A ‘Total Landscape Approach’ is a way of working which recognises and accepts that major infrastructure and civil engineering projects are not just large pieces of concrete and steel etc. It accepts that these large projects affect and impinge on the environment in many ways including visually and ecologically. The ‘Total Landscape Approach’ integrates the planning, design and delivery of projects so that potential effects on ecology, the environment and people are considered from the very beginning and design is dealt with in a way which not only reduces the negative effects but provides positive ones.
Large infrastructure and civil engineering projects should be conceived, designed and delivered not just to minimise negative environmental effects but to also take advantage of the multi-million £ being spent in order to provide additional and new environmental benefits – to make places and the environment better than they were before the project was implemented. Many people and groups object to large (and not so large) projects because of the environmental damage often done (or feared to be done) despite legal protections which are in place. By fully and whole-heartedly embracing and working with the environment and environmental constraints as an integrated part of the concept, the detailed design, and delivery, many of these objections can be addressed and countered. But this can and must be taken further by using a ‘Total Landscape’ approach, where not only are environmental effects minimised but the project used to actively improve the environment.
For example, instead of only trying to choose routes for the new Lower Thames Crossing and its connecting roads which attempt to mitigate the amount of ecological damage done, with loss of habitat and biodiversity minimised, the project ought to be adding to biodiversity and habitats along the routes, and take the opportunity to link existing pieces of valuable habitat together in order to provide migration and movement paths. This may mean (and is in reality likely to mean) that the overall project extends beyond the narrow linear footprint of the new and improved roads into a network of projects.
It is now normal practice to include tree planting on large road projects, but the detail must be extended to include considerations such as only using local trees and planting material of local providence rather than cheap material from say eastern Europe which will be of different genetic material and may bring in plant diseases. The planning for and procurement of planting material must begin as soon as possible so that local tree nurseries (and there are some in Kent) can gather seeds of local providence, sow and grow them on. This will also help local businesses and the local economy. In addition the landscaping, tree planting and habitat creation must take into account what other benefits it can bring such as reducing pollution; covering effects of road noise; reducing the effects of rain-fall; contributing to drainage and flood management; reducing the effects of crosswinds and snow-fall etc. The planting and landscaping must also be designed to provide visual interest (to road users and communities alike) and provide landmarks.
The look of the civil engineering, as well as its integration with the natural environment, must also be considered from the very beginning at all scales from the local to the strategic, to ensure that it ‘sits’ in the landscape and adds positively to it rather than is just plonked there without thought of how it looks from a distance and close up. In the early days of motorway design and construction in the UK landscape architects were employed at the earliest stages to ensure the roads worked visually with the landscape and added to it rather than against it and to its detriment. Likewise, landscape architects were involved with designing the landscape which nuclear power stations sat in. (Sylvia Crowe and Geoffrey Jellicoe being involved with motorways and power stations).
Many people are against the building of large bridges as they say that the large road approaches and the scale of the bridge ‘sterilises’ the surrounding area because of the poor environment created. With careful planning and good design this does not have to happen. For example, a major new parkland for public use could be created (as has been done around The Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco).
And as here in Lisbon (see photos below) where a neighbourhood centre sits right under the bridge and high quality new homes have recently been built.
With sufficient forethought and planning, and an integrated land acquisition and place making strategy, it may even be possible to develop high quality business and science parks beneath and around the bridge approaches thus obtaining rents or capital gains to off-set the capital and running costs of the bridge.
This short note isn’t intended to set out a detailed prospectus of what could be done in taking a ‘Total Landscape Approach’ to the new Lower Thames Crossings, but is intended to get such an approach onto the agenda. Such an integrated landscape-led design approach has the power to transform a road crossing and links into something that has character and beauty – and is highly functional.