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Obituary: Janet Jack (1934 – 2016)

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The landscape architect behind the hidden park at Alexandra Road, Janet Jack, has died aged 81 

Jack, a former partner at BDP, is best known for her work with Neave Brown on the landscaping throughout the iconic 1970s housing estate in Camden, north London.

The park, completed in 1979, lies at the heart of the 520-home estate. She filled the walls, steps and ramps created by Neave Brown with planting and playgrounds.

She was also heavily involved in Erect Architects and J+L Gibbons restoration of the park which completed last year.

Jack had graduated in architecture from the Architectural Association before focusing on landscaping.

She joined BDP in 1981 and in 1986 Jack became the practice’s first female partner. She headed up the firm’s landscape architecture department and ran a large team in its London studio until 1991. 

While working at BDP Jack designed the landscaping for the Clore Gallery extension at the Tate Britain Gallery. She would go on to design the landscape settings for a number of James Stirling’s British buildings.

Andrew Tindsley, landscape architect and company director at BDP, said: ‘Janet played a major role in making landscape architecture one of BDP’s mainstream professions and though her design skills and tenacity set the foundations for much of what we do today.

’Her portfolio of work contains many notable achievements, not least her role in helping to successfully bring forward the Parliamentary Bill which enabled the UK Terminal of the Channel Tunnel to come to fruition.

’Whilst Janet has been away from BDP for many years, I believe that the foundations she laid helped our landscape architecture and now wider urbanism teams be as successful as they are today.’

Jack is survived by her husband Bill who was BDP chairman from 1989 to 1991. 

Janet Jack's original photos of the Alexandra Road estate

Janet Jack’s original photos of the Alexandra Road estate

Further comments

Eleanor Fawcett, Friends of Alexandra Road Park

’It was a huge pleasure and privilege to have worked with Janet Jack on the restoration of Alexandra Road Park, the extraordinary modernist park which was her first major landscape project. I first met Janet in 2010, when I visited her to update on the plans to seek HLF funds for the restoration of the park. She was, as ever, welcoming and hospitable, but I suspect somewhat sceptical about our ambitions and nervous about the damage that a misjudged ‘restoration’ could do to her design. She was clearly very saddened by the state of the park after years of neglect, and had not felt able to visit it for almost a decade.

’Throughout the restoration project Janet provided advice and inspiration to the design team, always ready with her encyclopaedic knowledge of every aspect of the park, 40 years on, from irrigation systems to handrail details as well as the stack of her beautifully hand drawn planting plans. Her meticulous attention to detail alongside her enthusiasm for the project and the creative re-interpretation of some of her original playgrounds made these design sessions at her beautiful house a highlight.

’Everyone involved in the project was delighted that despite her ill health Janet was present first at the ground breaking ceremony for the restoration works, and then at the opening event where the park looked glorious, and which truly marked the beginning of a new chapter for this stunning legacy of Janet’s skill as a designer of beautiful landscapes.’

Susanne Tutsch, Erect Architecture

I met Janet working on the Alexandra Road Park project and putting a RIBA talk together last summer when she was already very ill but determined to set this aside and dedicate herself to this ‘little project’. I loved our exchanges. 

I was always struck by how Janet started practising when her profession rarely existed, collaborating with architects so unaccustomed to the idea of collaborating with landscape architects, working in a man’s world, quietly asserting her place, innovating and contributing so much - after all Alexandra Road Park was the first 20th century landscape to be listed - without feeling the need to make a big fuss about it. A good dose of humour and an ability to chuckle about architects’ vanities (rather than getting worked up about them) seemed to help - at least decades later when I met her. 

As for Alexandra Road Park she still had a passionate interest now to see how the park developed through time and use. She took great pleasure from seeing people enjoy the park, recollecting watching a family equipped with ladders harvesting cherries, or noting informal paths being created through the bushes by playing children (just as she had hoped). 

I admired how Janet stayed young, interested in new ideas, landscape and place making debate. She was keen for the park to be modernised where it needed to be (for example the playgrounds) and openly acknowledged so without vanity, wholeheartedly supporting us all the way through (the play debate at the time was altogether non existent and her brief very limiting). 

I think the recent refurbishment of the park meant a lot to her. Thank you to the residents to make that happen in time for her to see the park restored, future proofed and so loved! 

Her work will carry on bringing so much pleasure to people. What a gift to leave behind!

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