..... All of this comes to mind at the moment because I have recently re-read Nan Fairbrother’s New Lives, New Landscapes, published by the Architectural Press in 1970. This is an astonishing piece of writing, a bestseller and also, over time, highly influential. Fairbrother, originally a physiotherapist, wrote first about family life during wartime and came later to landscape design. The book is her manifesto: she starts from a Loudonesque argument that all unbuilt land must be planned and managed. Her particular target are brownfield sites on urban edges, and she divides these into categories in order to deal with them. In the final section she proposes detailed solutions which in the meantime have become commonplace. But none of this does justice to the book. Although realistic and unsentimental about farming, her words are punctuated by wonderful bursts of humanity: the memories of a day out in the country from her Coventry slum home; the fun of children scrambling over walls, of courting couples; her fabulous vision of silos and power stations as if they were church towers and castles. It is all energy, excitement and beauty. Otto Saumarez Smith has put his finger on it: ‘for her the countryside is there for everyone’s enjoyment’. Think about that observation carefully. From the overall sweep to the clarity of detail in her writing, she was to my mind the most important writer on public landscapes since Loudon himself.
It is, essentially, a piece of ‘research through practice’ of breathtaking force and the fact that Fairbrother was not an academic, and was not much bothered by footnotes, obviously does not diminish it. She cannot be patronised as a clever practitioner with empirical ideas; the book was as important to the creation of landscape thinking as would be an academic thesis by a philosopher to the discipline of philosophy. Hers is the model: there is no architecture culture, academic or otherwise, without work with this life in it.
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