doing. It is made by all the staff and students and it changes on a daily basis. We are confident, but also reflective and consciously adapting to current situations.
What is the philosophy of your course?
I think we are all continually striving to make a bigger name for Landscape Architecture. Though the name is perhaps not always known to the general public, it is a very important subject area. It’s right at the cusp of many global issues, offering ways to combat these. We look at both the social and physical aspects of our world - usually design of place is about combing these things. Also, though a subject specialism, we are very connected to other industries, particularly architecture, planning, and ultimately politics and socio-economics.
If you had to name one thing about your course that makes it distinct, what would it be?
Sorry I’m going to have to cheat here and say, the one thing, is that it isn’t one thing. It’s an incredibly diverse course and traverses large changes in scale. It has so much consideration, I expect vastly more than most people expect. In a way, this is the bit that makes Landscape Architecture hard to explain to people what it is exactly, as it is never an object but a place.
Why is Birmingham a good place to study?
I’m from Birmingham, so I will be biased, but I think there is a very interesting dynamic to Birmingham which goes beyond a surface view. It seems like it doesn’t have a clear identity and though that could come across as a criticism, it isn’t really: it is by its nature, many things to many people and it kind of embraces that. It certainly isn’t a pretentious city and it is still a project in itself.
Why do you believe it’s important to study a degree and why might students want to study your course?
I think if you love open minded exploration and allow it to be important to yourself, it can be essential. I think a degree should be about you, individually as a student and not what someone else wants from you. If you were to just go into practice, you would learn a lot of technical, practical aspects and as you go maybe you have some thoughts on that practice or way. However, generally you would only be doing or reacting to what someone else tells you to do.
I think that part of the core role of a university experience is to understand a subject area in a wide way, see lots and lots of examples of ways for doing things and test out lot of ideas from your own perspective in a reflective, encouraging environment. This idea also expands into wider society, university is about guiding individuals who are confident to challenge the way things are done and bring new ideas and fresh thinking.
What will the learning environment be for students?
It is common for students to start off thinking, this is an extension of school or college, where we are simply transferring more and more specific information and checking that it has been remembered. Though there is an element of information to retain, we are generally interested in developing the independence and analytical thought. For Landscape Architecture, this is fundamentally about design of space and place and all the learning approaches relate to providing contexts which simulate ways to explore these principles, from technical to theoretical.
What can students do to help prepare them for the course?
Start to get immersed in what Landscape Architecture can be. Look at a lot of example (Precedent) projects that you find interesting. It’s so diverse. Think about what you care about and how you might do in Landscape Architecture.
Many get worried about software knowledge and though it is important, the first thing to do is to practice drawing approaches - draw objects, then try to draw ideas. Drawing is key in design and the computer is not there yet in allowing you to explore quickly in the early, and in many ways, most important stages of design. Look at books for fundamentals of drawing and representing aspects of landscape.
What’s your favourite element about working at Birmingham School of Architecture and Design?
The way the School is set up allows for very collegiate and often experimental opportunities. We are actively encouraged to collaborate, innovate and reflect.