An Engrossing Journey – IFLA 52nd World Congress St Petersburg

For the first time in the history of the International Federation of Landscape Architects World Congresses, the 52nd Congress was held in Russia. The dramatic heritage and history of the region gave the international landscape architecture world compelling examples of revitalisation and reconstruction of ‘lost’ natural, semi-natural and man-made landscapes. The “History of the Future” theme of the Congress catered for a wide range of interests on the challenges and opportunities of the past, the present and the future for landscape architecture and landscape architects, and attracted 1257 participants from 74 countries.

The World Congress was held in St. Petersburg on the 10–12 June 2015, and was an initiative supported by IFLA, Association of Landscape Architects of Russia (ALAROS), Saint-Petersburg Administration, Saint-Petersburg State Forest Technical University and Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences.

The programme of the Congress was very intense. Pre- and post-conference tours gave participants a unique opportunity to see historic and modern parks and gardens of St. Petersburg’s UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Participants saw the most famous suburban tsar’s park and palace complexes such as Peterhof, Tsarskoye Selo, Pavlovsk and Gatchina which were reconstructed after tremendous destruction during the Great Patriotic War (1941-1945). The Congress programme also offered wide options of technical tours to natural and cultural landscapes (nature reserves, St Petersburg Dam, Parks of Soviet time and others.).


Photo 1. St. Petersburg, UNESCO World Heritage Site

One of the most impressive experiences of the Congress was the opening ceremony. The event took place in the Palace Square just opposite to the Hermitage Museum. The extensive Square had been decorated with flowers, trees and rolled turf parterres, where there were previously only cobble stones. This new green island in the heart of St. Petersburg became one of the most popular and visited places there for almost a week.  The ceremony on a large constructed band stage was choreographed to portray the story about landscape architects who design to save our Earth. The language of music and dance was a most effective communicator in this impressive event which included traditional and modern ballet and dance, AC/DC (complete with fireworks), elegant crooners, and opening speeches from the IFLA President Kathryn Moore, the President of ALAROS, Taissiya Wolftrob and the Mayor of St. Petersburg, Georgy Poltavchenko all backed by images from around the globe.




Photo 3. Special decoration of the Palace Square

Photo 3. Special decoration of the Palace Square


There was even a cycling event to publicize an international initiative, the ‘Trees-‐Connect’ project which finished just at the end of the opening ceremony. Cyclists rode the final 30 kilometers from Peterhof into the Palace Square to celebrate the Berlin to St. Petersburg tree planting operations, carrying (of course), the IFLA flag.

The St. Petersburg conference had a very full schedule. It will be remembered for the thought-provoking keynote presentations of world leading practitioners and academics from Russia, China and Slovenia and numerous parallel sessions where speakers discussed provocative themes of “East to West: methods of integration and innovations in modern Landscape Architecture”; “Historical and ‘Natural’ Landscapes in the 21st century – conservation, reconstruction and restoration; research for integration into modern urban and rural landscape” and “Green-blue infrastructure and sustainable urban development”.

This conference will also be remembered by its venue-the magnificent 19th century elegant building of the Capella. Following the Imperial St. Petersburg tradition participants also enjoyed high level performances of music during the opening ceremony, welcoming party and the dinner. For three days the St. Petersburg Capella was the capital of Landscape Architecture. In the maze of halls and corridors of the Capella there were numerous posters and displays showing achievements of landscape architecture firms.

Photo 4. Performances of music during the opening ceremony

Photo 4. Performances of music during the opening ceremony

Many delegates had a unique chance to be involved in the Festival of Street Art which was especially dedicated to the IFLA Congress, where everyone could be a graffiti artist!

Photo 5. Festival of Street Art

Photo 5. Festival of Street Art

Delegates could also visit another festival, the “Imperial Gardens of Russia” in the Mikhailovsky Garden, and join in planting the first trees in the new park “Parade of Gardens” at the outskirt of St. Petersburg.

The Congress attracted the younger generation of landscape architecture as well: the student competition with over 270 entries and a three day charrette which gave an excellent opportunity to compete and learn from each other.

The academic part of the conference was concluded by publishing the Conference Proceedings which consists of the peer-reviewed abstracts in English and Russian (submitted by 304 authors from 35 countries) and 50 full peer-reviewed papers in English. All selected papers came through the review process organized by the Conference Scientific Committee, and which was supported by numerous reviewers from the Landscape Architecture academic community.

This year’s theme “History of Future” showed a diverse array of strategies and activities that cities, regions and landscape architects are carrying out, with respect to nature, cultural and everyday landscapes from all over the world. Examples of presented articles provide a wide range of research and practical projects. Quite a few articles explore the main subtheme of the congress “Green-blue infrastructure and sustainable development”. For example one of the articles is dedicated to the Resilient Cityland concept and explores ways to re-integrate urban and rural areas as well as investigates the potential of green-blue structure values in cities in the Baltic Sea Region (10 cities are part of a regional initiative to quantify the benefits). This whole range of articles deals with specific case studies of green infrastructure and explores their interdisciplinary character, for example research of golf courses investigating social aspects and their potential to support multiple values including biodiversity; or for example a waterfront renovation project in one of Russia’s cities.

Many writers and presenters touched upon different important aspects of green infrastructure such as walkability in everyday urban landscape and school garden development. A lot of attention was given to the problems of urbanisation and related issues for example in a big megapolis such as Sao Paulo, or densification and the search for sustainable housing solutions in Moscow. Water aspects are so acute in many countries that it is not surprising many articles share local experiences and new innovative projects on the wisdom of saving water. Presented papers touched upon new innovative techniques and methods such as Perceived Sensory Dimensions which can be used by landscape architects and urban planners to create more pleasant and healthy urban areas; or the Garden City and Green Roofs design with its ecological design wisdom.  Another Congress subtheme “East to West: methods of integration and innovation in modern landscape architecture” sparked great interest among authors. One of the manuscripts is dedicated to exploring philosophical ideas of integration of Western and Eastern ideas in landscape architecture, another – urban rehabilitation of an historic site- the German colony in Haifa, Israel; and another researcher explored Anglo-Chinese gardens in Ukraine.

An enthusiastic response occurred among presenters for the topic of “Historic and ‘Natural’ Landscapes in the 21st century – conservation, reconstruction and restoration; research for integration into modern urban and rural landscape”. This group of articles in the Proceedings covers a wide range of themes from the multiple use of heritage archaeological site management in China, to discussing the integration of spirituality, nature and culture of Calvary’s in Slovakia, and the poetry of Chinese wetlands.

Case studies on urban, rural, cultural, and natural landscapes from Japan, China, India, New Zealand, USA; Mexico, Cyprus, Australia, Greece, Brazil, Germany, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Lithuania, Italy, the Netherlands, Turkey, Spain, Sweden, Russia and other countries suggested an engrossing journey for all Congress delegates.

The Conference Proceedings with abstracts and full papers can be found here.


Photo 6. Closing ceremony of the IFLA 52 Congress in St. Petersburg and transferring the IFLA banner to Torino, the host city of the next IFLA 53 Congress.

This article has been written and submitted by Maria Ignatieva and Diane Menzies.