Landscapes of coal as ‘third nature’ – Luca Csepely-Knorr

Landscapes of coal as ‘third nature’


The profession of landscape architecture experienced a major shift in the UK after the second World War, both in complexity and scale of projects. As Sylvia Crowe, president of the Institute of Landscape Architects, claimed: “Before the war landscape design was confined almost entirely to the creation of gardens and parks; even if some industry called in a landscape architect it was with the idea of creating a garden round their buildings. […] Gradually this is changing: the pressure of population, transport and economics is upsetting the balance of great areas of landscape, and it is evident that positive design is needed to restore them to a state of balance. A balance which will include changed land uses, new structures, and usually a higher density of human use.”[1]This shift from garden design to landscape planning and from the idea of creating a ‘garden round the buildings’ to designing large scale landscapes that accommodated complex new structures, typologies and activities created new challenges and opportunities for the relatively young profession.


The building of a large number of coal-fired power stations after WW2 in perceptibly rural areas of the United Kingdom triggered vast changes in the appearance of the landscape. The large structures and extensive building sites that ‘invaded the countryside’,[2]and altered the conditions of landscapes that were previously perceived as rural, or even natural. The newly nationalised Central Electricity Generating Board recognised this. Within their official communications and through the appointment of influential landscape designers they defined a novel and considered approach towards landscape architecture, associated with the infrastructure of coal fired power production.


Referring to the ancient Roman writer Cicero, and 16th century Italian writer Bonfadio, John Dixon Hunt defined the landscape of infrastructure as ‘second nature’ and the garden as third nature where ‘nature [is] incorporated with art’.[3]This research will analyse key case studies of the landscape architecture of coal-fired power stations by leading practitioners including Brenda Colvin, Frederick Gibberd, Kenneth and Patricia Booth and Gordon Patterson.  It will argue that designers aimed to change the perception of the landscapes of power stations from ‘second’ to ‘third’ nature by giving them long standing aesthetic as well as social values. Furthermore, it aims to prove that these hitherto barely researched landscapes require the same attention of historiography as the outstanding private gardens or public parks of the centuries before them.

[1]Crowe, S ‘Buckingham Talk’ unpublished. MERL AR CRO SP4/2.

[2]Crowe, S. (1958) Landscapes of Power, London: Architectural Press

[3]Hunt, J. D. (1992) ‘Reading and writing the site’ in Swaffield S (2002) ed Theory in Landscape Architecture. A Reader,Philadelphia: The University of Pennsylvania Press pp. 131-136.

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