Landscape Notes from Tel Aviv – Scott Renwick

TelAviv

Scott Renwick, a Landscape Architect working in Tel Aviv, shares his thoughts on pursuing a profession in a very diŸ erent landscape.

After originally training in horticulture at the National Botanic Gardens Glasnevin, Scott Renwick decided that his strengths lay in design.To pursue his passion, he completed a landscape design diploma course with Senior College Dun Laoghaire (now Blackrock Further Education Institute) before progressing to a BSc in landscape architecture at the University of Gloucestershire. Having completed his studies, Scott emigrated to Israel where he worked as a landscape architect, and founded the internationally renowned Landscape Architects Network (www.landarchs.com). Taking a break from his hectic schedule, he shares his thoughts on pursuing his passion and profession in Israel’s capital, Tel Aviv.

Tel Aviv is a relatively new place. Established in 1909 it is the realisation of one man’s vision, the renowned Scot Patrick Geddes. A biologist, sociologist, geographer, philanthropist and pioneering town planner, Geddes was asked to prepare a masterplan for Tel Aviv under British mandate.

The core of Tel Aviv was built entirely to his plan and centres on a network of boulevards which run through all the main points of the city and which are lined with paths, bicycle lanes and roads on either side. They remain one of the city’s primary tourist attractions. Not only do they connect people to every major hub in the city, they also provide places of refuge, fun, activity and even romance (I proposed to my wife on Ben Gurion Boulevard). Not to mention a marching site for public demonstrations (in 2013, four thousand people people marched down Israel’s most famous boulevard, Rothchild, in the name of animal rights).

The added value of these boulevards is that they are lined with mature trees, acting as a cooling system and lowering the outdoor temperature by as much as four degrees, protecting its users from direct sunlight and showering them with much appreciated dappled shade. With its Mediterranean climate, year round sunshine and café culture, Tel Aviv has some clear diŸ erences from Ireland when it comes to design; but what may be of more interest is its similarities, as you will see what binds us in design is not just our goals but also our common mistakes.

In Ireland one may complain about the outdoor temperature and rain, ironically when you go to a hot climate these are exactly the same things people complain about. One has too much, the other has too little and a good design whether it is in Dublin, Tel Aviv or New York must address these issues. To ignore them ultimately leads to poor public space design.

Ireland and Israel share many similarities including their physical size and population density. These similarities have had a similar impact on the profession of landscape architecture insofar as they have limited the capacity of each country to produce qualified graduates. As I write there is still only one educational pathway for landscape architecture in Israel: The Technion Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa. The annual graduate turnout is just 20 to 25. When you consider that many of those will not pursue a career in landscape architecture and others will go abroad to seek employment, the final head count employed in Israel will be in the single digits. The situation in Ireland is pretty similar.

The shortage of qualified landscape architects worked in my favor when I moved to Tel Aviv. While my fellow graduates were struggling to find work in the UK and Ireland I had a ton of interviews to attend (graduates take note). The impact of this shortfall manifests on the ground in many forms. Most notably, the positions that should be held by landscape architects are in fact filled by architectural technicians.

In my opinion, they often do a better job! This supplanting of positions aŸffects the industry by lowering the wages of qualified landscape architects. After all, why would an employer pay more money when he can get a less qualified person to do just as good a job at a lower price?

The bottom line is that landscape architecture is a business and needs to be treated like one. If it isn’t, it won’t last. People pay for results but rarely pay for concepts.

While there are most certainly limitations presented by working in Israel, Tel Aviv aŸffords opportunities for pioneers in dry climate design. From my experience this manifests in two forms, the design and installation of hyper-eµ cient irrigation and the creation of xerophyte landscapes, those that require little or no water and maximize that which is available.

Perhaps that most important opportunity presented by working in Tel Aviv – far more than working in Ireland – is the Israelis’ love of outdoor culture. People will use space regardless of the design quality but the love of the outdoors raises the profile of the profession and translates into a wider appreciation of better public spaces. In contrast, public outdoor space in Ireland is often centred on single season, daytime use. You can stroll through Tel Aviv at any time of the year, day or night, and people will be outside having picnics, playing chess, exercising or using the bike scheme. This yearning and willingness to be outside is felt by all and contributes significantly to a general

“Successful landscape architecture must reside in a harmony between society and nature, we must strive for a biophilic utopia, regardless of where we live”

sense of connection and security. Feelings are as important on the streets of Dublin as they are in Tel Aviv. Now don’t get me wrong, Irish people love being outside as much as Tel Avians, but for landscape architects working in Ireland the job is a lot tougher. To convince Irish people to use public space Irish landscape architects need to give people a reason that’s as bright as the sun that shines down on Tel Aviv.

PERSONAL EXPERIENCE
One thing moving to Tel Aviv showed me is that the skills I gained during my studies are internationally transferable. Well, almost all of them. The most transferable are what you could refer to as technical skills: millimetres are the same in Dublin as they are in Tel Aviv. Conversely, my plant knowledge was of little use. My ability to conceptulaise and creatively present was certainly not required. It was somewhat disappointing to move into practice and realise that that things I enjoyed studying most (conceptulising and creating) are far less valued than the ones I least enjoyed. The primary reason for this is money. Technical skills can be charged for; thinking cannot. One of the frustrations of working in Israel – something landscape architects around the world will relate to – is the near-sighted focus on efficiency and lowering costs. It’s hard to see the big picture when you’re focused on next week’s wage bill. This overemphasis on short term budgets is having a serious negative impact on the environment and any moves towards the adoption of ecological design principles. In Tel Aviv, and Ireland too, this translates into an unhealthy obsession with growing lawns in places where no lawns should be. This is obviously a bigger problem in Israel than Ireland as any lawn in Israel needs constant irrigation and in several cases, annual replacement.

Regardless of where you live and work, the way forward for landscape architecture is a greater emphasis on education and the dissemination of the knowledge we hold dear: the need and benefits of conserving and promoting nature, and the consequences we face if we take another path. Only when people know better will they demand better. Better places do not lie in better concepts or the latest technology; they rely on our ability to appreciate what already exists. From my time as an over-zealous student to a grounded professional I always believed that the future lies in striving for a biophilic utopia, regardless of where we live.

ScottRenwick

SCOTT RENWICK graduated from Senior College Dun Laoghaire with a Diploma in Landscape
(now Blackrock Institute of Further Education) before completing his Landscape Architecture qualifi cations in the University of Gloucester. Having completed his studies, he emigrated to Israel and began work as a Landscape Architect and the now world renowned Landscape Architects Network (www. landarchs.com). He now divides his time between design work and Landarchs. He can be contacted at o‹ffice@landarchs.com.