Follow-up on books for landscape design education

tip: listen to the weekly 99% invisible show on design, especially this Nick Drake special.
tip: listen to the weekly 99% invisible show on design, especially this Nick Drake edition.

Click here for the 99% invisible podcast

First of all, there is reason to express my sincerest thanks to all those that responded to last month’s call. Within various Linked-in groups a lot of people have shared the book titles that have either inspired them or have made it possible to learn something. Since these groups contain members that are not all familiar with each other, I will give a resume of the yield (see below). Some people in my personal sphere responded verbally like: ‘I like maps and specifically historical maps or old style topographical maps. Glaring at these makes my world and imagination larger’; or ‘I must confess that I do not read that much and besides I am too dyslectic’. These types of responses I recognise as a typical feature within the culture of landscape designers. It may be one of the reasons why only so little has been written that is truly replacing first hand experiences and nerd-like fascination for details (and getting lost in the bigger picture).

Second, the work on the ECLAS book is not nearly done, of course. A book on education is still open to various conceptual models. At least two essentially different strategies are possible:
>- is the book for teaching colleagues (academic/professional or both)?
>- is the book for students and life-long learners?

Personally, I consider making ‘something’ for students a priority. A book for teaching colleagues, on the various teaching methods that are available throughout Europe (and beyond) will be hilariously loud and unessential. For example, last week during a guest lecture in Germany I was confronted with the notion that I am indeed very Dutch in my view on landscape design and specifically: landscape performances (e.g. landscape machines). OKAY… point taken but not understood up to its dire consequences. Does this mean that my view on landscape only holds within the governmental borders of my cultural background? A showcase on the various cultural attitudes regarding landscape design becomes even more complex if these are multiplied by personal experiences as a rewarded teacher:

(personal teaching efficiency) x (cultural view on landscape design) = 1000 x 100 (complexity) = 100.000 (complexity).

The answer is to focus on that archetypical student that roams the internet and sees intercultural connections that will be mingled as new generations rise. This student is fascinated by landscapes as a global phenomenon according to increasing urbanisation, increasingly unnatural food consumption, increasing climactic regional scale interventions and an increasing need to make places that can connect to a sense of self. HOW will we teach them? And what advice do we give them to switch between schools if their bachelor is finished and new opportunities arise for a master study. And even within an educations there are options for free choice arrangements, extra curricular activities, internships abroad and exchange programs. Let them swap.

WHAT is it that defines the capacity of this world class and informed landscape designer? In the suggestions of book titles I have had from you I recognise these categories:

>- defining handbooks on landscape design and planning (methods and applications, even though they may be aged); e.g. McHarg (nr. 1 in your responses), Lynch, Simonds/Starke, Hunt, JB Jackson, Alexander, Steenbergen
>- up-to-date critical thinking on landscape design (challenging certain preconceptions and misconceptions); e.g. Hauxner, Meyer, Foxley, Waldheim, Moore, Swaffield, Thompson
>- inspiring collections of best practices (including plant-design, and more generally by means of journals, magazines and online libraries); e.g. Sørensen, blogs, Oudolf, van Sweden, Orion Magazin, Yearbooks
>- literature involving cross disciplinary themes (psychology, watermanagement, energy, etc.); no specific titles but a lot of desire and greed to know


What is still missing in this list, is a guiding hand in the exercises to train for 10.000 hours of design ingenuity. This may be the best kept secret of schools, individual hero-teachers and masterclasses. I do not believe that these should be nailed down in books (like the equation above: these would be 100.000 books). There is however a great medium to expose all these exercises and personal coaching: the internet. I believe that more and more people, even without the intention to study landscape design, could learn about some aspects of landscape design by excellent or sillily home-made video’s and podcasts about essential landscape skills such as photography, photoshop, mapping, plant nursing and composition, making posters, models, hand-sketching etc.. Software tutorials are already available. These fundamental skills, like learning to play the piano, may be well cared for in a 100.000 movies online database. Landscape design could be a normal thing to consider for a while, even if you are only 14 years old, or already 68 years old.

Topping that, I even have an edgy feeling that some teachers will become superstars, like popstars, moviestars and sportsheroes. To be an excellent and extremely ‘liked’ teacher may become one of the most valued qualities in the next five years. His or her or their trademark will be their specific method of teaching.

In other words. See that the general list of books is kept available and up-to-date in all the libraries at landscape design centres and be ready to install a novel level of teacher interaction by means of online content (and NOT books, because essentially, designers neglect books when they do not contain images). Lastly, arrange for visiting teachers to cross fertilise design centre students, along with local design educators to make sure everybody will gain 10.000 hours of practice within 10 years.

Is that good enough for you?