Reflections on landscape

Advancing Society and Culture

Only one thing was missing from the long and distinguished career of 80 year old landscape architect Emeritus Professor Ken Taylor AM – a PhD.

An Honorary Professor with the Australian National University and Visiting Professor at Silpakorn University, Bangkok, Emeritus Professor Ken Taylor AM, can now add another title to his impressive list – that of Doctor of Philosophy in Landscape Architecture.

Professor Taylor, who turned 80 this week, was among the almost 2000 students who graduated from Deakin University earlier this month.

A Canberra local, Professor Taylor completed his Deakin PhD by Prior Publication with the School of Architecture and Built Environment, focusing on changing attitudes to cultural heritage theory and practice internationally and in South East Asia.

Completing his thesis in just six weeks, Professor Taylor said the experience had made him reflect not only his own work over the past 30 years, but also on the “remarkable changes that have taken place in the way we view heritage, the way we think about it, write about it and practice it, and its extraordinary global popularity.

“In the 1970s and 80s, people thought of heritage as just buildings of the rich and famous – we called it in Australia the great white house syndrome – but it was the same internationally.

“World heritage was monuments and sites – often dead monuments and sites – but academics and thinking professionals started to realise in the mid-1980s that heritage is to do with people and their values and memories and how they associate with places,” he said.

“A lot of the importance in heritage is intangible heritage, which has become more and more significant as the years have gone by.”

“My interest is in the everyday places we call the ‘ordinarily sacred’, but also in the association that ordinary people have with the great monuments and sites. They’re not just dead archaeological remains – many of them have continued meaning for local people.”
Emeritus Professor Ken Taylor AM
Emeritus Professor Ken Taylor AM

In 1992, Professor Taylor was involved when the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) introduced cultural landscape categories for World Heritage recognition.

“The idea was to open up the World Heritage list to cultural landscape, to this idea that landscape is the setting for everything that we do and to recognise ordinary, everyday places, not just famous monuments and sites,” he said.

Originally from the UK, Professor Taylor’s first degree was in cultural geography. He then moved into town planning for local government and teaching landscape architecture at Manchester Polytechnic before an invitation from the then Canberra College of Advanced Education (now University of Canberra) saw Professor Taylor and his wife, Maggie, emigrate to Australia in 1975, “with a container full of furniture and three young children,” so he could take up a position as senior lecturer in landscape architecture.

In 20 years at University of Canberra, he became Personal Chair in Landscape Architecture and co-director of a cultural heritage research centre, completed his research Masters and began to publish internationally on landscape architecture and cultural heritage.

It was Professor Taylor’s vast body of published work in the field that prompted Deakin’s Professor David Jones from the School of Architecture and Built Environment to approach him about completing a PhD by Prior Publication.

“David said it would be useful to read my reflections on 30 years of work and how changes have occurred globally in our approach to heritage,” Professor Taylor explained.

“My thesis looks at the remarkable and far reaching changes in theory and practice in defining heritage that have taken place, and how we care for heritage under the umbrella of heritage management.

“I tried to put into perspective the changes that have taken place: the changes in thinking, of bringing in the idea of community values, cultural diversity and meaning of places to people generally, not just to the experts.

Although he officially retired in 2002, Professor Taylor continues to teach in Canberra and overseas, supervise Australian and international PhD students and publish his research.

“I think it’s important that academics work with professionals and don’t become separated from the way things work outside academe,” he said.

“One of the fascinating aspects of becoming involved in heritage from the mid-90s onwards is this link between scholarly thinking and practice and the understanding of how important it is.”

Published by Deakin Research on 19 October 2017