Landscape Architecture in India


By Late Prof. Mohammed Shaheer

(From Articles published in LA Journal of Landscape Architecture, 2001- 2015)

About thirty years ago, in the middle eighty’s, it is very unlikely that the review of landscape architecture would have hardly been possible. There was very little work on the ground; less than a handful of established professionals and not enough material or experience to develop a critique, or to effectively learn from. At that time, fifteen year of professional education in landscape architecture had already been available. Yet the total number of graduate landscape architects then would have been about a hundred or so. And even of these, roughly a third would have been people sponsored by Government, who would return to their various departments, with very little opportunity to practice landscape design.

This was the real infancy of the profession. There was hardly any contemporary designed landscape to look at, apart from the notable examples of Ram Sharma and RavindraBhan; not to miss the masterly elegance of the work of the late Joseph Stein. Landscape architects were far more misunderstood then- excluding a numerically small but professionally significant number of noble souls, most architects would look upon the struggling young landscape architect with polite condescension, as a person of lesser ability than an architect, who could name a few trees, for whatever that was worth. Which was ironical really, considering that landscape architecture is specialization acquired after completing the professional architecture degree.

The situation today is quite different, one has only to look around to become aware of the relative proliferation of landscape architecture, certainly in Delhi and many other metropolitan cities. In the last thirty years the graduates of eighty’s, and even of the ninety’s have been able to establish successful and busy landscape practices, and have certainly contributed to recognition of the profession by important client-groups such as Industry, Developers and Corporate bodies. Also, there are far greater number of landscape architects today. One could look upon these as market indicators suggesting increasing recognition of future potential and substantial evolution of the landscape profession.

But still, environmental benefits accruing from designed public open space have to be marketed! Though, enough people realize that landscape architecture is integral to the planning and development process, planners and architects are educated in what landscape architecture is all about. Site analysis and site planning are basic to any educational programme in the design, planning and development field. Environmental studies form part of the school curriculum from Class 4 to Class 12, and remain with us every day in newspaper headlines. Everyone desires an “integrated approach”, so why doesn’t it happen?

Even today, urban development decisions seem to proceed from the assumption that city environments can function effectively without having to be either environmentally pleasant or to possess even a minimal aesthetic quality; that the positive stimulation of visual, olfactory and aural senses of human beings need not be one of the objectives of city planning, indeed, either intentionally or otherwise the opposite should be true.

An integrated and a collaborative approach has to be brought into existence between various disciplines, to reach beyond the mere negotiation of inter-disciplinary edges, to fully work together towards creating better environments. There is a need to re-look at the role of Landscape architects, as someone on an equal footing with that of the planners, architects, or urban design experts without any assumed primacy of decision making or design action assigned exclusively to any one of them.

The establishment of credibility is the challenge every profession has to meet: in the work it embodies, and also the individual credibility of each member. It takes a long time of consistent effort and adherence to high professional standards before that “professional space” can be demanded or offered. If the landscape architecture profession appears to at the threshold of another, more productive phase, it has got there only because of the work done in the past. Landscape Architects appear to share a common perception of what they are striving to do and what constitutes excellence of achievement. Let’s hope that in the coming decades it will not only be possible to point out some examples of fine landscape architecture from historic and contemporary times, but also to cite lucid theoretical support for our activities and that the potential contribution of landscape architecture will become better known worldwide.