The Inchbald School of Design

The Inchbald School of Design was founded by Jacqueline Duncan in 1960 and was the first of its kind in Europe.

In 1972, Inchbald started offering courses in garden design – the first to do so in the world. John Brooks was one of the original lecturers and who today is a leading influence in interior and garden design both in the UK and internationally. Former garden design alumni include Luciano Giubbilei, Marcus Barnett and Haruko Seki and past interior design graduates include Henrietta Spencer-Churchill and Zaha Hadid.

What is it like to study at Inchbald?

Inchbald is a borderline fine art school and thus there is a strong emphasis on developing your design style.  Often, time was spent learning the methods of past masters such as Henry Repton, ‘Capability’ Brown and Geoffrey Jellicoe, but we also had lectures by leading contemporary garden designers such as Anthony Paul, Charlotte Rowe and Luciano Giubbilei.  At Inchbald we were encouraged to explore art and architecture, to learn about their aesthetics and concepts, and to stretch our imaginations and look at things differently.

inchbald john brooks ryan donohoe london
John Brooks and Ryan Donohoe at Inchbald School of Design

Our first class exercise was held at the Victoria and Albert Museum (over a cup of tea, naturally) where we had to write down, as quickly as possible, 12 different uses for a brick.  We would begin by thinking of the most obvious uses first, but then we would have to think more deeply, more laterally.  My final idea was to grind the brick, mix it with cream and to apply it as an exfoliant!

Design across different cultures

The business of garden and landscape design is taken seriously in European countries, particularly in England, France, Spain and Italy where – along with art, architecture and fashion – it forms an integral part of each country’s identity.

London in particular is buzzing with such cultural intensity: the capital attracts driven passionate individuals, who share and develop original, exciting ideas. Garden designers in London are always pushing the boundaries of possibility but additionally there is a demand from clients for innovative ideas.  In a dense city like London outside spaces are prized and it is perhaps the nature of small, unusually-shaped spaces that necessitates creative solutions.

A private garden, no matter how small, is a basic need to a majority of people and therefore it is only right that we respect the value they hold for their owners and those who spend time in them.  Genius loci is Latin for ‘spirit of place’ which means the heart and soul of a space—its character.  This is the basic principle of landscape design and therefore it is crucial to spend time within a space and to absorb its real essence, so that the resulting garden is rooted in its essential qualities.

At Inchbald we were also taught to understand our clients as deeply as possible: to hear their stories, to listen for feeling and meaning. It’s important to establish a sincere respect for the client’s paradigms and concerns from the outset, and to communicate with them often during the design process.

The Inchbald School of Design is moulded on concept development.  The concept is key as it links the client with their design and helps me to develop my graphic language.  This language then brings consistency to the design’s form and unites the physical elements within it.

In all, outdoor spaces are vital and a rigorous design approach is required to do them justice.  As Roberto Burle Marx once said “A garden is not simply the product of frivolous idleness… a garden is, or ought to be, an integral part of civilized life, a spiritual and emotional necessity…“