The vital role of landscape in construction
Posted: 2nd January 2024
Carolin Göhler FLI
Landscape connects people, place and nature. This puts the landscape profession front and centre alongside colleagues from a range of disciplines across the construction sector. The collective goal is to deliver the built, natural and infrastructure environments which the country needs, and at a time of climate emergency and housing crisis, cross-sector collaboration is the key to meeting the health and wellbeing needs of communities nationwide.
As newly appointed President-Elect of the Landscape Institute (LI), it is with great optimism that I embark on a presidency which I hope will see a new era of mass landscape and construction collaboration enabling good co-design and delivering ample social and environmental goals.
The LI is both an educational charity and the chartered body for landscape professionals, and the professional home for all landscape architects, landscape and parks managers, landscape planners, and urban designers. Our aim, through the work of our members, is to protect, conserve and enhance the natural and built environment for the public benefit.
The role of landscape in sustainable construction
It is well-known that the built environment is responsible for up to 25% of UK carbon emissions. This is indeed an alarming figure, and the LI is engaged in emerging cross-sector work to address it, but we need to focus on more than just carbon, and consider the impact that construction also has on air, water, and soil quality, as well as the quality of life for people and nature.
Landscape offers a way not only of tackling these specific challenges head on, but of realising multiple secondary benefits at the same time. It is this understanding of the complex interactions between natural processes and human life, between natural, economic and social capital, that will unlock the full potential of our places. We believe this applies to all places, too – not just traditional green spaces like parks, gardens, and rural countryside, but every housing estate, industrial zone, and infrastructure network. Landscape is everywhere, and everywhere it can help.
Landscape professionals are applying an increasing range of nature-based solutions and ecosystem services to tackle climate emergency. We undertake natural capital assessments to quantify trade-offs in ecosystem services, delivering a wider ‘environmental net gain’ through a holistic approach to design and management. We articulate the local impacts of climate change for people through landscape character and visual impact assessments and ensure that local development is inclusive and participatory by conducting meaningful community engagement. Through landscape-led master planning and landscape design, we consider sustainability as early as possible in the development process and create a vision for an environmentally sound future (as well as creating beautiful, functional landscapes).
This work puts the LI at the heart of a range of projects, and professions, which makes collaboration key to our success and positive impact on people, place and nature. The LI is one of 38 institutions that signed up to the CIC-led ‘Carbon Zero: The Professional Institutions’ Climate Action Plan’. This is a great example of cross-professional, cross-sector and cross-departmental working, bringing architects, contractors, designers, engineers, and planners together. Within the Action Plan, the LI has been leading on the ‘Adaption and Resilience’ workstream, which seeks to promote understanding and collaboration around biodiversity loss, flooding, drought, and urban heat islands.
Elsewhere in the industry, we are engaged in emerging cross-sector work on embodied carbon in landscape, as well as with Natural England on developing green infrastructure standards, and with a range of stakeholders in expanding our important Landscape Character Assessment (LCA) database. Meanwhile, our recent Skills for Greener Places report evidenced the labour and skills shortage that our industry faces, and our work in making the sector more accessible for more people continues. As well as developing new apprenticeship options and accredited partners, we’re impacting positive change on Equity, Diversity & Inclusion (EDI), continuing to meet actions from ‘Access All Areas’, a joint charter signed by five industry associations, and a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed by five other professional bodies representing around 350,000 members.
As we look to the future, we take huge inspiration from our members’ work, as well as all the project partners who choose to work with them. As our recent 30th anniversary Landscape Institute Awards showed, the benefits of taking a landscape-led approach are being increasingly recognised by partners across housing, infrastructure, commercial, health and public realm projects, and this gives us great encouragement.
2024 will bring new Government mandates for the integration of Sustainable Drainage Solutions (SuDS) into new developments, as well as Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG), and while overdue, such legislation brings great opportunities for collaborative project work in our sector, as well as positive momentum on the change required as we head into an election year. Further changes to the planning system are due in 2024 through secondary legislation flowing from the Levelling Up and Regeneration Act, and these must be scrutinised. With increasingly more aspects of planning, regulation, and sustainable development under pressure, we must demand more of the incoming government, and working together is our best hope of doing so.
The combined emergencies we face in climate, biodiversity and health are all pervading, and the construction industry has a huge role to play in mitigating, adapting to, and turning back any adverse effects. The Landscape Institute, and its members, are here to join with colleagues across the sector, and help it succeed.
For information more information about the role of landscape in sustainable construction, and how to work with the Landscape Institute, visit landscapeinstitute.org.
Carolin Göhler FLI
Caroline has over 35 years’ experience as a Chartered Landscape Architect and Horticulturalist, and over ten years’ experience as a CEO in the charity sector. A specialist in horticultural innovation in heritage gardens and parklands, with time spent at Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, and as Parks Consultant for the National Trust, she has also worked at senior policy level, aiding the development of Cambridgeshire’s greenspace strategy. Previous roles at the LI include East of England Branch Chair (2008-14), Treasurer (2014-19), and Vice-President (2019-2021).
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