Talk to the people
By Ruth Slavid
© Tom Lee
It is a pity in a way that the residents of Hanham Hall near Bristol, profiled on pages 56-64, are likely to move home so infrequently. Of course this means that they are happy where they are, and that Hanham is a truly successful development, not just in terms of winning prizes and hitting its energy targets, but – and this is the crucial part – in making the people who live there happy.
But their very contentment means that they are unlikely to spread the word among new neighbours and to talk about new ways of living. Our visit to the development showed that, even if not all the technical achievements are repeatable for financial reasons, there is a great deal to learn from the scheme in terms of community. And that community exists thanks, as much as anything, to landscape in the broadest sense.
Where does building end and landscape begin? You could say at the boundary of the building plot. But that would exclude the front garden, and at Hanham front gardens are part of the street. So at the building line? Even then there is a certain permeability, with people sitting out within the curtilage of the building, under shading louvres. For HTA, which was both architect and landscape architect on the scheme, there was no distinction, and it had as much influence on the environment just outside people’s houses as on the swales and allotments and orchards.
But perhaps in the midst of all this intelligent, impressive work the practice didn’t communicate quite enough. Two of the residents looked at their front garden, planted with a range of spiky plants, and thought it was ‘just grass’ and decided to change it. They may have decided to change it anyway – that was their prerogative. But, they said, nobody had told them what was planted there. Similarly, teething problems with the initial compost area were largely due to nobody having been told what they could and could not compost. After New Year it became a dumping ground for unwanted (and uncompostable) Christmas trees.
If we are going to live in new ways, then we need to be helped to do so. While the world is often overflowing with instructions (have you tried to learn to use an office chair or a radio recently?), people, even if willing, cannot just be left ‘to get on with it’. Many people love the countryside and love gardens, and those who choose to move into an eco-development obviously have their hearts in the right place.
At the end of this issue, in ‘A word’, Tim Waterman, in his last column as honorary editor, talks about the profession’s need to communicate what it does and to tell stories. What he intends is a way of persuading the world of the value of their work, and of the importance of the profession. But helping people understand how best to live within the landscape that surrounds them is an equally important communication skill.
And communicating about landscape is what I have been doing since I took over the editorship of Landscape. My infelicities have been my own; but much of the knowledge I have acquired has been thanks to the gentle help and guidance of Tim Waterman. A new regime is always exciting, but it is a shame to say goodbye to Tim, even if it is not a true adieu. He has been a great friend to this publication and will continue to be so.