Craig Tennant has recently joined Arcadia Landscape Architecture as an associate.

He has 11 years of local and international experience, including three years with HOK London, as well as working with Australian landscape architects Place Design Group, Scott Carver and Hassell.

Architecture and Design spoke to him about his passion about improving the quality of life and human experience through landscape architecture, the changing face of the industry, and why the perception of landscape architecture as a profession needs to change.

You're passionate about improving quality of life and human experience through landscape architecture. What are the key elements of ensuring projects have this aspect?

As a landscape architect, one of the key elements is making sure you fight for as much open space as you can get in new or retrofitted developments. Built forms are forever increasing to cope with growing populations and new communities, and this can take precedent over a quality landscape that everyone can experience and enjoy. 

The challenge on every site is unique and every individual experiences landscapes in different ways. To ensure projects have open space that everyone can use, we need to consider more than just the finished product, its narrative, style and materiality – it’s also about its due diligence, recognising the functionality and use of the site, understanding the primary user and creating an experience that is suited to that particular user, time and place.

Do you think this aspect is a key part of landscape design in Australia?

Yes, I think is it a big part of how many Australian landscape architects go about their work. It’s ingrained into their education at an early age and becomes intuitive and part of a systematic response and design process.

There is always high importance placed on site context/requirements to establish a bespoke design philosophy and response to brief to continually achieve great places. If you keep regurgitating the same key principles for varying landscapes your designs can become meaningless, resulting in sterile spaces with little improvement.

How does Australia compare with the rest of the world on this?

I think on an international level landscape architects take this process very seriously as it establishes the building blocks to design great places. The main difference is how strict the approval processes and building standards are here in Australia, as they can appear to be over zealous, regarding health and safety.

Australian Standards were introduced for a reason, but too many can risk crippling the creativity of great designers, resulting in undesirable, mundane and over cautious spaces which can affect the experience. International projects do not face the same restrictions, allowing global designers more freedom to create a different level of experience for the end user. 

What have you've seen change over the past 11 years in landscape architecture?

There are a few that I have noticed, but the main one for me would be the rise of sustainability and the role of landscape architects to advocate for sustainable design.

Others would be the resurgence and influence of ecology on new landscape theories, rapid urban development in South East Asia and China and the influence it has on subtropical design, rapid transit developments and city greening. There have also been some significant advances in technology such as Google earth, street view, nearmaps, virtual offices, real time modeling/animation and BIM.

They have all been a great addition to how we work, but have also increased the expectation as to what we deliver and the pace we deliver it.

What is the most concerning thing for you about landscape architecture today?

The continuous perception, not only with the general public but also within the different disciplines of our industry, that landscape architecture is just grass, shrubs and tree planting, and there seems to be a sense of apathy from the profession about changing that perception.

The other would be the highly competitive nature of the industry and its lack of a genuine fee structure. If companies continue to undercut fees and developers continue to award jobs based on a ‘lowest fee only’, the value of the profession with continue to decrease. 

What project are you most proud of?

The recent North West Rail Link and the design of the eight new stations/town centres for its share scale, complexity, design nous and the challenge of co-ordinating between 400 consultants. It’s also rewarding to know it’s helping the future of Sydney expand, creating vibrant communities and vital supporting links to the city. I believe the project will be seen as an infrastructure benchmark for years to come.

Which landscape architect do you admire?

Professor Kongjian Yu of Turenscape because he finds a way to buck the trend and succeed in a society that is steeped in traditional values and history. His designs have strong narratives and many diverse layers, including advocating and celebrating strong sustainability. His passion is to design for the common people, rather than royals, which is a catalyst for contrasting designs.