Landscape architecture is the design of public and private outdoor spaces. Landscape architects work on anything from small domestic gardens to public parks, urban developments and rural landscapes. In New Zealand, landscape architecture only became a formalised profession in the early 1970s, although the professional was well-established overseas long before then.
Garden design and landscaping was the forerunner of modern landscape architecture. There was little demand for the services of garden designers in the very early years of Pākehā settlement – new immigrants were preoccupied with building houses and clearing the land. They made their own small kitchen and ornamental gardens. Domestic gardens of all sizes were well established by the late 19th century.
The creation of public gardens and squares required more expertise and local authorities enlisted the services of gardeners, plant-nursery workers, surveyors and engineers. Wealthy landowners who wanted large gardens also used these people, and in some cases designed their own. John Acland of Mt Peel Station in Canterbury employed a gardener but laid out the garden himself in the 1860s.
In the early 1900s plant nurseries offered garden design and landscaping services in addition to plant and seed supply. Nurseryman Alfred Buxton was one of the leading garden designers in the first few decades of the 20th century. His firm was mainly employed by prosperous farmers, urban professionals and local councils.
Buxton employed Edgar Taylor as a landscape draughtsman from 1912 until 1926, when his firm went into liquidation. Taylor was actually responsible for many of the gardens designed under Buxton’s name during his time with the firm. After leaving Buxton’s employment he worked as an independent landscape designer. He designed the garden at the Sanitarium factory in Christchurch in 1933.
American practitioners led the way for landscape architects to move beyond the garden and into broader public space in the late 19th century. New ideas about landscape architecture began to filter through to New Zealand in the early 20th century.
Swiss-American landscape architect Fred Tschopp lived and worked in New Zealand between 1929 and 1932 and has been described as the country’s first modern landscape architect. He was more concerned with designing well-functioning urban spaces than attractive gardens.
Writing about the Auckland Domain in the New Zealand Herald in 1931, Tschopp argued that ‘something more comprehensive than “landscape gardening”’ was required – and that thing was, he said, landscape architecture. The phrase was not unheard of in New Zealand, but had not made the leap from concept to reality before Tschopp’s arrival.
In 2002 Fred Tschopp’s family donated money to Auckland’s Unitech for a scholarship in the pioneering landscape architect’s name. Each year a scholarship is awarded for the best first year master of landscape architecture portfolio.
Tschopp was employed to design new public spaces in Auckland, Wellington and Rotorua. His first project was the development of the Mount Albert Borough Council reserves in Auckland. He was interested in the different ways outdoor spaces could be used, and his designs incorporated sport and recreational facilities such as bowling greens, playgrounds and pedestrian paths. The traditional flower beds were replaced with low-maintenance shrubs and trees, which were mainly native.
Tschopp’s preference for native plants was fairly unusual, and he pioneered their use in public spaces following the example of Leonard Cockayne, who established the native botanic garden at Ōtari-Wilton’s Bush in Wellington in 1926. Native plants were an important element of Parliament grounds, which he designed in 1930. Many of the large trees still standing in the 21st century were planted under Tschopp’s design, and his road and footpath layouts remain in place.
Tschopp’s largest project was designing reserves and streetscapes in Rotorua between 1930 and 1932. He covered what are now standard landscape architecture concerns: street layouts, transport, recreation, urban zoning and public art.
Odo Strewe arrived in New Zealand in 1938, after fleeing Nazi Germany. He did not have any landscape design training, although he had studied horticulture. He learned his craft during his period of internment as an enemy alien on Matiu (Somes Island) in Wellington Harbour between 1938 and 1945. He moved to Auckland in 1948.
In 1960 Odo Strewe wrote: ‘Auckland’s tropical climate allows us to grow [luscious] plants which do not necessarily create a riot of colour (there is too much in our gardens anyway) but make us appreciate the beauty of simple forms. The leaves of taro, the leaves of bamboo, paw paw or flax. We have time for a glance, and we comprehend, much easier and better than if our eye is distracted by a vulgar riot of colour in annual or perennial beds.’2
Strewe had worked in advertising in Germany and used his networking skills to good effect, establishing working relationships with modernist architects such as Bill Toomath and Bill Wilson. His first project was a joint entry with Toomath for a war memorial garden in Wellington in 1949. They won the competition but the garden was never built.
Domestic gardens comprised the bulk of Strewe’s work, but his gardens were radically different from the traditional New Zealand garden with its flower beds and ornamental specimens at the front of the house and the vegetable garden and fruit trees at the back. Strewe was a modernist, and was interested in botanical structure and texture rather than colour. He incorporated pergolas, patios, pools and sculptures in his gardens, and took plants indoors.
After Strewe travelled through the Pacific in 1958 he increasingly used tropical plants, recognising that Auckland’s near-subtropical climate could support species such as taro and the banana palm. His work with tropical plants was very influential and is credited with transforming Auckland’s gardens, particularly in the northern suburbs.
Mary Lysaght trained in horticulture at the Dunedin Botanic Garden during her employment there in the 1930s and 1940s and studied landscape architecture in London between 1948 and 1949. She worked as a landscape architect in Wellington in the 1950s. Anna Plischke, who was married to modernist architect Ernst Plischke, designed domestic gardens for homes designed by her husband. Edgar Taylor became the Christchurch City Council’s first landscape architect in 1945.
George Malcolm, who trained in horticulture, worked as a landscape overseer and officer for the Ministry of Works in the 1940s and 1950s. He successfully advocated for landscape design to be part of government development projects such as highways and hydroelectricity schemes in the 1960s and 1970s.
The creation of a specific qualification was a key moment in the professionalisation of landscape architecture. The first landscape architecture course was a two-year postgraduate diploma taught at Lincoln College (later Lincoln University) by Charlie Challenger in 1969.
Landscape architecture was part of the horticulture programme at Lincoln until 1991, when a stand-alone department was created. In the 2000s four-year landscape architecture degrees were also offered at Unitec (Auckland) and Victoria University of Wellington.
The first New Zealand-qualified landscape architects were ready for work by 1971. Postgraduate courses were accredited by the Australian Institute of Landscape Architects and some New Zealand practitioners became members of that institute. Charlie Challenger was determined that landscape architecture in New Zealand should be recognised as a profession, with an equivalent status to engineers and architects. By 1972 there were enough graduates for a local organisation, and the New Zealand Institute of Landscape Architects (NZILA) was formed the following year. It was separate from the existing New Zealand Association of Landscape Designers, whose members were mainly garden designers and landscape construction contractors.
Landscape architects and landscape designers are differentiated by their qualifications and the scope of their work. Landscape architects must have a degree in landscape architecture, and they primarily work on large-scale projects, though some also do smaller residential commissions. Landscape designers must complete a two-year diploma or one-year course in landscape design, and they typically work on residential and small commercial projects.
NZILA accredits the landscape architecture degrees at Lincoln, Victoria and Unitec, which means these qualifications are recognised nationally and internationally. Graduates can register with the NZILA after they have built up a sufficient body of professional work and pass the registration exam. In 2013 NZILA had 570 members.
In the 1970s and 1980s most landscape architects worked in the public sector, for local and central government departments such as the Ministry of Works and Development, the Department of Lands and Survey and the Forest Service, providing landscape assessment and design services. They contributed to the ‘Think Big’ industrial projects of these decades.
In the 1990s private landscape architecture practices became more prevalent. In the 1980s and 1990s free-market-orientated governments deregulated city planning and disestablished government agencies such as the Ministry of Works, which left landscape architects who had been working in the public service without jobs. Many set up their own practices.
Landscape architects continued to work in local government, but many civic projects are designed by private practitioners who also undertake commercial and domestic commissions. In the 2000s many specialised in urban design and public spaces.
The creation of Aotea Square, in Auckland’s central business district, was a major civic project that required the expertise of landscape architects. It was completed in 1979 and gave the city its first large public square. Aotea Square was redeveloped between 2008 and 2011 to landscape architect Ted Smyth’s design. Manukau’s Northcrest Plaza was revitalised in 2009 with community gatherings in mind.
Wellington also lacked a large public square and this was remedied in 1992, when Civic Square (designed by architect Ian Athfield) was completed. Another major civic landscape architecture project in Wellington was the creation of Midland Park on Lambton Quay, which was built in 1983.
In the 1990s city waterfronts were transformed from private, commercial spaces to sites of public leisure and recreation. Landscape architects played important roles in the revitalisation of central-city waterfronts in Auckland, Wellington, Tauranga, Napier and Nelson.
Landscape architecture firm Boffa Miskell led the design process for the Christchurch central-city rebuild after the 2011 earthquake.
Environmental concerns have been at the core of landscape architecture since the discipline was professionalised in the 1970s. Under the auspices of government agencies including the Ministry of Works, Department of Lands and Survey and New Zealand Forest Service, landscape architects undertook large landscape assessment studies in the late 1970s and 1980s.
Landscape architects successfully lobbied for the inclusion of the word ‘landscape’ in the Resource Management Act 1991. Under that act local councils have to give consideration to the effect of development on landscapes, and landscape architects have been commissioned to produce landscape studies.
Environmental sustainability underlies many modern civic landscape architecture projects. Water conservation and regionally specific vegetation were important components of Wellington’s Waitangi Park, which was completed in 2006. Native plants predominate in modern projects, which also typically include sculptures and architecturally designed street furniture.
Acknowledgements to Shona McCahon
Adam, John. ‘People, plans and practice.’ Landscape Architecture New Zealand 13 (2012): 42–43.
Adam, John P., and Matthew Bradbury. ‘Fred Tschopp (1905–1980), landscape architect: New Zealand’s first modern practitioner, 1929–1932.’ Landscape Review 8, no. 2 (2003): 43–59.
Bradbury, Matthew, ed. A history of the garden in New Zealand. Auckland: Penguin, 1995.
Francis, Kerry. ‘Learning about landscape: Odo Strewe and the Group.’ In Group architects: towards a New Zealand architecture, edited by Julia Gatley, 184–191. Auckland: Auckland University Press, 2010.
Swaffield, Simon. ‘Landscape assessment in New Zealand: background and current issues.’ Landscape Review 5, no. 1 (1999): 3–16.