Changing profession of landscape architecture in the 1960s-70s

Changing profession of landscape architecture in the 1960s-70s. A workshop and symposium organised for ‘IFLA Histories 75’ project  

Authors: Lei Gao and Annegreth Dietze-Schirdewahn

Since the official opening of the archive in 2014 and the establishment of the Network of European Landscape Architecture Archives (NELA), we have worked systematically on research and dissemination of findings from our work to a broader audience. We have launched and participated in several initiatives and projects using our archival collections as the starting point. In this way, we create space to present the unknown information about Norwegian landscape architecture history, and discuss trends and developments with other archives, experts, and colleagues all over Europe and the world. This article presents a recent event of such kind.

In February 2024, the Historical Archive of Norwegian Landscape Architecture (ANLA) and the School of Landscape Architecture at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences (NMBU) organized a workshop and a public symposium under the IFLA Histories 75 project funded by AHRC.

Front page of the invitation to the Workshop.

Centered around the changing profession of landscape architecture in the 1960s-70s, the workshop had two parts, addressing the changing profession in the 1960s-70s through archival studies and oral histories. The public symposium ‘Landscape architects as an Environment’s Healer?  Before and Now’ connected historical archives with contemporary debates on the role of landscape architects in a time of crisis, and communicated knowledge with a broader audience.

Workshop part 1: The landscape architecture profession in the 1960s-70s through archival studies

On 12th February, workshop Part 1  took place at campus NMBU and online. The aim of this workshop was to use archival materials to illustrate the trends of the 1960s-70s, a period when urbanisation and an ecological crisis became increasingly dominant topics. Professor Annegreth Dietze-Schirdewahn and Associate professor Lei Gao co-moderated the workshop. Participants were mostly from NMBU and NELA.  7 speakers examined the landscape architecture profession during the 1960s-70s in various countries through archival research on individual landscape architects, organisations and projects.

Niek Hazendonk (the Netherlands) highlighted the influence of organizations like IFLA and IUCN, particularly Roelf Benthem’s leadership during the 1960s’ ecological awakening. Ulrike Krippner (Austria) examined Vienna’s innovative scene in the 1970s, marked by the Vienna International Garden Show and projects like Karlsplatz. These developments, alongside ecological awareness, inspired educational initiatives. David Jacques (U.K.) showcased Christopher Tunnard’s shift from landscape design to town planning, emphasizing his human-centric approach. Bernadette Blanchon (France) highlighted Jacques Sgard’s pioneering work in large-scale French landscape architecture. Nina Marie Andersen (Norway) explored the profession’s evolution in Norway, with Bjarne Aasen’s perspective reflecting a shift towards landscape preservation. Jan Woudstra (U.K.) examined Colin Buchanan’s critiques of car-centered development, paving the way for sustainable urban planning. Finally, Indra Purs (Latvia) explored the resurgence of landscape architecture in Soviet Latvia during a period of liberalization.

These narratives collectively underscore the dynamic interplay between global socio-political shifts and the evolution of landscape architecture, illustrating its role as both a reflection of and catalyst for environmental stewardship and societal progress.

Workshop part 2:  The landscape architecture profession in the 1960s-70s explored through oral histories

In the following afternoon, workshop Part 2 was conducted. The aim of this workshop was to get extra materials from unwritten sources (i.e. memories of those who engaged in the landscape architecture profession in the 1960s-70s), which can help understand the context, and stimulate a dialogue among different generations, with the focus on Nordic contexts. This workshop was moderated by Professor Anne Katrine Geelmuyden. The guest speakers invited to the workshop were Mette Eggen (retired associate professor at NMBU and Riksantikvaren), Roland Gustavsson (retired professor at SLU), Kine Halvorsen Thorén (retired professor at NMBU), and Einar Berg (Norconsult). Other participants were NELA members and staff members from the School of Landscape Architecture at NMBU.

The 1960s and 1970s was a time of rapid development in and around cities in Norway as well as other countries. It was also a time of a starting reflection on that development and its negative consequences. 1968-69 saw student protests in France as well as in the US, which in time spread to other countries. The movement was idealistically nature conservationist, radically democratic, action oriented and anti-authoritarian. How did these influences resonate in our respective professional environments? Did the idea of ‘scientism’ (a technocratic instrumentality thinking) influence landscape management and in case, how? How did hydropower stations and other large-scale projects redefine the profession? How do professionals who were active at that time look back on those discussions today?

After a semi-structured interview with guest speakers conducted by Anne Katrine, everyone was encouraged to join the dialogue. The conversation was recorded and stored as oral archival material.

Workshop part 2 (photo by Lei Gao)

Public Symposium:  Landscape architects as an Environment’s Healer? Before and Now 

On 27th February, a public symposium was held at the big auditorium of campus NMBU and online. Over 140 participants registered for this symposium. After the opening by the Dean of the Faculty of Landscape and Society, Professor Nina Berre and Professor Annegreth Dietze-Schirdewahn co-moderated the event.

The title of this symposium is a nod to the 13th IFLA Congress in Brussels back in 1972, entitled The gardener of the Earth is the environment’s healer. At that time, the Norwegian landscape architect Olav Aspesæter, who then worked at NMBU, was IFLA’s president (1970-1974). Half a century has passed, environmental issues are still a global challenge and a key topic for landscape architects. What can we learn from the past? What are the differences and similarities in the profession’s missions 50 years ago and today? And where is the way ahead for our profession?

Five invited speakers at this symposium addressed above questions from diverse perspectives.  Professor Peder Anker (Philosopher, professor of history of science, New York University) gave a talk entitled ‘Can Friluftsliv be a Healer?’, based on his latest book Livet er best ute—friluftslivets historie og filosofi (Life is best outside—the history and philosophy of outdoor life). Professor Nina Berre (Architectural historian, Head of School of Landscape Architecture, NMBU) examined shifts in the Norwegian Architectural profession in the 1960s–1970s. This was followed by Professor Annegreth Dietze-Schirdewahn (Landscape architect and historian, Vice Dean of Research in the Faculty of Landscape and Society, NMBU), who explored the changing trends in Norwegian landscape architecture during the same period. These three talks provided a philosophical and historical foundation for understanding the landscape and architectural professions in the early decades. After the break, Johanna Gibbons (Landscape architect, founding Partner of J&L Gibbons, U.K.) introduced her approach combining landscape design with activism and education in her talk ‘Taking Care’. The final speaker Professor Dirk Sijmons (Landscape architect, senior consultant, co-founder of founders of H+N+S, the Netherlands) envisioned the future of landscape architects as environmental healers, and proposed four escape routes from modernism.

During the panel discussion session, guest speakers and discussants (Professor Luca Csepely-Knorr and Dr Imke van Hellemondt, leading members of the IFLA Histories 75 project) had an inspiring discussion on the following topics: what lessons can we learn from the past, when we compare on the environmental challenges today with those of 1960s-70s? How can educators better prepare future landscape architects?

In the end, both external speakers and discussants each summed up their key messages in 30 seconds. Luca Csepely-Knorr raised the importance of education to not only university students but also children of different ages, to make them aware of the importance of and ways to take care of the landscape. Peder Anker addressed ‘having fun’—a sense of joy and adventure not only in the profession but also in life in general. Johanna Gibbons emphasised collaboration among all positive forces across sectors and disciplines, since ‘together we can do something good’. Dirk Sijmons pointed out that we need a discussion about what we can do and what we cannot do. As flexible and resilient practitioners, we can play a  modest but important role in healing the environment.

Reflecting on the perspectives of landscape architecture archives, we can say that examining landscape architects’ role as environmental healers entails learning from historical precedents, evaluating recurring discussions, and assessing the profession’s ability to address global challenges. Changing past and present contexts reveal shifts in political, social, economic, and environmental factors that shape the profession’s missions, working areas, and goals. Utilizing archives facilitates contemporary discussions on environmental crises and informs the future trajectory of landscape architecture.

Panel discussion (photo by Ingrid Merete Ødegård)

Enhancing the preparedness of future landscape architects requires educators to emphasize essential knowledge and competencies, including interdisciplinary understanding, sustainability principles, technological proficiency, and community engagement. Looking ahead, the profession must integrate emerging technologies, tackle environmental issues, prioritize inclusivity, and adapt to evolving societal demands.

The recordings of the public symposium are available in two parts here: 

  1. Part one
  2. Part two


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *