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Our landscape obligation should not just be an architectural afterthought

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With its verdant Florentine setting and its very obvious Classicism, Villa La Pietra may be seen as nothing more than a relic of a bygone age, its costly reinvention a self-indulgent exercise in nostalgia (pp26-37).Yet the problems faced by Kim Wilkie, the landscape architect who is restoring the villa's garden, are timeless.How can landscape be best considered as an extension of architecture or, indeed, as architecture itself? How should light, shade and texture be manipulated to greatest effect? How can a limited palette be best deployed? How to allow for the passage of time? How to reconcile elements of the past and signs of change with contemporary work?

To apply such fundamental architectural principles to landscape is to address what Peter Aldington once described as 'the landscape obligation'- the architect's responsibility to consider the way buildings relate to their surroundings.The status of landscape architects at any time is a fair indication of the importance given to such an obligation.And the UK's track record over the last couple of decades has not been good, with landscape architecture all too often tacked on as an afterthought.

But issues such as foot and mouth disease, the decline of rural areas, concern over farming methods, protection of the Green Belt and development of the flood plain have all emphasised the importance of a holistic attitude to the land.We are becoming increasingly aware of the extent to which even the politest of landscape concerns can have a bearing on significant social and political challenges. Issues such as how to balance aesthetic concerns with questions of productivity and ecology - tackled at micro-scale at Villa La Pietra - are fundamental to intelligent planning policy and should form the bedrock of major development plans.With an understanding of both the built and the unbuilt, the countryside and the city, the ecological, archeological and cultural heritage, landscape architects are perfectly placed to tackle contemporary questions about exactly how land should be used, or whether it should be used at all.

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