Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Alsop v. Schwartz

A very interesting debate that came via a link from World Landscape Architect features a throw-down between Architect Will Alsop and Martha Schwartz over the role of landscape architects in public space. The video is featured on Wallpaper (alas no embedded video, so the link is here). It seems Mr. Alsop (left) made some comments about landscape architects, so Ms. Schwartz (right) threw down the gauntlet and took him to task about it... sort of.

:: images via BDonline (L) and via Archinect (R)

From Wallpaper: "When Will Alsop questioned the role of landscape architecture in the development of public spaces in a recent speech, US-born London-based landscape architect Martha Schwartz couldn’t resist a response.
And what better way to do it, than to arrange a lively discussion between Alsop and herself, on the role of landscape design to keep the debate going? The event was held in Martha’s office, chaired by Peter Bishop, Director of Design for London. We went along and here are the best bits… "

So the low-down. At a speech in 2007 at the RIBA conference, Alsop dropped this nugget (via BDonline): "The other take, of course, is that the architect should just drop the worst of the cast when all else fails and go it alone. Alsop seemed to be a bit of a fan of the soliloquy idea. ... “Landscape architects,” he mused. “Over the last 10 years they seem to have got the idea that they are better than us. They start to take control and talk like planners and local politicians.” Easily solved. “Cut them out”.

:: LAs, you will have no part in this, sad... - image via Citizen:Citizen

Nice. Perhaps Alsop forgot that architects have been doing this same thing (cutting us out) for years, much to the detriment of buildings, urban design, and spacemaking in general. I guess if you're into insularity and starchitectural power. I think it's a good sign, mostly due to our presence on the stage... as ten years ago, he probably wouldn't have even mentioned a landscape architect. Either way, the man should never, ever, be able to convene a panel on collaboration. And clients... remember - perhaps you'll get a bit snappy and we can just cut you out as well.

So, anyway, I could rant about this for a bit, but want to hear others comments. Check out the interview for some good parry and thrust. Plus, Wallpaper has some love for Martha, with some imagery from her projects...

:: Massar Children's Discovery Centre in Damascus, Syrah - images via Wallpaper

:: Dublin Docklands - images via Wallpaper

So, what do you think of Alsop's comments and the interview? What good points does he make, other than proving to be an insufferable prick (and a good sport for showing up)? What is the strange shift of Martha Schwartz as LA cheerleader (as she was doing here)? What about the ladies of landscape architecture sticking up for the profession (such as Gustafson v. Szenasy at the ASLA conference)?

It's all, very wonderful... guys, time to step up.


  1. alsop = a-hole

    although, atleast he says what thousands probably think. i'll give him credit for that.

  2. It all comes down to the fact that architects have huge egos, and any landscape architect that comes in and takes away the light from them is seen as threatening.

    I think this is due to the professional differences. Much of the landscape is "horizontal" as Martha states, and architecture is very three dimensional and "in your face". Architects are used to having a lot of public attention for their projects and they enjoy that attention - it's what drives much of their profession.

    Landscape architects simply have projects that are used and viewed in a much different light, and LAs simply do not get the attention that they deserve.

    Though, I feel a lot of landscape architects don't understand good urban design; so my complaints of the profession are quite opposite from Alsop's.

  3. I object to allowing Wil Alsop represent the profession of architecture. A large part of his popularity is due to the fact that he makes outlandish statements. I saw him speak two years ago to a large audience, and behind his facade of eloquence, he was rude, egotistical, and generally full of nonsense.

    But what can LA's learn from Alsop? The power of self-promotion...


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