It’s easy to get angry. In the aftermath of a project, the clients, media, public and our collaborators can be guilty of failing to recognize the contribution – the authorship – of the landscape architect. For myself, as a practitioner and director of Aspect Studios, to be an author of a project means the practice and I have participated significantly in the design and delivery of that project. Usually, the position is one of co-authorship. True single authorship, by a person or entity, is rare.
On the one hand, I believe we should live in a generous world where recognition of authorship is neither needed nor sought. We, as designers, are active participants in a complex, overdetermined, post-truth public realm, always working with others as co-authors. Our projects change over time, not just because of their nature (for instance, the plants in them grow, the materials in them weather) but because we’ve made them public, handing custodianship of them over to individuals, organizations and councils to continue the process of authoring. If you work in the public realm you have to be prepared to let go of your creations.
On the other hand, I also believe that authorship relates to professional respect and the recognition of the blood, sweat and tears, and the knowledge, talent and ideas of individual designers and design practices. And that is where things can get ugly: when the respect and recognition that is due is directed (either unthinkingly or deliberately) towards certain contributors to the project, while others remain unacknowledged.
Additions have also popped up on the Caulfield to Dandenong Level Crossing Removal Project (CD9) in south-east Melbourne. CD9 involved a complex co-authorship situation between multiple designers and entities, as the project’s three linear parks under the elevated railway cross three suburban locations. It was always understood by these parties that over time government entities would add more facilities, places and planting to the parks. These additions have indeed begun to occur, with one government agency already having added play and recreation facilities to one of the parks that Aspect Studios originally designed.
Just like the NESM, Aspect Studios were not consulted or given any courtesy call. Unlike the NESM, the additions in this case could have been more sympathetic, the choice of colours and play equipment more thoughtful. The newly inserted playground has a magical climbing tower, a nostalgic view of play that clashes with Aspect Studio’s design, which focuses on nature play and preferences more contemporary forms.
A new sports node along CD9 that happened to be designed by an ex-Aspect Studios landscape architect, on the other hand, is better. Aspect Studios was not consulted on this design addition either, however this particular addition observes the original design’s principles and responds accordingly, with colours and forms matching the project’s other recreation nodes. While the graphic play is a little simple, overall I believe it is a great addition to the original design.
Coming back to the question: should Aspect Studios have been consulted in each of these cases? Again, while the answer is not black and white, here are a few matters to consider. Firstly, it is very heartening to see council and the community taking ownership over the parks and engaging with the role and function of the parks by making additions. These additions give the overall project additional longevity and legacy. On the other hand, the quality of these additions varies depending on the design – arguably these outcomes might be better if we, as one of the original designers, had been consulted. Consider also that CD9 is a project that has won national and international awards. If the project were a building, would the architects have been given a call? You bet.
Just recently, we discovered that the design for The Hyperlane, a project Aspect Studios completed in Chengdu, has “inspired” the work of many others across Asia. Scouring the internet turns up other projects that clearly duplicate the distinctive forms of The Hyperlane terraces. On this, internal discussion within the studio has shifted from feelings of outrage, to exploring legal perspectives on the situation, to seeing the proliferation of these strikingly similar projects as flattery and a compliment. Perhaps our best response is that “our one is better,” – that the quality of the idea and its execution is the strongest claim on authorship. While we know that, as designers, we are always building on the work of others that came before, it’s the literalness of the copy that is the issue here.
And no discussion on authorship by a Melburnian would be complete without a mention of Fed Square. When opinion was sought on the proposed partial demolition and insertion of an Apple store, one of the architects of the square publicly declared that he was fine with the change. The most problematic facet of this statement is the assumption that it was the architectural profession which had the right to give permission – not the other professions who had collaborated in the original design, nor the broader community who use this significant public space.
As discussed earlier, constructing the public realm does require designers to give up absolute control of their designs as projects take on their own life and meaning beyond the initial design concept. Nevertheless – and while each situation has its own nuances – it would be nice if landscape architects, like architects, could receive a courtesy call informing them of any upcoming changes. All designers deserve professional respect – for both their ideas and their projects.
This article was originally published by Landscape Architecture Australia on 1 March 2023. Click here to view the article.
Note: These comments are a personal reflection and not the position of Aspect Studios.