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Insights Celebrating 40 years of Landscape Architecture

Simon Ward | Head of Discipline for Landscape Architecture & Urban Design

16 May 2019

May 2019 marks the 40-year anniversary of our Landscape Architects being in practice in our business.  During this time, the team’s diverse workload has ranged from providing city-wide plans to bespoke courtyards and everything between. More recently, we’re helping resolve the biggest issues facing society with projects that address the needs of climate change, transportation, industry, energy and our settlements - such as homes, housing or residential projects. During this time, the team has been recognised for their work both nationally and internationally and has taken a lead on transformational projects, helping to make a real difference to landscapes and places around the world.

Simon Ward, UK Professional Head of Discipline for Landscape Architecture & Urban Design, comments: “As one of the oldest teams at Atkins, a member of the AtkinsRéalis group, we have lots to celebrate from our achievements over the past 40 years and want to thank everyone that’s helped our team along the way. As part of this celebration, we’ll be holding a number of events and activities during 2019 including visiting 40 schools over the next 12 months.

To kick off the anniversary, we asked Simon, who is also one of our longest serving Landscape Architects (1993 – present), what he enjoys most about working here, what he`s most proud of and what’s changed in this profession over the last 40 years.

What does your typical day involve?

The beauty of this profession is that there is no typical day and each one is different. All I can say is that my typical day always contains a range of technical, commercial, people and creative considerations.

You’re at a party and someone asks you what you “do” for a living.  What do you tell them?

I try to steer the conversation away from gardening and focus on the large-scale public benefits of our profession. I tell them about the fact that I am essentially a creator of new places, streetscapes, squares and grounds design around new schools, housing, hospitals, leisure and transport systems.

Why does your work matter to you?

Simply because it can make a huge difference to people`s lives. I recently gave a talk at a conference about creating more active communities, where my theme was how our public spaces are on the front-line of the battle against obesity and ill health. I explained the important contribution that all the spaces between our homes and places of work and leisure have in combating this. By designing places which encourage more active forms of travel in walking and cycling, we can help to redress one of the biggest issues facing the whole of our society. The same applies to climate change and air pollution.

What project are you most proud of?

I`m proud of them all, but one we delivered most recently in Morecambe is one of the best, as it took the skills of most of the northern landscape team working alongside our rivers and coastal engineers to create a sea defence that protected over 13,000 properties and was a true blend of artistry and engineering. It also enhanced the resort’s economic prospects, has boosted the use of an ailing promenade and has received fabulous reviews from the project sponsors, funders, users and even the Government’s flood minister. It was built on time, to budget and it looks amazing.

What has changed within the practice and in the Landscape Architects’ profession since you started your career?

Virtually everything!  I think it was David Bowie who once said, “If you stand still you are dead”. The way we embrace and encourage change has been a big factor in why I’ve stayed with this practice for 26 years, with huge changes in project communication, delivery, locations and technical challenges. I`ve worked all over the UK and overseas and I started my career on a drawing board writing letters and then faxes. The pace of delivery and the tools of communication and design plus the expectation to be leaner, faster and smarter has been a constant theme. But underlying this is the rare skill of imagination which ensures that what we create and the tools we use remain compelling, meaningful and of use to our society.

Do you have a favourite quote that inspires you?

I’ve two! “Landscape is the memory of mankind” is one from an old college tutor of mine. I also love one from Lewis Mumford – an American historian, sociologist and philosopher – who said: “A civilisation is best judged not by the number of museums, libraries and art galleries it possesses but the by the distribution and quality of its public squares, parks and fountains.”

Both of these capture the importance of Landscape Architecture to our society.

We are looking to hire Landscape Architects across all our regional offices, so please click here for a career with us!