I’m Christian Hahn, landscape architect at Stijlgroep, and this is not a purely theoretical piece, but much more my very own view on how I experienced the landscape architect’s discipline amongst all the others in the field of architecture.
I am not going to claim a universal knowledge about the European role of landscape architecture. I also did not work in an uncountable number of different countries. But having studied in Germany, worked at first in London, and now in Rotterdam, I recognise a quite different approach of landscape architecture…
The view from London: the pastoral and ‘filling the void’
After finishing my study in Weihenstephan, Germany I set a new challenge by packing my backpack (actually it was quite a massive suitcase) and moving across the sea: I found my first job in the vibrant city of London.
I started my every day work as a professional landscape architect just a few meters away from the Tate Modern and the Thames. Being brought up in quite a small village, having studied in quite a small town, I was overwhelmed by the speed, the business and the colours of London.
With every corner I crossed I was confronted with new impressions, new colours and new smells: the strong smell of curry in Bricklane, the smell of the sea at the riversides, the smell of earth in Richmondpark…
As much I was excited about ‘my new hometown’ I was surprised at the perspective on my profession. So, along with the change of my every day environment, my professional interaction with architects also changed.
First I have to say, I was very much surprised by the London architects perception that Germans are overruled by laws and regulations. I believed then, and still believe now, that it is not much more than a myth.
In London, DDA regulations and design guidelines were just a few rules which determined my role as a designer all day long. But my real experience of being a landscape architect in England was that my role was to basically follow the architects.
For the most part our task can (ironically) be described as ‘filling the void between the buildings’. There were no, or very minimal, possibilities where I as a landscape architect had the possibility to influence the interaction between architecture and landscape.
And so, in the country where Gertrude Jekyll designed gardens of outstanding beauty, landscape architects seemed to me still very much been seen in a pastoral role…
The view from Rotterdam: a shift in perspective
After having worked for two years nearby the Thames, now the Maas is part of my every day route. Rotterdam replaces London as another city along a river. A ride with my bike to work replaces overcrowded, sticky underground lines.
West 8, OMA, KCAP have replaced Gustafson & Porter, Zaha Hadid, Norman Foster as neighbours (not all of them are real neighbours, but KCAP is really situated next door…). As I did both my internship and my exchange study year in the Netherlands, starting working in Rotterdam was a kind of ‘coming back again’.
The pure and strong appearance of the Dutch landscape, the obvious manmade layout attracted me once more again and motivated my change to Rotterdam very much.
With this change of place once more there was a change of my living environment and my role as a professional. Here, where Adrian Geuze revolutionised landscape architecture, our discipline has a much wider importance: Landscape architecture is not only a ‘following’ but much more an equal, sometimes even dominant discipline.
In a lot of projects my colleagues and I are involved in tasks which have a much wider scope than the strict role of a landscape architect as I experienced it in London.
Not only are we giving a design statement concerning urban design and architecture, but also our approach in every single project is unique: Landscape is leading.
The emancipation of landscape architecture
What I found once during my study very exciting and unique is now part of my every day work: We as landscape architects have much more to tell then only the choice of trees or stone.
We as landscape architects have our very own view on the quality of space, the whole urban setting and the interaction between red and green/ between architecture and landscape.
Now, in the Netherlands, in Rotterdam, at Stijlgroep, landscape architecture is on the move.
Landscape architecture is in the process of emancipation.