Is the Orbit really too small?

The most contentious statement at a seminar that I chaired last week came from Clive Dutton, executive director for planning, regeneration and property at the London Borough of Newham, host borough for the Olympics. ‘The only thing wrong with the Orbit is that it should have been three times as big,’ he said about one of London’s most contentious and least-loved landmarks. Few would think of this twisted red metal object as ‘landscape’ but that was how Dutton defined it, in a discussion entitled ‘Why invest in landscape?’ The event took place at the offices of architect Patel Taylor, whose work includes the recently opened Eastside Park in Birmingham.

Andrew Taylor, one of the founders of the practice, explained that for him ‘landscape is the medium that brings buildings together’. The design codes for the athletes village were mostly related, he said, to how they helped to define the external spaces.There was a divide between the speakers, with Dutton and Mark Davy, founder of culture and placemaking consultancy Future City talking about special landscapes that can add excitement, often in a temporary manner. In contrast Sue Illman, president of the Landscape Institute and urban geographer Jonathan Smales,founder of Beyond Green, were more interested in having good landscape everywhere.

Illman outlined the advantages that water sensitive urban design (WSUD) can bring, not only creating nicer places to live but tackling the triple whammy of floods, pollution and the urban heat island. Smales is a firm believer in densifying cities, but said that this can only work with great landscape design. There was a lively discussion from an audience of design professionals, developers and local authority members, particularly over who would actually pay for and maintain such schemes. Ceding control to private developers may in some cases be undesirable but, given current finance, can local authorities be trusted over maintenance? 






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