Peter Youngman

Landscape architect to the New Towns
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The Independent Online

George Peter Youngman, landscape architect: born Leeds 31 July 1911; part-time Lecturer in Landscape Design, Department of Town Planning, University College London 1948-63, Visiting Professor in Landscape Design 1963-78; CBE 1983; married 1943 Noreen Armstrong (two sons, and one daughter deceased); died King's Langley, Hertfordshire 23 May 2005.

Peter Youngman was a landscape architect who taught for many years at University College London and was closely involved in the planning of Cumbernauld New Town and Milton Keynes, and the 1960s expansions of Basingstoke and Andover.

Born in Leeds in 1911, he enjoyed a very successful three years up at Magdalene College, Cambridge, reading History. With a mind already honed from Worksop Preparatory and Upper School in Yorkshire, he thrived on the quality teaching available in Cambridge. He also adopted the clipped accent that allows us to identify the academic origin of the speaker.

In 1934 Youngman was apprenticed to G. Whitelegg & Son in Chislehurst before becoming an articled pupil to the garden designer George Dillistone in Tunbridge Wells in 1935 and then studying for a diploma at the School of Planning & Research for National Development in London.

The Second World War used Youngman and his skills in a variety of ways. But the campaign in Italy was a revelation to him. Even in the state of combat, he could see the basic wonder of the Italian landscape; but, more importantly, the composition of the settlements on the landscape. Returning to Britain, he was at once interested in the challenge facing most of Europe and elsewhere: how to make good reparations and expand existing settlements in a beautiful way. In the late 1940s and early 1950s there were few who had a combined landscape design and planning skill, so Youngman was almost bound to be part of several teams working on new towns and road routes.

The huge success of the Festival of Britain in 1951 showed very publicly how much good landscape design could enhance even temporary schemes. Youngman worked alongside H.F. Clark, Peter Shepheard and Russell Page in the helter-skelter range of exhibits. Architects, also very altruistically driven in those days, were most grateful and happy to have met these skills on site. Youngman had a great store of intellectual ability that was not thrown in your face. In fact, he was very reticent in manner, almost shy of revealing too much too soon. Architect planners have remarked, "He is a true intellect and does need time to consider." Youngman would plead to be allowed to "cogitate".

First and foremost, he was a very independent consultant and fiercely careful to remain "a one-man band". This meant not sending in reams of typed scripts, but original pencil-written reports and sketches, in colour only if pressed.

From the 1940s Youngman taught at Regent Street Polytechnic and his skill as a teacher was recognised by Lord Holford, Professor of Town Planning at University College London, who encouraged Youngman to teach in the college's Planning School in Flaxman House (now a ballet school). From 1948 he was a part-time lecturer and the certificate course in Landscape Design he supervised ran for many years. At Flaxman House, with heating full on and a very elderly projector giving off much heat and a little light, Youngman gave very carefully structured accounts of early-modern design philosophy. His field visits were nearly always thronged with not only his chosen 20 students, but a large number of keen fee payers who were there for general edification. This was most irritating for the students, as hearing every word of wisdom from Youngman in gales and rain proved frustratingly hard. On occasion Youngman's wife, Noreen, and young son Michael would come for the jaunt and exercise their border collie at the same time. Heaven knows what Vita Sackville-West and David Bowes-Lyon, who opened their gardens for Youngman, made of the gaggle.

In 1960 when Richard Llewelyn-Davies (later Lord Llewelyn-Davies) was appointed Professor of Architecture at UCL, he wanted several routes to collaborate, but could only raise funds for four, so landscape design and Peter Youngman missed out. In 1963 Youngman was offered a visiting chair in Landscape Architecture, which he retained until his retirement in 1978. In 1983 he was appointed CBE for services to the UK through consultancy overseas.

This was a hectic period for Youngman. Cumbernauld New Town, on which he was consultant, 1957-67, was a vision of the hilltop town out of Italy. This scheme was much admired for its compact planning and resolve of motoring problems. To make a telling and handsome landscape at the same time took some persuasion, and Youngman was the prime mover.

Hook New Town, 1960-63, the unbuilt venture of the London County Council, had Oliver Cox and Graeme Shankland as its motivators. Youngman was retained by Hampshire County Council, on whose land Hook was to be built. The symbiotic relationship between the main protagonists and Youngman was immediate and effective. Cox missed having Youngman on the team full-time, but there was an understudy. The political mishap that put Hook in the drawer was the site for the planned bus station's being where the Queen's uncle watched birds. A message was apparently relayed to the team via Harold Macmillan.

Nothing dismayed, the Hampshire and LCC/GLC politicians gave its house-planners the task of assessing Andover, Basingstoke and Tadley for possible expansion, these to take between them the 100,000 people that had been planned for Hook. Youngman was immediately on site at both Andover and Basingstoke. The former became a successful GLC Expanded Town and Basingstoke a Development Corporation. Whether they are now enjoyed by designers is a moot point, but the original expectation has been achieved. They are both thriving economies and enjoyed by families.

Youngman's advice on the planning of Milton Keynes between 1968 and 1970 was most telling and he was instrumental in the design of the undulating road network and the very powerful structural planting. The foresight of the entire team, very much out of UCL, has given Britain a much-enjoyed city of landscape.

Peter Youngman was President of the Landscape Institute from 1961 until 1963. He would invite guests on to the institute's council to leaven the tasks. Education had a special revival under his leadership. As past president, he became a popular but tough examiner for a number of institute-recognised schools. Joining him at King's Cross station one evening on our way to Leeds University, I noticed he was sporting a swollen eyelid. He had been stung by a bee. The students, already in a fright at facing an examiner, were mortified by the horrific visage.

Friendship with Youngman became easier once he had handed over the work at UCL in his late sixties, although he remained keenly interested in progress there. At home, revelling in a very extended family, he designed a fresh extension to an already extended house at King's Langley in Hertfordshire. The design worked within the tenets of Steiner ideas and from completion until now has remained a most comfortable and welcoming sequence. The gardens designed by Youngman many years ago are now mature, swirling about the structure, and elegantly calming.

Michael Ellison