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What are cultural heritage landscapes? Why are they important?

March 14, 2018

By David Waverman

Ask an expert: Why it’s important to bring a cultural heritage landscape architect on board early in your project

When you think of heritage designation, you most likely picture a property—a historic building or façade that has been preserved for future generations. But did you know that landscapes, views, and trees can receive heritage designations? Senior landscape architect David Waverman sat down to explore and explain cultural heritage landscapes. 

How do you define ‘cultural heritage landscape’?

David: Cultural heritage landscapes are defined geographical areas that have been modified by people and have heritage value. When we think of heritage designations, we often think of old buildings and façades, but we may not realize that even landscapes can have heritage value and interest. Cultural heritage landscapes can include trees, land forms, or even historical views.

Industrial areas, such as this power generation site in Nanticoke, Ontario, can have heritage value.

Can you give me an example of a cultural heritage landscape?

David: Sure. Canadian business tycoon E.P. Taylor—who was a famous horse breeder—had an office at his residence in Toronto, and he could look out at a field where his thoroughbreds were grazing. His home eventually became the site of the Canadian Film Centre, and that view to Taylor’s former field is protected. It’s a great example of a view that has heritage value—it’s not a physical thing you can touch.

And how would you describe a cultural heritage landscape architect?

David: A cultural heritage landscape architect is a specialist, typically combining professional status in both the Canadian Society of Landscape Architects and the Canadian Association of Heritage Professionals. So, we explore the landscape’s value to the community, whether that landscape is a meeting place—like a large oak tree in a local park—or a historical event that took place in the community.

Engaging us in the early stages of the project can lead to a faster approval process to identify, assess, and mitigate impacts to heritage resources.

What can our clients expect from a cultural heritage landscape architect?

David: I join the project when there’s going to be an intervention or alteration to the property. For example, our group in Waterloo and London, Ontario, have been retained to design a new walkway on a property that has been provincially legislated as a heritage property. As the cultural heritage landscape architect on the project, my job is to research why the property has been designated and ensure the trail design respects the statements of significance—i.e. why that historic place is important—or elements of the landscape that got it designated in the first place. The design needs to abide by provincial and municipal bylaws.

Why do clients need a cultural heritage landscape architect?

David: Engaging us in the early stages of the project can lead to a faster approval process to identify, assess, and mitigate impacts to heritage resources. There are elements of projects that a cultural heritage landscape architect can address for our clients to avoid lost time and money. By being involved early, we can let the project team know areas that are of cultural heritage significance so it won’t be an issue later in the project. For example, I was contacted early for a project in progress in Waterloo and I identified all the heritage features so that the project team was aware of what could be altered or removed, or what needed to stay.

Cultural heritage landscapes can include vegetation, such as these trees at Queen’s Park, a historic area of Toronto and the site of the Ontario Legislative Building.

What would happen if our clients didn’t include a cultural heritage landscape architect on their project when they should have?

David: As part of most developments or designs, there are certain approvals our clients need to get from the municipality or governing body. If we’re not involved in the project from the beginning, it’s unlikely that the project will get approved, especially when it comes to cultural heritage projects. For example, we recently worked on a project where we have a cultural heritage-designated cemetery that is surrounded by mature Norway spruce trees. The bylaw has identified those trees as a defining element for the designation. Right now, there are fences around the trees to protect them from construction. While an arborist might say to remove the trees altogether, I’d advise that they can’t be removed because of that designation. So, the team would need to find a different solution—because if they don’t, the design will not get approved.

Why is it important to maintain cultural heritage landscapes? What is the benefit to our client and the community?

David: Our goal is to always create places for communities to thrive. To do that, everything must be considered. Just like the design considerations taken for a road or a building, the preservation and management of our cultural heritage landscape is a benefit to our clients and the community. Including a cultural heritage landscape architect can be essential to a project’s success—from approvals, to ensuring a project runs on time and within budget, to considering the effects on the public.

Beyond the legal requirements, the preservation of cultural heritage landscape is connected to our psyche. Landmarks—whether they’re trees, bridges, benches, fences, or views—provide us with a sense of security and familiarity. An example of this can be someone saying to you, “I’ll meet you at the bench under the big oak tree,” on a familiar trail. It’s also important to remember that as cultural heritage landscape architects, we’re not against change to the landscape. We want to direct change, manage change, and make it compatible with its surroundings—and the connections people have with it.

  • David Waverman

    David is a senior landscape architect with more than 30 years of design and construction experience.

    Contact David
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