Dept of Landscape Architecture, University of Sheffield

James Hitchmough is Professor of Horticultural Ecology at the Department of Landscape Architecture at the University of Sheffield, the largest and most prestigious Dept in the UK. He was Head of Department from 2014-18.

James is best known for his research and practice into how to make and manage ecologically based designed plant communities, and how people emotionally respond to this type of vegetation.  In the process of doing this he has become increasingly interested in much broader contexts, such as how to re-nature both urban and rural landscapes to offer richer experiences for people and better habitats to support biodiversity.  
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Photo credit: Christobal Elgueta


In “Society of the spectacle” Debord critiques late 20th-century society as essentially shallow and unable to reflect truthfully on itself. It makes for uncomfortable reading from a Landscape Architectural perspective where representation is such a powerful part of practice.  Representation in landscape architecture is essential for envisaging future landscape states, but it must not become hubris that obscures, arguably more meaningful, longer-term goals both for people and other organisms.  In this presentation, I will unpick the notion of “spectacle” having more ecological processes in landscape architecture, not only as narrative but as practice. I will use various projects, including some I have been involved with, to demonstrate this.   These projects will also reflect on how the structure of practice, client relationships, and planning frameworks often result in the input of landscape architects typically diminishing from the planning stage onward. If ecological processes are to be properly utilised in a project, the level of involvement from landscape architects should be reversed.  The idea that ecological processes can be delivered at a point in time, or expected at the beginning of the design process by pushing the “go” button, is largely absurd. It raises big questions about whether landscape architecture in its current form can drive forward the movement of a more ecological built environment for the 21st century. I will argue that without some form of long-term involvement in projects, and a better understanding of the elements that shape ecological processes, these aspirations are unlikely to be achieved to our satisfaction.  

The 2020 Festival of Landscape Architecture is taking place on Whadjuk Noongar Country. We acknowledge the Traditional Owners of Whadjuk Noongar Country and Country throughout Australia. We pay our respects to Elders past, present and emerging.