Speech given by Prof. Dr. Richard Stiles, TU Vienna, at the inauguration of the ECLAS memorial grove at NMBU Norway in September 2019:
Mike Downing is in our thoughts here today, as we celebrate 100 years of higher education in landscape architecture in Europe, as the first and founding President of ECLAS – established as the European Conference of Landscape Architecture Schools in 1990.
We have Mike Downing to thank for the central role he played in creating the European landscape architecture academic community, which when he took on this pioneering role did not exist in any meaningful ways, but which has since become a fixed and important part of all our academic lives.
Before the formal establishment of ECLAS at its first conference in 1991, Mike was already active at the European level, representing landscape education within the context of the then newly formed European professional organization – EFLA – the European Foundation for Landscape Architecture.
This role, in turn, was the result of his being active in the Education Committee of the British professional body, The Landscape Institute, of which he was a Fellow.
This high level of commitment for the profession and for education took place alongside Mike’s ‘day job’ as Reader in Landscape Architecture at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne – one of the pioneering academic institutions in the UK for landscape architecture – and it was there in 1973, that I first had the honour to encounter him, as one of my teachers.
Here too, considerable commitment was called for: he was one of just three staff members running the, then, postgraduate Diploma in Landscape Design. Mike was responsible for the second and final year of the programme, and with so few staff, he had a wide range of teaching responsibilities from landscape construction, about which he published a text book, to garden history – the object of his particular interest.
The first, informal, meeting of landscape architecture schools took place 40 years ago in West Berlin in September 1989, at the invitation of Berlin Technical University, at which I believe Mike also played an active part in his capacity as a representative of EFLA.
Six weeks after this meeting the Berlin Wall was breached and the geo-politics of the continent was transformed. It was into this context that the fledgling organisation of European landscape architecture academies was born, an in which it was able to thrive.
Alongside his role chairing the Education Committee of the European Foundation for Landscape Architecture, Mike Downing agreed to take on the Presidency of the newly established ECLAS at it first formal meeting in Wageningen in 1991.
From then until the 1998 conference in Vienna, with the support of a small group of committee members, several of whom we are honouring here today, he nursed the fledgling organisation through those important early years.
Although he stood down from the Presidency in 1998, he continued to take an active interest in ECLAS and regularly attended the conferences in the subsequent years. With the establishment of the European Union co-funded LE:NOTRE Project in 2002, Mike was invited to become a member of the advisory panel, a role in which he continued to make an active contributions for the first phase of the project.
Without Mike’s vital contributions, it is unlikely we would be standing here today.