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Irish Landscape Institute - Tribute to Christopher Robson

Christopher Robson was conferred as an honorary member of the Irish Landscape Institute in 2000, and in his passing, we have lost a significant champion of the Irish landscape. Christopher trained as an architect at University College Dublin and worked briefly in London before then taking up a post in the Office of Public Works. (His father, Harry Robson, had also worked in the OPW in the late 1930s, on the Dublin airport building.) Christopher became the senior architect in the Department of Agriculture, where he spent the majority – and most influential part – of his career. He retired in 2000 and joked that he had never built a project. However, his genius and his legacy were in politics, policy and guidance.

Christopher is better known as a champion of equality. From the 1980s onwards, he was a founder member of the Lesbian and Gay Men's Collective, Gay Men's Health Action, the Campaign for Equality, and the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network (GLEN). Decriminalisation of homosexuality was achieved in

1993, followed by the introduction of Civil Partnership in 2011. The concept of campaigning for multibased equality led to the strong equality legislation Ireland has had since the late 1990s. This approach, indeed, provides inspiration for my own work on 'Inclusive Landscapes', which deals not only with

disability access but which also considers landscape architecture in the context of diverse landscape types, urban and rural, and the diversity of groups and individuals who use and enjoy them.

In 1998, the ILI instigated a public lecture series entitled, 'Whose Landscape is it Anyway?' The aim was to bring a landscape architect and a non-landscape architect together to discuss a topic. We teamed Christopher up with Michael Lancaster (d. 1994, former head of landscape architecture at the University

of Greenwich, and author of books on colour in the landscape and the Oxford Companion to Gardens). This was, in the world of landscape architecture, Christopher's 'coming out'.

What ensued was the revelation that Christopher was instrumental in the quality of how the Irish farming landscape appears today, and demonstrated at the same time his skill as a photographer with a superb eye for colour and detail. This senior architect in the Department of Agriculture – the 'architect who had built no buildings' – was responsible for many of the policies of the Rural Environmental Protection Scheme (REPS). For the farms that were involved in this programme, these policies guided the form, site location, materials and colour of new farm buildings, and the conservation of existing ones, as well as the development, conservation and management of woodland and shelterbelts, hedges and wetlands.

Christopher Robson has exercised a profound influence on the Irish landscape. We were enriched as an Institute when he agreed to become an Honorary Member, for this work. Christopher brought the same intellect and observation, principles and passion, warmth, humour and insight to influence a broad range of debates and discussions. He maintained respect for others, whether they were adversaries or allies.

In a subsequent study tour in his beloved west Cork, Christopher persuaded Michael Lancaster of the merits of an indigenous and spontaneous response to colour in the landscape. The tones, contrasts and shifts over long time periods he likened to the musical compositions of Jan Garbarek or Arvo Part.

He wrote to me recently: "Great memories, indeed, of our trip with Michael Lancaster, and surprisingly vivid memories of how irritatingly bland ('children's paint-box colours') local authority draftsmen can be, as opposed to the full-bodied game that people can play with their own houses. Nobody likes Mantovani, now, do they?"

Christopher's passing on the 23rd March 2013 is a great loss to those who knew him, but we can all be grateful for his life's work. He was, it turns out, two architects: an Architect of Equality and an Architect of the Rural Irish Landscape.

Our sympathies go to Christopher's partner of 35 years, Bill Foley, to his sister Jean and brother Denis, and his nieces and nephews and grand-nieces and nephews.

Source: ILI - Tribute to Christopher Robson