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Landscape designers of the future rethink Repton’s work in RHS exhibition

Design undergraduates at Writtle University College are collaborating with RHS Libraries on an exhibition celebrating the work of influential 18th Century landscape designer Humphry Repton. The Landscape Architecture and Garden Design degree students have learnt about Repton’s principles of landscape design and his unique method of presenting to clients.

The students have freshly interpreted his presentation ideas for their final year dissertation projects and their work will be exhibited in Rethinking Repton – Looking to the Past to Design for the Future at RHS Lindley Library, London, from 3 May to 22 June 2018.

The exhibition has been curated as 2018 is the bicentennial anniversary of the death of Repton (1752-1818) and as part of the Repton 200 Festival.

Repton was a self-proclaimed successor to Capability Brown and set out proposals for around 400 landscapes. He helped to establish the more intricate and formal styles that became a feature of the 19th Century garden and developed a new way of presenting his ideas to clients, using paper flaps to show ‘before’ and ‘after’ views in personalised books, known as ‘Red Books’ after their distinctive bindings.

Vanessa Moore, exhibition and events coordinator for RHS Libraries, said: “The Writtle University College students have had the opportunity to learn about Repton’s ideas and respond within their own public landscape design projects.

“The students have explored Repton’s thoughts through his own words (through original works at the RHS Lindley Library) and through the landscape (with curated tours at RHS Hyde Hall, Chelmsford). They have studied his ideas on boundaries and views, the picturesque, accessibility, and on working with, and presenting to, clients.

“Writtle’s students will be the garden designers and landscape architects of the future. With community as clients and sustainability at the heart of public projects, they have taken Repton’s approaches and pushed them further. The developing work we have seen so far has been fascinating and we’re looking forward to displaying their final project designs, each presented through the student’s own take on Repton’s famous ‘before and after’.”

The students picked their own public space to re-design for their dissertation projects, with sites including Maldon’s post-industrial riverfront, Grenfell Tower in London, and Bukit Kiara Federal Park in Kuala Lumpur.

Among the students producing work are Michael Ekers and Adam Newson.

Michael 37, from Brentwood, developed a method of mapping instinctive responses to his site, Sadd’s Wharf in Maldon, and brought his re-design to life using photo-realistic techniques, hand-drawings using pen and ink, and via the abstract through paper collage of images and words.

He said: “Although materials and methods have moved on, the basic ‘before and after’ technique employed by Repton remains an effective means of demonstrating design intent.

“As with Repton, before and after scenes can be manipulated to make them more or less appealing (for instance, by changing the weather or entourage from one scene to the next). Common elements in each image help to ensure a readable narrative or transition from one image to the next. Although the lift-flap is largely redundant today (we’re more likely to swipe a smart phone or click a mouse), the sense of anticipation at uncovering or revealing a design proposal remains a powerful presentation strategy.”

Adam, 21, from Brentwood, used the former Severalls Hospital Site in Colchester to investigate how small-scale interventions, inspired by the concept of garden cities, can be introduced into brownfield sites. He illustrated his proposals through collage, hand drawing, and photo-realistic digital images, as well as ‘polar panoramics’ to convey the change in atmosphere of the area. He also created a 3D ‘concertina’ image that showed the viewer ‘before’ and ‘after’ depending on where they stand.

Adam said: “Looking back at Humphry Repton’s work has enabled us to appreciate how so-called ‘modern’ techniques and ideas have been around for centuries in one form or another. Adapting and applying the techniques in a 21st Century way has enabled us to see and appreciate our chosen dissertation site in a new light.

“Working closely with the RHS Lindley Library gave us the privilege of being able to look at original and reproduction works as well as a tour of the library itself. Exhibiting at the library gives us the platform to show our work and bring attention to the methods of Humphry Repton to a wider audience, and is a great way of encouraging visitors and other designers to use his methods and techniques in their design work and processes.”

Steve Terry, Senior Lecturer in Design at Writtle University College, said: “We have devised a project linking the students’ dissertations to Reptonian processes and principles. They have been looking at their chosen public landscapes and visualising their designs, recreating what he did and creating new visualisation techniques.

“For the students, this project has enabled them to gain more exposure for the professional high standard and creativity of their dissertations. There are common themes in how Repton engaged with his clients and the landscape that continue today. However, the students have many more techniques and media at their disposal, as well as traditional hand-drawing, to represent their designs, including digital visualisation, and film.”

View the students’ dissertations at our Design Degree Show 2018! Public opening Thursday 17 to Sunday 20 May, 11am -5pm.

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