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parks versus carparks

September 29th, 2021


I have designed so many car parks that I can lay one out by hand at 1:500 without a scale rule. 

By contrast I have designed one public park that has been built - Mansfield Park in Partick, which only went as far as phase one before funding ran out. It still sits tauntingly incomplete every time I go past it. Landscape architecture students design parks at university but we rarely get to do it real life. Recently, students from the Mac interviewing at erz have brought in designs for buildings on "my" park - used as a project site because it looks unfinished or empty or just a bit crap - ouch! The drawings for the complete park are still available, if anyone could help finish it...

We need funding for old and new parks - a great source of new sites could be car parks.  As part of COP 26 Glasgow should turn some carparks into parks. A COP26 legacy plan for removing carparks and replacing them with parks could start at King Street/St Enoch - our Dear Green Place has no permanent city centre park. Here is my rational for this:

Uses for car parks

Storing cars

Uses for parks

Walking, strolling, skipping, cycling, snogging, handstands, running, meeting friends, playing sport, paddling, swimming, climbing trees, watching birds, watching people, resting, respite, sanctuary, keeping fit, keeping in touch, playing with friends, swinging, barbeques, picnics, a quick coffee, a large icecream, school trips, riding a horse, breathing fresh air, taking a shortcut, growing plants, growing food, foraging for wild garlic, skimming stones, teenage kicks, building a den, sledging, snowmen, mudslides, skinnydips, playing tig, frisbee, flying a kite, flying a drone, flying down a hill shouting ack ack, roly-poly, finding a worm, flirting, forest school, forest bathing, watching an otter, counting butterflies, building a bug hotel, pond dipping, frogspawn stealing, scrumping apples, commemorating your dad with a park bench, sitting on a park bench with your dad, graffiti, parkour, buggyfit, tai chi, green gym, waterfalls, sculptures, public art, fountains, rare plants, daisychains, sustainable drainage, active travel, funfairs, festivals, bandstands, buskers, boozing on a sunny day off work, rose-gardens, flagpoles, fireworks, bonfire nights, new year, midsummer, puddle-jumping, wintergardens…skateboarding, memorials, monuments, viewpoints, shelter, clean air, carbon capture, regeneration of derelict land, stargazing, mushrooms, dog walking, scooting and - in Glasgow in particular - Clydesdale Horses, ravines and cliffs, weirs and dams, police dogs, rowing clubs, museums, stately homes, fairy trails, vegetable gardens, bridges, botanic collections, squirrels, monkey puzzle trees, trails and panoramas.

Parks are the social glue of communities, binding us together through play, tying us to the natural systems that are integral to our survival and reminding us of our humanity and place in this world. 


Natural Health Service

August 19th, 2021


Natural Health Service

Glasgow’s dear green places have never felt so important. We have been consulting this week with hospital communities in several contexts. 

A nurse described 15 weeks in ICU as a patient and a further 15 weeks as the solitary inhabitant of a single room on a COVID recovery ward, with no visitors and a view of cut grass and concrete. She said the worst part was as she got better and realised how lonely and trapped she was. Nurses worry most about the patients who cannot see their families and how this effects their chances of survival. The word “claustrophobia” cropped up throughout every dialogue. We spoke to a doctor who selflessly wants to build a green commemoration for the families of those who survived COVID, and those who did not survive the last eighteen months. We spoke to bereaved family members who crave a safe outdoor place to meet people who have had the same losses. Stories coming out of the hospital communities right now tell of kindness, camaraderie, loneliness and also of the need to be able to get outside for sanctuary and solace.

I am working on a project called HALO Garden where we want to create small accessible garden rooms for every health building in the country so that staff can get outside for rest and respite, and patients can be wheeled out to recover in the sunlight and safely see their children whatever illness they have – and those trapped inside can have the small luxury of a vibrant view. But really, should this be a luxury?

We are, separately, reviewing the hundred years of organic decisions that have reduced three different Victorian city hospitals in Scotland to an illegible maze of carparks and random buildings which serve no-one well. Each started life as edge of town Victorian asylums, those notorious tropes of horror films and gothic novels – I especially remember a teenage David Tennant leaping off the tower at Gartloch Hospital in Taking Over the Asylum. In fact, a different story emerges within our research - in Victorian Scotland, horticultural therapies were integrated into both the care given and the generous landscape designs at Gartloch, Gartnavel, the Royal Alexandra, Lennox Castle, and even the landlocked Queen Elizabeth University Hospital, which started life as Govan Poorhouse. Hints of these spaces remain as much-loved mature trees, ponds and walled gardens, hidden away between aerial corridors, parking zones and back of house storage yards.

Green recovery for the NHS will include re-embracing this long ignored asset as we all re-evaluate the role of the outdoors in keeping us not only physically healthy, but safely and - essentially - connected to other people: the need for conviviality as a core goal for landscape again becomes clear.




July 3rd, 2021

I am nominally a landscape architect. What does this mean?

Landscape comes from 'landschap' a 16th Century Dutch term originally applied to paintings of rural scenery.  Landscape is a term that suggests superficial decoration of spaces around buildings - American colleagues call this misinterpretation of our trade 'the parsley around the pig'.

I have other words that I like better, to try to describe what we do at erz. My favourite is conviviality.

Con – with / share / together

Vivere – to live / to breathe

Many years ago, with my partner Rolf, I saw the philosopher Ivan Illych speak about his book “Tools for Conviviality”. He had a massive impact on our work together because of his explanation of the word conviviality. I use this word so much at work and it is more and more the focus of my intentions.

Conviviality means shared life, but also, in Latin, a convivium was a feast – conviviality suggests sustenance, the food of life. Conviviality is essential to humanity and can be intentionally designed into places or carelessly designed out. Outdoor places should be a tool for conviviality, from the nursery garden mudkitchens we are lovingly crafting in Edinburgh, to the outdoor bedroom terraces at the Prince and Princess of Wales Hospice in Glasgow, hidden inner-city oases such as the Greyfriar's Growing Space or the social-distance gardens of the HALO Project.

At its best landscape architecture is about creating this necessary sustenance -  communal delight, interconnectedness - a big celebration of life.  As we emerge from the isolation of Covid restrictions what comes into sharp focus is what landscape architects have always known: life flows most vigorously in the spaces between buildings.

Landscape refers to (amongst many other things) the earth beneath our feet, the spaces and buildings around us, the air we breathe, our cultural context, the political setting, and the stars above our heads.The advantage of the word landscape here, in a blog, is as an excuse to write about anything and everything, with a focus on things that are happening outdoors.

(Tools for Conviviality by Illich Ivan ISBN 9781842300114)