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Growing stylish The quality of exhibits at Landscape 99 shows that landscapes could be more interesting places than they often are BY BARRIE EVANS

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The Landscape 99 exhibition, mostly devoted to hard landscape, included a sharpness of design ideas often missing from the hard landscape designs we see around us. Not on every stand, but evident. Is it just that hard landscapes are designed down to a price or cut back as the project budget gets used up? Often they look like space left over after building rather than achieving a sense of place, as is notable in Barcelona. Lack of source materials is evidently not the problem.

In street furniture there were interesting offerings from uk suppliers, such as Furnitubes, as well as several continental firms. Area, from France, works direct with architects rather than through distributors, saying that it is important to keep close to designers. Its elegant range shows an increasing use of stainless steel, a trend on several stands. Unusually it has a co-ordinated range of bollards and street signs, aimed at reducing visual clutter. And it has developed bicycle racking for surface car parks - it can get 10 bicycle spaces into one 5m by 2m car space.

Outdoor lighting also made a big showing. Woodhouse's range included a streetlight now to be seen around the Millennium Dome, designed with Lifschutz Davidson. Woodhouse also has a few lamp standards in timber. Majoring on this was Aubrilam from France with a range including lamp standards (up to 12m high - see illustration), bollards and shelters in laminated timber. Mike Smith Designs' lighting range included a semi-bespoke design service for street lighting. The main lantern components are standardised, with a range of reflectors and sources such as metal halide, but the lamp standard can be completely bespoke. Among Thorn's range were fittings for setting in the ground claimed to have uniquely low surface temperatures. Philips' outdoor lighting included Lightcolumn, which projects light up inside the column to reflect off the top of the fitting (see illustration above).

With increasing concerns about security it gets harder to come up with fence designs that convey the conflicting messages of being an aesthetic landscape feature and a forbidding barrier. Dirickx from France has some success at this (see illustration), making claims for haute cloture.

While there were few developments in paving, Marshalls Mono was showing widening ambition. As well as the Marshalls-Sineu Graff street furniture, of French and Italian designs, it is branching out into bespoke ashlar walling for landscape and buildings. And using new cad-cam profiling machinery it claims it can produce a range of stone features such as window surrounds and shaped corbels at prices well below those of hand carving.

Ecological planting was a common theme from the nurseries and contractors. Usually this involves meadow-like planting of native species, though sometimes exotic species are used. The plant mix is often left to find its own balance for the particular site. Native wildlife is encouraged. And maintenance is less frequent. However a lot of the schemes illustrated on stands looked similar. Will this planting go out of fashion, despite its ecological credentials, or can more imagination be applied?

Green roofs are making a few appearances beyond the domestic sector, such as J & L Gibbons, design for the Financial Services Agency at Canary Wharf (aj 10.6.99 p35). This used roll-out mats of sedums. One supplier at Landscape 99 was Henk den Ouden from the Netherlands. Mats can include 6-7 species (see illustration) with the possibility of introducing contrasting plants such as grasses as plugs. The mats are either coconut fibre or recycled foam plastic. It is possible to lay these direct onto concrete. In another example, mats survive being inclined at 80degrees to the horizontal as facings for earth-filled roadside acoustic barriers.

Area, tel 0034 534 252100; Aubrilam, from Elision Lighting, tel 01789 778727; Dirickx UK, tel 01263 834436; Furnitubes, tel 0181 694 9333; Henk den Ouden, tel 0031 172 2160890; Marshalls Mono, tel 01422 306000; Mike Smith Designs, tel 01902 784400; Philips, tel 0181 665 6655; Thorn, tel 01604 771182; Woodhouse, 01926 314313

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