IFLA 75: Uncovering hidden histories in Landscape Architecture

Author: Lei Gao

In 2023, the International Federation of Landscape Architects (IFLA) celebrates its 75th anniversary. Norway is one of the 15 founding members of IFLA and sent the second largest delegation (while the largest delegation was from Britain, the hosting country) to the first IFLA Congress held in London and Cambridge in 1948.

Landscape architects in Scandinavian countries (Denmark, Norway and Sweden) have played an active role in IFLA since its establishment. In addition to being founding members and actively participating in the Congresses and Council meetings, they were responsible for editing the first Yearbook (Chief editor Ulla Bodorff from Sweden), hosting several congresses (for example, Stockholm held the 3rd IFLA Congress in 1952,  and again in 2023 (jointly hosted with Nairobi), while Bergen hosted it in 1990, and Oslo in 2019), and taking administrative positions (for example, Swedish landscape architect Ulla Bodorff was the honorary treasurer of IFLA between 1954-1965, Norwegian landscape architect Olav Aspesæter was IFLA’s vice president from 1962 and president from 1969 to 1974).

Foundation meeting at Jesus College in Cambridge in 1948. Elise Sørsdal was one of the founding members. (Image from Magne Bruun, 75 år for landskap og utemiljø: Norske landskapsarkitekters forening 1929-2004 (NHL, 2004) , p. 164. Original image CIVA, Belgium)

In February 2024 (12, 13 and 27 February 2024), Historical Archives of Norwegian Landscape Architecture at NMBU will be hosting one online workshop to celebrate the 75th anniversary of IFLA. The workshop focuses on the time span from the late 1960s to 1970s, when urbanisation and environmental concerns greatly shaped the profession of landscape architecture. On the one hand, landscape architects increasingly expanded their work to larger-scale industrial projects such as hydropower stations and urban projects such as office gardens and parks of public/governmental services. On the other hand, landscape architects saw their role as an ‘environment’s healer’, as reflected by the 13th IFLA Congress held in Brussels in 1972, entitled ‘the gardener of the Earth is the environment’s healer’. Based on the archival material of key figures and projects, participants at this workshop will gather online, exchange knowledge and explore together how the shift of profession happened in various parts of Europe, how they influenced each other, what are the driving forces, major influences or nuances, and so on. Participants will also reflect on contemporary changes in policy and the profession’s ongoing responsibility on addressing the climate and biodiversity crisis.

The workshop will be companied by an online public symposium titled ‘An Environment’s Healer’ , during which we will explore how landscape architects have been fighting to tackle the environmental crisis over the past half century and how the network can contribute to answering this question by cooperating and linking archives.

This workshop is part of an AHRC project ‘IFLA 75: Uncovering hidden histories in landscape architecture’, running between November 2022 and November 2024. Professor Luca Csepely-Knorr from the University of Liverpool is the project coordinator. The total funded value is £37,812.

The IFLA 75 project uses the history and legacy of IFLA as a case study to assess the opportunities international networks hold in historic research and to communicate historic research to different audiences. Through a series of online and in-person workshops and co-produced public facing activities and outputs, this project will strengthen and extend the existing international Network of European Landscape Architecture Archives (NELA). It brings together academic institutions, archives and professional bodies for the first time, and establishes a new, innovative, international and multidisciplinary collaboration, raising awareness of archival materials and archives with significant holdings of materials related to landscape architecture. Landscape architecture archives preserve the profession’s legacy, and this project will demonstrate how archiving and archival research contributes to a thorough understanding of the historical development of the built environment professions. It shows how archival documents can contribute to a better understanding of key contemporary issues relating to landscape and public space, such as the climate and biodiversity crises, rapid urbanization, migration, and spatial justice. Altogether 4 workshops are planned within the IFLA 75 project, where the one NMBU is hosting in February 2024 is the third workshop. The first two workshops were respectively held in Belgium in February and in England in June 2023. The last workshop will be held online in the summer of 2024.

The first workshop was hosted by CIVA in Brussels, Belgium, between 2-3 February 2023. Project members visited the archives and the library at CIVA, the most important archive centre for architecture and landscape architecture in Belgium. The exhibition ‘PICTURESQUE. Jules Buyssens’ and the accompanied site visit of Villa van Buuren (where the garden was designed by Jules Buyssens) was one of the highlights, exemplifying how archives contribute to profession’s history and conservation projects. The last afternoon of the workshop was a group activity of archival search, where all participants had opportunities to browse the IFLA archives related to their own countries. 


Project members visiting collections at CIVA.  

The second workshop was held in Reading, UK, on 22-23 June 2023, jointly hosted by the University of Reading and the University of Liverpool. This workshop discussed the founding of IFLA and the first IFLA Congress in London and Cambridge in 1948. There was also a round table discussion lively streamed on YouTube channel. Project members from NMBU did not physically attend this workshop, but participated by providing archival research on Scandinavian involvement in early IFLA congresses and meetings, some of which will appear in an online exhibition that is coming soon.

ANLA holds rich historical materials related to IFLA, ranging from the meeting minutes of the Norwegian Landscape Architects Association where IFLA Congress involvements took place, to publications, projects and other materials created by IFLA members from Norway. Further details will be presented in the next blog article.

Some of the meeting minutes from Norsk Hagearkitektlag (NHL), now the Norwegian Association of Landscape Architects (NLA), stored in the Historical Archive of Norwegian Landscape Architecture

This AHCR project gives a chance to uncover and present unknown history of the field Landscape architecture for a national and international audience. Professor Annegreth Dietze-Schirdewahn and Associate professor Bjørn Anders Fredriksen holding one of the historical IFLA documents when preparing meetings in the project group. 

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