Andrew Cottage, Associate Director and Head of Landscape Design talks about his role here at Urban Edge and the importance of greenspace.
The importance of open spaces and, in particular, greenspace, has never been more important. The recent lockdowns have showed us how vital parks and outdoor spaces are to our physical and mental health and wellbeing. We have become acutely aware of the importance of issues around accessibility and inclusiveness. Good greenspace can encourage participation and interaction and as such contribute to the formation of strong communities. In addition we have seen how, with a little encouragement, wildlife is able to adapt and return to our urban places.
This heightened awareness should emphasise to developers that well designed greenspace will add value to their development by making it more desirable to the end-user. Carefully crafted landscape schemes are a fundamental component of successful placemaking and as such can support the timely passage of a proposed development through the planning process.
I’ve been interested in natural places, gardens and art from an early age and was able to combine my passions by studying Landscape Architecture at Greenwich University under Tom Turner.
When I graduated it was an exciting time and I remember vividly working in Cardiff at a time when it was at the beginning of its renaissance and the Ebbw Vale Garden Festival (1992) took place. This was a hugely significant landscape led project, revitalising the site of the old Corus Group steel and tin works into gardens, plant exhibitions and other visitor attractions. It was hoped it would support the regeneration of Cardiff and surrounding villages by attracting new investment into the area which had been badly hit by the decline of traditional heavy industries. The Garden Festival attracted over 2 million visitors and was the first example I’d seen of how landscape architecture can contribute to effective regeneration and create places that support strong and resilient communities.
Since then, my view that landscape has a crucial role to play in creating successful places hasn’t changed. Working in private practices, many of my projects have been commercial developments where the ability to sell the benefits of good landscape design to a developer has been important. The advantages will vary from scheme to scheme but there are common themes and sound commercial reasons for paying attention to the landscape, such as making a project more acceptable to planners and end-users and getting higher incomes as a result. A well considered landscape scheme can integrate a new development into its surroundings and create developments which are place specific and sympathetic to the local landscape character.
There are also important long-term benefits of a carefully planned and properly integrated landscape design. These include creating positive and usable spaces as well as all the benefits arising from a well thought through planting scheme, such as better air quality, reduced heat gain, provision of nectar, increased biodiversity and carbon capture. As the conversation turns to net-zero development, landscape can play an increasingly valuable role, for example by integrating sustainable drainage schemes into the wider landscape design. I’m not saying we can solve climate change, but we can certainly help!
Working for Urban Edge immediately appealed to my interest in working as part of a team in the delivery of great schemes. The practice offers a fully integrated service where landscape and architecture work seamlessly, hand-in-hand to create coherent developments where buildings and landscape combine harmoniously and the end product is greater than the sum of its parts.
An integrated team makes it is easier to identify opportunities to enhance the finished scheme. For example, the team can work together to optimise site layouts to maximise the interaction between the buildings and landscape, making a natural flow of spaces and create feelings of openness and engagement. We can identify opportunities to create spaces which are usable and attractive to both people and wildlife.
Urban Edge has been able to develop this integrated approach to architecture and landscape with its clients, particularly Inspired Villages, one of the UK’s most innovative later living specialists. We have an ageing population who spend more time within the developments creating the opportunity for the external spaces to take on an even greater and more valuable role. Landscape becomes an intrinsic element of the overall scheme, providing high quality and very usable green spaces, which offer a range of opportunities for residents to socialise, be active and participate in activities and events. We work closely with the project ecologist to provide plenty of habitat within the development to support local biodiversity, attracting wildlife and increasing contact between the residents and the natural environment. In these ways we can deliver the benefits of the outside for physical and mental wellbeing.
I am a Chartered Member of the Landscape Institute and I worked for them for a spell recently, managing an international design competition and helping to organise their online webinar series. This gave me a broader and more in-depth insight, not only on the challenges that my profession is facing, but the great work that the Landscape Institute are doing and the level of excitement and creativity that my fellow landscape architects are bringing to the design table.
For me, my role at Urban Edge only begins with planning, designing and delivering. These are all steps along the way to the finished piece of work but the real excitement is seeing people enjoy the spaces that we create and watching how a client takes the project forward in ways that I, as the designer, may not have anticipated. Our work creates fresh starting points, but the landscape is never complete or static and constantly evolves and looks towards the future.
Landscape architecture is a varied and challenging discipline that can have as much or as little effect on a project as it is allowed to have. It can support mental health, create a feeling of community, settle a new development into its wider context and help in the fight against climate change.
For some sectors, the landscape has always played a role in the finished scheme, whilst in others more commercial elements take priority. Recent Coronavirus lockdowns have highlighted the importance of quality outdoor spaces for the health and wellbeing of all communities. I and the team at Urban Edge are looking forward to sharing that sense of excitement and creativity and ensuring that landscape architecture plays its full role across every sector in the Urban Edge portfolio from residential to retail, leisure to logistics.