Ask The Architect: Ed Higgins

Ed Higgins from Hosta Consulting answers ADF’s questions on landscape design and green infrastructure

Why did you decide to train as an architect?

Like many at the start of their architectural education part of me, somewhat egotistically, wanted to create beautiful statement buildings that received a lot of attention and make my mark on the world. During my university education my views became more sensitive and I wished to create places that people love to be in, progressing in recent years as my love of nature has intertwined into our work.

What do you like about your job most?

I like the variety of people I meet in my job; nature is a connecting force that many people appreciate, particularly in an increasingly environmentally aware world. There is so much opportunity to re-introduce nature back into our everyday lives, each project we complete explores different elements. Working with plants, the design is not complete at handover – it develops and changes, often in unexpected ways; this is a great pleasure to watch.

Do you feel that landscaping should and can be regarded as architecture?

Any space made for people to use is both landscape and architecture; I believe they are words used to describe our interaction, and impact, on the environment. The sensibilities that inform architecture were founded as we evolved in our natural landscapes. If the arrangement of spaces that invoke feelings within us is to be called architecture, then I believe that landscaping should be regarded as architecture. The development of landscape spaces, however, require specialist skills, it should not be taken that architects can design landscaping.

How would you describe your approach to persuading clients on the importance of green infrastructure?

As we have established ourselves on our sustainable and ecological designs, many of our clients come to us to already persuaded. We always stress that landscape should be functional as well as aesthetic, and highlight benefits for instance improvements in biodiversity, mental and physical well-being, and mitigating the effects of climate change, which for clients means increased productivity, lower bills and a delightful place to relax, work, or play.

What is your favourite sector to work in?

I love the challenge of adding nature in all sectors, but the biggest impact can be made in the public sector, where schemes are accessible to more people. The social housing schemes we have worked provide crucial spaces for community development. Office spaces allow you to be ‘trendier’ and create green spaces for workers to refresh and increase the enjoyment of their jobs.

What’s your biggest challenge currently?

Ongoing maintenance in public projects is difficult, there is a shortage of skills and training, as well as and funding. However, this provides interesting constraints, which we believe can partly be solved in the design stage. We are continually pushing harder and constantly testing new naturalistic planting plans combining plants and seed mixes to limit maintenance naturally – it’s a great opportunity!

How has the RHS award changed your profile?

The RHS award from my show garden last year (and for the show garden with Hosta Consulting in 2016) both gave me the opportunity to show what I can do as a designer, which is particularly important when a company is in its formative years. The award has given me recognition within the industry to try something different.

What’s your current favourite building material in projects?

Following my RHS Tatton Park Show Garden ‘Finding Nature,’ my current favourite building material is waste aggregates, including crushed brick and concrete. Inspired by nature, which colonises brownfield sites, we have been using this material to create landscapes which limits the damaging importation of topsoil into urban sites and uses a waste product. It’s a great material, with the right choice of planting, we can create colourful, floral ecological havens in cites.

Do you see the role of architects as advisors to be as important as that of building designers?

Architects have a unique set of skills; thorough architectural education teaches a holistic approach to dealing with the places that we live. As a whole, architects, working collaboratively with others are a great resource to tackle problems in the built environment.

How do you use technology when designing?

Like many practices, we use technology in most of our designs, however we alternate between hand drawing and computer work to get the best from both worlds. Fundamentally, technology is a tool and the ultimate goal is usually creating drawings that are legible to the client and stakeholders, visualisations that present an experience, or 3D models that allow the testing of designs. Technology has allowed us to refine our processes to make them more efficient – for example our planting plans automatically generate plant lists containing quantiles, required densities and details about the plants. We can then use this data to generate maintenance schedules – each of these were previously time consuming processes, and now can be completed instantly.

Do you think you have a role to drive briefs or should architects be reactive?

Our role is to make projects as good as they can be. Some clients are un-confident of what can be achieved, and we can tailor the brief to push elements such as biodiversity, water re-use and soil health, as well as other elements. Other clients are much more sure about what they’d like to achieve, therefore the relationship is more collaborative, rather than a guiding hand.

What are your hopes for this year and beyond for you and your practice?

We have a few exciting projects in the pipeline, which are currently under wraps, but all deal with interaction with nature in urban areas. We have recently completed our largest intensive roof garden for a social housing provider Nottingham City Homes, and we’re hoping to develop more work similar to this. In the future we have made an active decision to stay small and work collaboratively with artists, sculptors and other designers to create new opportunities for nature.