Considering the landscape – article for AHI
Considering the landscape is not always done by those of us who are involved in interpretation. It seems that as soon as the word interpretation is mentioned then so a brief is issued to produce xxx number of GRP interpretation panels! This is not interpretation but rather the erecting of street furniture, often in sensitive areas.
Of course the bigger projects might have more scope to include story stones, poetry discs, shelters or whatever. But in all this has the landscape been considered?
The landscape is all for landscape architects. They look at the landform, the materials and design a scheme which is properly implemented and has a maintenance schedule built into it ensuring a certain degree of longevity. The resulting scheme might include a play area, a garden, a park, a nature reserve. But what they have done is to consider the landscape and design a sympathetic scheme that is in harmony with it’s settings. But is this interpretation? Well sometimes it is, but often it is something that carries a design which is given more importance and emphasis than the story of the landscape.
As an interpretation consultant I see my role as one of peeling back the layer of the land and exposing the natural and historic stories that are buried beneath the surface. Often this knowledge is within the people that live in an area, sometimes it is the story of the past. In many ways the actual design takes second place to the integrity of the story. There is no place for indulging in designs that don’t extract these stories. The design needs to speak to the visitor and factor is the biggest single factor that separates interpretation from landscape architecture.
So how can we can connect the two disciplines and allow for a more rounded approach to interpretation and landscape? Well there are of course many schemes out there that do this already:
Sheep Fenke at Appin. This is based on a traditional sheep shelter that was designed to allow a local stonemason to build using local stone and traditional skills. The shelter is adapted to include seating and creates a haven from the south westerly winds. There is also poetry discs on the walls that were created from work with the local school. The whole project came from my own experience of cycling that route from Fort William to Oban into a severe gale and finding no shelter on the way. Scottish Natural Heritage funded this and other schemes on the route in order to enhance public awareness of the natural heritage. So my design has used natural material, local knowledge and skills and uses a form that was traditionally part of the landscape. No GRP in sight!
Below shows some traditional structures from which the Appin Sheep Fenke was modeled.
The Caledonia Way. This is the name given to the long distance path between Cambelltown and Inverness. Our design is based on the traditional highland galley the Birhlinn and the shape of the boat has informed many of the features that have been designed. So the access controls and gates that punctuate the route use the curves and stern and prow features that define the Birhlinn. Is this interpretation or landscape design? Looking closer at the gates we see images of birds or flying boats or trains! These images came from both work with local schools and delving into past times and bringing this history out of the landscape to reveal stories of the past.
Here is an image of a Highland Galley taken from a carving in stone.