World Landscape Architecture Month: ‘Growing Together’ with the Ministry of Justice

30 April, 2021

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April is the internationally celebrated World Landscape Architecture Month. The event focusses on landscape architecture and designed public and private spaces, highlighting how diverse communities benefit from the carefully designed environment they live within. This is something we have understood for a long time and continue to support through various projects led by our landscape architecture team. One relationship we are particularly proud of, which highlights this year’s theme of ‘Growing Together’, is with the Ministry of Justice (MoJ). Zsofia Tarnai, associate landscape architect at Pick Everard, discusses this relationship in more detail.

We are currently working on a major commission for the MoJ, providing design services for four new prisons, which includes the design of their external spaces. Our extensive experience in this area and close cooperation with the MoJ allows us to truly understand their aspirations.

Claire Gilmour, of the Prison Supply Directorate in HM Prisons and Probation Service (HMPPS), began her presentation at the project launch by reflecting on our shared personal experience during the nationwide lockdown, how our world shrank to a very small space, and how being unable to see our family and friends, or enjoy the things we would usually do, has affected us.

While life during lockdown is not the same as living in prison there are striking similarities, and many discovered the value of our often-underappreciated urban landscape. The benefits are plentiful, but access to quality green spaces shared with wildlife is subconsciously vital for the mental health of many as connecting with nature is a fundamental human need.

Adequate outdoor sports provision is key to support the physical and mental wellbeing of prisoners, and there are many other elements within their landscape that promote this. Quiet gardens, courtyards, and faith gardens provide opportunities for quiet contemplation, whereas allotments and orchards allow horticultural activities to be pursued. Some areas do remain inaccessible to prisoners, but wherever possible we design visual landscapes, offering a high-quality setting for the prison and pleasant views out of each window.

The MoJ places great emphasis on rehabilitation and normalisation – moving away from a punishment approach – to help prevent and reduce re-offending. We support this and believe prison landscape design encourages positive behaviour through opportunities ‘designed in’ to reflect normal life as far as possible, while also maintaining a safe and secure environment.

Prisoner involvement is also key in the delivery of new prison landscapes, providing them with purposeful activities and creating a sense of ownership. One way we do this is by – wherever possible – installing planters, benches and other external furniture manufactured by the prisoners, or shrubs, perennials and trees grown by them.

No less importantly, there is the natural environment to consider throughout landscape architecture. Sustainability and designing for climate change are key drivers, and we expect to adopt the principles of sustainable drainage, which contribute to aspiring to achieve BREEAM 2018 Outstanding rating as a minimum and achieving a 10 per cent or higher biodiversity net gain. Like ourselves, the MoJ places great emphasis on sustainability. We incorporate prisoner-free zones to accommodate wildflower meadows and bee friendly plants.

Our landscape architects have developed a list of approved plants that are safe to use within the prison and prepared a Public Realm Design Guide to establish high-level design principles to secure high-quality, consistent, simple to maintain prison landscape to support the rehabilitative intent of the overall design. It can be used by all those who are involved in either shaping, delivering, or looking after the new prisons’ public realm including designers, prison operators, and other key stakeholders.

Prison landscape is challenging, with many unique constraints to consider, but is a hugely rewarding process knowing that your proposals will make a real difference to so many lives. As the theme of this year’s World Landscape Architecture Month suggests, ‘Growing Together’ is the best way forward.

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