Sylvia Crowe - Influence and
Work in Australia
Richard Clough and Margaret Hendry
Sylvia Crowe made three visits to Australia, in 1964, 1965 and 1977.
During each visit she responded to needs within the profession, acting
as a catalyst to encourage government and industry leaders to employ
landscape architects. As an observer at the second meeting of the Provisional
Committee - set up to form the Australian Institute of Landscape Architects
(AILA) - Crowe encouraged each member that this was an achievable goal.
personal warmth and enthusiasm influenced many people. In a letter
written years later, Brisbane member, Malcolm Bunzli recalls Crowe
with his family, charming his three young children. At first they were
overawed, until his son asked, "why are you so important?" She
replied: "I suppose it's because I am a landscape architect just
like your father". After dinner, the local group joined them and
she spoke to each person, urging them to push forward the landscape
two years of her final visit, the AILA awarded Crowe an Honorary Fellowship
and, in 1990, the Award in Landscape Architecture as confirmation
of her special contribution. The citation includes a personal note: "above
all, her human qualities, her warmth of personality which permeates all
with whom she comes in contact, and her honesty and sincerity towards
her fellows which engenders in all who meet her a realisation that life
is now richer for having had that experience" (Hendry, 1996).
international reputation helped Richard Clough to make a case to
the National Capital Development Commission (NCDC) to offer her,
Richard Gray of William Holford and partners, a commission to prepare
the masterplan for Commonwealth Park in Canberra. This came at
a strategic time early in the development of a major landscape
feature - Lake Burley
Griffin and its surrounding parkland. The park became one of her
significant achievements highlighed by the number of illustrations
she included in
the 1981 edition, of Garden Design.
Growing the profession in Australia
Her contribution and lectures came at a time when Australians were searching
for an appropriate design concept on which to build. Many Australian
landscape architects had studied in the United Kingdom and North America
during the 1950s and 1960s. This movement, plus Crowe's earlier contacts
with students in Australia formed the setting for the future development
of landscape architecture. Earlier many horticultural and forestry graduates,
as well as others from related design professions, had already worked
as landscape designers. These and the returning students formed the basis
for the profession to grow, acting as a catalyst to form an organisation
modelled on the United Kingdom's Institute of Landscape Architects.
Through the enthusiastic work of Mervyn Davis, an individual member
of the International Federation of Landscape Architects. the Provisional
Committee, with an executive in Canberra, came into being in 1963 . This
group drew up the constitution in preparation for registration. When
Crowe arrived a year later, she was able to use her influence by giving
lectures to raise public awareness about the importance of landscape
Until then, a strongly European style had dominated the profession
in Australia. From the first settlement, many who had received
training in Britain - especially during the first 100 years -
used traditional styles. Not until the era of the 19th century
did a distinctly Australian
identity emerge, particularly among people born here. Surprisingly,
landscape designers did not translate this into their designs,
although the introduction
of agricultural and horticultural education enabled more opportunities
for landscape design. Local artists and authors reinforced this
growing national awareness at about the same time. Collectively,
created a political climate that led to the federation of six
separate colonies into a Commonwealth in 1901, and the need
for a separate Federal
Capital - leading to the foundation of Canberra.
As chairman of the AILA committee, Richard Clough arranged for Crowe
to deliver lectures on landscape architecture in other cities. During
her three visits to the mainland states - including Canberra, Sydney,
Melbourne, Adelaide, Perth and Brisbane - members welcomed Crowe and
shared local landscape problems with her. The topics of these lectures
were wide ranging and illustrated her understanding of the different
needs in each area.
Sydney, she talked about the relationship between landscape architecture
and other design professions. Later, at Adelaide, her awareness of
the difficulties of adjusting to the harsh Australian landscape revealed
an appreciation of the problems ahead. Her ability to interpret and
local illustrations enthralled her audience and won wide press coverage: "Australia
has a wonderful opportunity for producing an environment for living directly
from virgin landscape, and there are not many places left in the world
where that can be done" (Adelaide Advertiser, 8 December 1964).
the local landscape architects had 'not yet found how to translate
the spirit of the Australian landscape to a humanised landscape'.
In Brisbane in 1977, Crowe spoke about the landscape of power and
need to work with engineers to help absorb these dominant structures
transmission of electricity into their landscape setting.
During her second visit Crowe travelled widely, encouraging and challenging
colleagues to explore the spirit and character of their land. She supported
every move towards the institute's formation. Her talks with heads of
government departments improved the prospects for the employment of landscape
architects. The sixth National President, Jean Verscheur, invited her
to be the keynote speaker for the 1977 national conference in Perth,
on the role of the landscape architect in the community. Later, at the
Western Australian Mains Road Department, she gave a talk to 85 civil
engineers about the importance of slopes and landform to help blend the
road and their associated structures into the landscape.
By her third visit, local institute groups had flourished in each city
and they arranged her itinerary. A special dinner was held in her honour
in Melbourne at the historic house and garden of Rippon Lea, where she
met many leaders of other professions. The following day, Professor George
Seddon hosted a lunch at the newly-established Centre for Environmental
Studies at Melbourne University. She gave a public lecture on the topic
of 'Preservation of historic landscapes and gardens' at the State Film
During the last day of the visit, she met with the Minister for Forests
and Water Supply, the chairman of the Forestry Commission and the president
of the Royal Australian Planning Institute. On this occasion, she again
drew attention to the need for landscape architects to become part of
the design team and to be in tune with their own environment.
landscape designers already worked throughout Australia until the
Crowe focused attention on the need for a greater use of landscape
A significant development had taken place in 1912, when Walter Burley
Griffin won the international competition for Canberra. As a far-sighted
American landscape architect, he highlighted the site's landscape features,
using them so that the success of the design of the city depended on
their development. Although Griffin ended his connection with Canberra
in 1921, his design steadily took shape when the National Capital Development
Commission began in 1958, This provided the opportunity for more landscape
architects to be employed.
An early decision to reintroduce his central lake scheme highlighted
the strength of Griffin's design concept. This included a 678ha
water surface area and 33km of landscaped foreshore surrounded
by 314ha of
parkland. Commonwealth Park, located near the city centre,
became an important focus in this area. The lake and its
parkland remain two of
the largest urban landscape projects undertaken in Australia.
carrying out the work, NCDC employed its own staff for the planning
and landscape design but used engineering consultants and civic
designers for specific projects. This enabled individual projects
to be absorbed
into a larger landscape setting. From the first, they placed great
value on design and every site included a landscape component.
the first landscape architect appointed in the late 1950s and undertook
the major landscape design work. Margaret Hendry joined him in
the early 1960s. As both had worked with Crowe previously in Britain,
her philosophy and design principles in their work.
The scale of this undertaking shows the significance of the lake system.
It formed a water axis dividing the central Parliamentary Triangle and
created a land axis at right angles to hold the major national buildings
and spaces, providing a magnificent view to the two principal buildings.
The northern and southern sections on either side of the Central Basin
formed the land axis. On its north shore, Griffin sited museums, galleries
and theatres and surrounded these with public gardens, with the parliamentary
and government buildings to the south. He often altered these proposals,
and later the NCDC carried out further modifications, reforming the topography
to allow for a formal arrangement along the central land axis. Other
changes included the provision of a major throughroad, Parkes Way, and
areas of open space.
As these changes took place, the consulting engineers, Maunsell
and Partners, engaged to construct the Central Basin, were
guided by Holford and Partners
of London on civic design issues. So when the construction of
the lake commenced in 1960, Canberra began to reveal Griffin's
The lake was finished four years later and became Lake Burley
Griffin, in acknowledgement of Griffin's contribution to
Meanwhile, the NCDC decided to locate the major city public garden in
the north-west section of the Parliamentary Triangle, now Commonwealth
Park. With an allocation of just under 50ha, half the site remained undisturbed
by the construction works associated with the lake, and the remainder
was re-formed to create the north-west shoreline of the Central Basin.
A new freeway called Parkes Way formed the other boundary.
additional feature, now known as Nerang Pool, acted as a pivotal
focus in this area
of the park and a pedestrian bridge, causeway and island were
constructed to improve access around the pool. The area contained
a site for the
catholic cathedral, exhibition pavilion, an existing temporary
hostel and some forward tree planting. Additional tree planting
had taken place
as part of the lake scheme, especially on the north shore of
the Central Basin.
After the filling of the lake in 1964, the NCDC invited Crowe to co-operate
with Richard Gray from William Holford and Partners to advise on its
development as a park for horticultural displays. She first visited the
site late in the same year and discussed the details of the park with
staff from NCDC and the Maintenance Authority (the Department of the
Capital Territory, Parks and Gardens Section). Crowe and Gray returned
to London to develop the masterplan and report and, after assessing the
draft, the NCDC approved the plan the following January.
Crowe's masterplan centred around Nerang Pool and included a paddling
pool for children, a fort, an amphitheatre, play sculpture, sandpit,
an area for intensive horticulture, a marsh, a floral garden and a fountain
avenue. The plan envisaged a walled and scented garden and a conservatory
strategically placed as a feature in a large grass area, bounded by established
trees. These formed a linear pattern to contain differently detailed
but associated spaces. The children's areas were placed near the existing
underpass, in an area with safe access. A new pedestrian overpass to
the west, built later, provided access linking the city to the park.
She used the existing car parks to the north of Parkes Way to provide
a dual role, especially at weekends.
Her design highlighted Nerang Pool, which linked to an Australian-type
water course flowing over rocks and through large stepping stones.
Part of Nerang Pool became a lily pond within a shrubbery
and woodland setting.
The large scale of the lake edge linked Commonwealth Park to
the adjoining parkland and the immediate shoreline contained
a ferry wharf and an area
to allow boats to tie up and for spectators to view the activities
on the lake. The existing exhibition pavilion remained, part
of which became
The NCDC programmed the works using Crowe's design sketches as the basis
for the preparation of contract documents. Work commenced in 1966 and
went on rapidly around Nerang Pool; then three years later demolition
of the hostel took place to allow further development in the park to
proceed. A later addition of a memorial water jet in the lake, to acknowledge
the bicentenary of Captain Cook's discovery of the east coast of Australia,
became an important feature. In addition, the jet, the pavilion and the
cathedral site required better access for tourist buses and cars. Clough
revised the plan in 1974 and Crowe confirmed these amendments three years
her 1977 visit, John Mortimer, a manager of the park, recalls: "She
was absolutely thrilled with what she saw and in particular with the
way her ideas had been translated into reality" (Gray, 1996).
Further modifications took place with the fountain avenue being replaced
a small pool. The overpass that formed part of the original design
was completed later. However, certain features such as the floating
were not constructed.
With the popularity and use of the park, other facilities were progressively
introduced to cater for community events, especially the programme of
'Sunday in the Park'. Crowe's design aimed to create a park for all Australians.
It reveals her mastery of design and sensitivity to the changing requirements
of our contemporary society.