Birmingham, 18 June 2014
Dear delegates and presidents,
Dear landscape architects’ community
It is a great honour to have been elected world president of International Federation of Landscape Architects and be at the heart of a long established international organization with connections to major partners across the world. It is particularly important given the way the discipline of landscape architecture is developing. There is a new way of talking about landscape and the raised profile of our profession brings with it huge challenges and responsibilities. These issues are being explored in research, in courses in landscape architecture and through the interdisciplinary and cross-institutional work being undertaken by landscape architects worldwide.
Sir Geoffrey Jellicoe, founding member of the Landscape Institute in the UK and President from 1939 to 1949, founded the International Federation of Landscape Architects in 1948. With a vision for a better future after the war, this followed the establishment of the United Nations in 1945, UNESCO in 1946, the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the founding of the International Union of Architects (1948).
Sir Geoffrey wrote to me immediately after publication of my first article in Landscape Design in 1991 and asked if he could come and see the work of my students (at his own expense he added). The visit was memorable. He spoke of his ambitions for the profession, and every time I published another article he’d write to me – warning that I was going into deep water – beware! He would tell me how Heraclitus, the ancient Greek philosopher saved his bacon in Texas when he was struggling for a concept for the Moody Gardens. We corresponded frequently. His niece subsequently asked me to speak at his memorial service in the Royal Academy. This prompted Alan Tate, President of the LI at the time, to invite me to stand for Council. I became President in 2004, then UK representative of the IFLA in 2006, and Chair of the IFLA working Group for a UNESCO International Landscape Convention in 2010.
The LI hosted IFLA 2005 in Edinburgh and when I met the Council again in Minneapolis, I began to understand what people meant when they said IFLA was like a big family. We have a huge amount of work ahead of us and every member of this extended family needs to play their part.
Last year in New Zealand as chair of the IFLA ILC working group I asked delegates for help to spread the word about the proposal for a global landscape initiative. Recently, I admit to wondering whether it was a realistic goal. But then in the last few weeks – a draft Asia Pacific charter is being developed, formally supported by China, Japan, and the Philippines – a terrific response. We have had the tremendous success of LALI in Latin America, charters emerging from Canada and from the new region in Africa and embryonic developments for a new region in the Middle East.
Things are changing. Recently at Birmingham City University where I work, a Chinese delegation were really only interested in talking about landscape architecture. It has become evident that talking about the landscape in a way that helps make it more tangible and resilient in the face of development pressures is crucial in meeting the major global challenges created by industrialization, demographic shifts, climate change, deforestation, the depletion of natural resources and a host of issues relating to the quality of life and other aspects of land use development. These challenges, like financial infrastructures, do not respect territorial boundaries. There is an urgent need to provide strategic design leadership at a local, national, and international level.
A NEW APPROACH TO LANDSCAPE
Understanding the landscape not only as a physical entity but as a powerful, evocative concept reflecting our values and ambitions, is opening up debate, encouraging new and surprising ways to articulate the social, cultural and physical context of our lives. This is influencing international organisations at the highest level, directing United Nations agencies, NGO’s, and other civic institutions to the wider value of ordinary as well as outstanding landscape. Politicians and key stakeholders, are beginning to recognise the potential of the landscape to mediate between administrative, technical, social and cultural forces, realising there is a more productive and effective way to deal with development and change. Reflecting this cultural, even generational shift, landscape architects increasingly need a geographic sensibility, a strong sense of social and ethical responsibility as well as knowledge of the spatial implications of governance, finance and transport, health and education.
A NEW IFLA
Immediate Past President Desiree Martinez and the previous EXCO worked tremendously hard to take the IFLA through a significant re-organisation. With its new governance structures in place, it is now in a terrific position to help demonstrate and promote this multidisciplinary, holistic view of landscape. With our new executive Director, sound financial planning, and good communications, we can focus our efforts collectively to influence key organisations as well as guide, support, and strengthen education and professional practice across the world. We have key standard setting instruments in place and a streamlined committee structure.
Working collaboratively between EXCO, the regions and delegates will help the Federation provide important international leadership and consultation, coordinate a global network of advice and support for members to draw upon, promote the profession, inspire its members and attain global recognition through its awards and competitions. We need to support the development of the Africa Region, the emerging Middle Eastern region and other nations where the profession is growing. We need to share best practice across the regions. Building on the success of LALI and the ELC, it is vitally important to encourage the development of regional and national landscape charters (where none currently exist), to demonstrate the need for a global landscape initiative.
Fulfilling these priorities will help IFLA realise its founding purpose: to forge a better future – not only for Landscape Architecture but also for the globe itself.