Inclusive Landscapes seminar

29th June 2007 at the Eden Project, Cornwall.

Inclusive Landscapes explored how public landscape design can take on the creative challenges of widening appeal and accessibility, involving local people in the design process and providing a positive role in environmental regeneration.

The seminar was jointly sponsored by the Sensory Trust, the Eden Project and the Landscape Institute South West Branch.

Nigel Thorne, President of the Landscape Institute chaired the day that was made up of a morning of speakers and an afternoon of onsite practical activity.

Dr Tony Kendle, Foundation Director at Eden, kicked off the day by getting us to think about the great challenges that lie ahead in the 21st Century, and how finding ways to work inclusively will be essential to positively adjust to the changes that lie ahead. He said that landscape architects have a key role in designing landscapes that promote this attitude to community inclusion.

Professor James Hitchmough, lecturer and researcher in the School of Landscape, Sheffield University has carried out many years of research into producing ecologically informed herbaceous plant communities that are highly attractive to the public. His highly entertaining talk reported on work that explored public responses to landscape vegetation and new floral plantings in Sheffield. In particular he focused on how people respond to planting schemes in urban parks, and some key findings included the importance of colour in any scheme, and that teenagers were a lot more conservative with their planting scheme preferences than older people – perhaps this does not fit the stereotype?

Pete Lever from David Wilson Partnership, Barnstable talked about their approach to public engagement and the importance of integrating this in the design process. He presented their approach to involving pupils and staff in a major school development, including the use of models and discussion groups to get involvement from as many people as possible, and therefore developing a very strong brief. A regeneration scheme in a Bristol street was inspirational in its approach to landscape architecture, through encouraging the local community into the site assessment, a new interest in the street was generated and sustained partly through a local website. Very little physical street design intervention was done, but the street began to regenerate itself though community action.

Jane Knight, landscape architect, Eden Project talked about how Eden Project has approached its ongoing landscape design and how in response to the diversity of visitors to Eden, it has developed the landscape to increase its accessibility and inclusivity. She illustrated her presentation with many images of specific inclusive landscape developments across the site, and discussed how many of them were designed in conjunction with others such as the placing of new signage, buildings in the landscape and sensory rich planting schemes. Please check out his full presentation below.

Richard Scott, project manager from Landlife highlighted the need for greater diversity in contemporary planting design, and encouraged landscape architects to take the opportunity to use wildflower seed mixes in a variety of locations. Many of the schemes brought colour, seasonality and interest into otherwise barren landscapes, and Richard showed schemes that acted as a focus for community activity, including an opportunistic red poppy scheme, that had unexpectedly generated a lot of positive interest from the local Chinese community.

Jon Mitchell, senior landscape architect from Kerrier District Council presented a community led redesign of a playing field in Redruth. Following CABE guidelines, the local school children where involved in the design process. This included a field trip to another successful play park, finding out what activities were actually wanted by the children, design ideas generation and practical workshops.

Jon also described the proposed Heartlands regeneration project for Pool, currently seeking funding from the Lottery. He outlined the approach taken by the project to involve the community in the design process, including artist-led engagement sessions and open days.

Please contact Jon directly to discuss Kerrier DC projects and their approach to community involvement.

Jane Stoneham, director of the Sensory Trust, talked about the diversity of people and the importance of creating sensory-rich environments. Jane also reminded the audience that designers must not lose their way in keeping a ‘sense of place’ when creating accessibility, and showed examples where the design solution for physical accessibility had completely ignored all other sensory experiences.

Helen Rosevear, landscape designer at the Sensory Trust, spoke about how landscape design is essentially about designing for people, and the importance of understanding this diversity of people in order to be an effective designer. Landscape designers should be aiming to create sensory-rich and accessible landscapes in all their designs and not segregating out specialised areas. Inclusive landscapes should be about integration and not segregation.

Practical Activity

As an introduction to a suite of site evalutation tools, the delegates had the opportunity to use a sensory mapping technique developed by the Sensory Trust.  This prompts the assessor to consider the wider sensory elements of the designed landscaped, but importantly it encourages them to think about how other people, for example a visually impaired person, may want to enjoy the landscape.

At the close of the day, a lively discussion on inclusive landscapes was chaired by Nigel Thorne, and most of the feedback on the day indicated that this subject was broader than many delegates had initially thought, and there was much interest in taking the ideas forward.

The Sensory trust would like to thank the Eden Project, the Landscape Institute South West and Nigel Thorne for their assistance and support with organising this event.