IMS landscape consultancy

Ian Simkins BSc, Dip LA, PCHE, PhD, FHEA, MI Hort, CMLI
Chartered Landscape Architect




IMS landscape consultancy: research activity

Current research: Leverhulme Trust funded project
The current research is funded by the Leverhulme Trust and was developed with International co-applicants to build a process of participation for practical application developing the principles of Experiential Landscape. This is based upon inclusive approaches to; information gathering, mapping and representational techniques and interpretation and analysis.

The research is conducted by myself and Dr Alice Mathers and co-ordinated by Dr Kevin Thwaites. It offers new representational methods to investigate and express experiential dimensions of place. Its application has particular relevance for working with under-represented groups, which holds implications for their self esteem and empowerment.

This is based upon ongoing research into Experiential Landscape together with the doctoral work of Alice Mathers who worked with people with learning disabilities to give them a voice in the experience of public open spaces, and my doctoral research working in a similar perspective with primary school aged children.

The Leverhulme project is also developing upon other research undertaken in 2008 which examined the tram travel experiences of people with learning disabilities in Sheffield. The project provided a travel guide which has since been adopted by the tram operators for staff training. This research led to working with learning disability groups to reveal their experiences of bus travel in Sheffield. This project not only involved learning disability groups but also was supported by the involvement of travel operators, the City Council and other interested organisations.

Additional work has been undertaken at a North East primary school, at the request of the staff to examine potential improvements to the grounds of their foundation stage unit. Participation has been undertaken with the foundation stage children, teaching staff, support staff, and interested parents to understand their views in order to develop concepts for improvement, as well as acting as a potential for social cohesion and inclusive ownership of the resultant design.

PhD research: The development of the Insight method: a participatory approach for primary school children to reveal their place experiences.
The research developed a participatory methodology to gain understanding of the existing and aspirational place experiences of primary school children. It aimed to empower children by giving them a voice ordinarily hidden from design and planning processes.

Exploration and testing of methodologies has been ongoing since 1999 in a number of practice based case studies involving primary school children. As a result of refinement through a review of practice and literature a provisional framework of methodological tools was constructed for testing and developing in the participatory phases of the research. This involved the contribution of 68 participant children.

The primary output of the research was the development of a participatory framework called the Insight Method which consisted of a number of components. These were; its approach; the methodological constituents which were the tools of participatory practice; and its evaluative methods. The Insight Method can be used by researchers and practitioners of the built environment professions that would include Landscape Architects, Urban Designers and Planners and those involved in policy making. The Insight Method facilitates that the hidden views of children on the environments that they encounter on a daily basis are actively sought in appropriate ways, valued and understood as well as being incorporated in design and planning decisions. This is to ensure that the physical manifestation and experience of these environments which have a significant impact on children’s health, well being and development are child friendly, experientially rich,  and provide not just settings but places that the children have been involved in creating and that sustain community life.

Research: Experiential Landscape
Experiential Landscape was formed in 1999 by Dr. Kevin Thwaites of the Department of Landscape, University of Sheffield and Ian Simkins. It was founded to explore the relationship between human experience and its spatial expression in urban open spaces. It developed, published and applied tools for the analysis and design of urban settings based on the innate human need to:

  • attach significance and value to preferred places
  • find their way around
  • know and identify their homeground

Experiential Landscape Place is an approach to urban landscape architecture which stresses the importance of place experience to the planning and design of fulfilling urban open space settings.

It is based on increasingly compelling evidence that quality of human life depends, in part, on there being a close bond of association between open space and human experience. Although this is known to be an important contributor to the psychological health of individuals and communities, it is not always given the same level of attention in the planning and design of urban landscape as, for example, technical, aesthetic or economic considerations.

This work developed into the current Experiential Landscape funded research project.


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Site design: Ian Simkins last update: 10 April, 2010