Who are the Ca­pa­bil­ity Browns of to­day?

The Daily Telegraph - Gardening - - Front Page -

Meet the new gen­er­a­tion of in­no­va­tors who, like the famed 18th-cen­tury de­signer Lancelot Brown, are chang­ing the shape of the land­scape. By Tim Richard­son

The noise around this year’s cel­e­bra­tion of the ter­cente­nary of “Ca­pa­bil­ity” Brown’s birth begs the ques­tion: who are the “Ca­pa­bil­i­ties” of to­day? Brown has a sta­tus in land­scape de­sign sim­i­lar to that of Shake­speare in lit­er­a­ture, and one might won­der what he would be do­ing if he were alive in 2016. In Shake­speare’s case, the cliché would be that he would now be de­sign­ing apps or video games – but what about Brown?

Well, just as I think Shake­speare would prob­a­bly still be writ­ing plays, so a new Brown would still be en­gaged in land­scape ar­chi­tec­ture. There is sim­ply no mod­ern sub­sti­tute for work­ing on a land­scape scale. The cru­cial dif­fer­ence, for a de­signer with such a big vi­sion phys­i­cally and con­cep­tu­ally, is that he or she would prob­a­bly be work­ing in the ur­ban realm, for civic clients, rather than in the coun­try­side for the aris­toc­racy. In Bri­tain to­day, few great landown­ers con­sider their wider es­tate (as op­posed to the gar­den) as an op­por­tu­nity for cre­ative work – though there are some no­table ex­cep­tions, such as the Duke of Buc­cleuch at his seats at Boughton in Northamp­ton­shire and in Scot­land (see box, page 3).

Those of Brow­n­ian mind­set, who seek to en­hance or al­ter the iden­tity of large tracts of land, as op­posed to dec­o­rat­ing what is al­ready there, are most likely to find sat­is­fac­tion work­ing in cities in a “postin­dus­trial” environment – typ­i­cally ren­o­vat­ing and mak­ing “fit-for-pur­pose” ur­ban zones such as ex-dock­lands, derelict mines and fac­to­ries, un­der­used river­fronts and de­cayed city cen­tres. These are the ar­eas where am­bi­tious land­scape ar­chi­tects tend to get big com­mis­sions nowa­days. There are op­por­tu­ni­ties, too, for work on what is ef­fec­tively virgin land – mainly in China and Dubai, where new towns and cities are be­ing es­tab­lished, and in spe­cial cases such as the cre­ation of large botanic gar­dens and Olympic parks. Some things never change, how­ever. As in Brown’s day, the sin­gle most chal­leng­ing as­pect of land­scape de­sign re­mains work­ing with water. Brown’s mas­tery of water was one of his strong­est suits, and it re­mains a dis­tinct spe­cial­ism to­day. It’s not just the

New hori­zons: Red Rib­bon Tanghe River Park, China, de­signed by Kongjian Yu. Be­low: Kongjian Yu, Kate Cul­lity and James Cor­ner

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