IN DUBIOUS BATTLE
Are landscape architects and PPS really working at
cross-purposes, or is common ground there for the taking?
By Linda McIntyre
Laura Tedeschi/ images.com
“All professions,” the Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw
wrote more than 100 years ago, “are conspiracies against the laity.” Today, in
the world of public design, the banner of the skeptical amateur is carried by
Fred Kent, president of Project for Public Spaces (PPS), and landscape
architects rank high on his list of professional targets.
Kent, who has been president of PPS since it was founded in
1975, has made a name for himself as the bête noire of designers and the white
knight of people everywhere who feel harassed by gridlocked traffic, soulless
plazas, and iconic architecture. He resembles a character out of Shaw (or Shaw
himself) in his passionate social conscience and his faith in the ability of
people to effectively control their own lives and communities. But Kent’s
scathing blanket criticism of landscape architects—too many, he says (often,
and publicly), are driven by ego and aesthetics and not by the desires of the
communities for which they do their work—risks alienating a lot of creative
people who share his and PPS’s goal of “creating and sustaining public spaces
that build communities.”
Asked whether any landscape architects are doing good work
in the public realm, Kent says no. “It’s not that [landscape architects] aren’t
trying, or that they don’t have the capability,” he told Landscape Architecture. “But they don’t really understand or
respect the relationship between function and form.” And Kent doesn’t shrink
from offering his assessments to landscape architects directly—in a forum
convened in Seattle a couple of years ago, he told the participants that their
profession “denigrates human activity as a core philosophy” (see “Contested
Terrain,” Landscape Architecture, May
Architects, planners, and traffic engineers have also been
targets of Kent’s unsolicited and undiplomatic suggestions for improvement. Who
does Kent, who is trained in none of these disciplines, think he is? Does PPS
have something to teach landscape architects about creating good public work?
And is PPS prepared to learn anything from landscape architects about
comprehensive, sustainable, diverse—and beautiful—design?
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