Moore the merrier
Book a bi-weekly meeting with the chief architect, play golf with the engineer, or down a bevvy with the planner - whichever you prefer - but do not fail to 'practice your schmoozing, ' argues Kathryn Moore, the new president of the Landscape Institute. And whatever you do, don't moan at architects, Moore told an audience at the time of the institute's 75th anniversary do, before taking up her post in July.
The premium Moore puts on design is full-blooded and she's bored with hearing 'old chestnuts' from any one or all of the president's men and women.
'In the past, ' she says, 'I have been disappointed with fellow professionals glumly saying fithe engineers won't let us do thisfl, or fithe planners won't let us do thatfl, or fithe architects won't let us in on the project at the beginningfl.'
Architects are an easy target, and there's not much value in moaning, she says. 'The point is we have to work to build up good working relationships with any number of people.' So, Moore counsels, landscape architects should ditch the bunker mentality and practice those bunker shots. And don't forget that 'ultimately of course you will be judged on the quality of the work, and that's how it should be'.
As director of the postgraduate diploma and MA course at the University of Central England, Moore has taught wouldbe landscape and building designers. Her academic roadshow has also stopped off at the Architectural Association, and Harvard and Rhode Island in the US, where she has proved a tenacious studio critic.
Moore is highly critical of how design is taught or, rather, not taught, and one of her biggest presidential goals is to raise the profile of design. 'When I went into teaching, ' she says, 'I tried to find out how you taught design and there were no books.' So she homed in on researching how to teach a discipline seen as 'subjective, innate' and almost unteachable.
Moore believes that relegating this brand of creativity to the sensory is a 'misconception' and has resulted in too many students saying that they don't have the visual skills to design, full stop. 'It still surprises me just how terrifying all this is, even for battle-hardened PhD graduates, ' she says. 'Students need more encouragement to be imaginative, artistic and vigorous in their work. Only then will you raise the profile of the discipline.
'The work I do cuts across both forms of design. Architects coming on to the landscape course have to change from looking at an object to a space. To many it's like seeing the world in negative.
'One of the hardest jobs is trying to persuade building designers that landscape architecture isn't just trees and shrubs. We have to be far more rigorous in the way we look at space: what is it, what is it for and what is its value in the community?'
Moore, who is currently attempting to fill the learning void by writing a book about teaching design, is free from the neurotic hang ups that dog many professionals, and she rails against stuffiness and snobbishness.
She has no gripes with the influence of television makeovers or the welter of overseas talent winning prestige jobs in this country, such as Dutchman Adriaan Geuze of West 8, Martha Schwartz and fellow North American Kathryn Gustafson.
'I don't have a problem with television makeovers or garden design, ' she says.
'A lot of the work is dreadful, but I would rather have those programmes because we can then spread the word about landscape architecture.'
And on Gustafson et al: 'It's up to the home talent to publish its work, talk about it and raise its profile so it is seriously considered for projects. You have to build reputation through quality of work.'
Right now Moore is raising the profile of the profession and the institute by compiling a report on who among her 5,000 or so members works with CABE and CABE Space.
She has met a kindred spirit in CABE Space director Julia Thrift. Both have super-svelte figures, share a taste for black trouser suits and realise that much depends on their powers of leadership.
Moore does not need reminding that she is the first female president of the Landscape Institute since Dame Sylvia Crowe nearly 50 years ago. A healthy 50-50 gender split has freed her profession from the kind of sexual-inequality ructions holding back others in the built environment.
But all is not well, and recruitment is as big a problem in Moore's day as it was in Crowe's. She feels the key is to raise the profile of both landscape architecture and the public realm, which is constantly downplayed by 'derogatory' talk of bollards and lamp posts.
Poor open spaces have nevertheless taken up a major part of her work. Moore, who studied in Manchester, launched her career with Salford council's derelict-land reclamation team. 'The standing joke at the time, ' she says, 'was that this was a job for life because there was so much derelict land in the area.' However, Moore moved on and by the late 1980s was teaching at Birmingham Polytechnic and doing consultancy work for Gillespies and Camlin Lonsdale.
Much of Birmingham, where she lives with her scriptwriter husband, has the buzz, the polished look and the vibrant feel that Moore would dearly like to bring to the profession. But she knows it will only happen with more recruits and a sharper design bite. 'If we value landscape architecture, ' she says, 'it is crucial to be far more rigorous in the way we describe it and the uses we identify for it. The language we use has to be far more precise and differentiated.
'We need to raise the bar and set a standard for its construction and care.'