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Talk | Greening the Desert

While working in the Middle East in the 1980s, landscape architect Diana Armstrong Bell discovered a new approach to her field: greening the desert.

In this talk, she will share the stories and inspiration that she drew from her experiences in the Middle East, from water capture to resilient planting, and how she applied these ideas at the Arabian Gulf University, Bahrain – even setting up a plant nursery on site. Diana will be joined in conversation by landscape architect, historian and horticulturist Karen Fitzsimon.

This talk is part of Visions of Welfare: an international conference discussing the role of women in the creation of the spaces of the post-war Welfare States. Visions of Welfare is co-hosted by the Women of the Welfare Landscape Project, the Society of Architectural Historians of Great Britain (SAHGB), and the Women in Danish Architecture project.

Speaker bios

  • Diana Armstrong

    Diana Armstrong

    Diana Armstrong Bell Dip LA CMLI Diana founded her award-winning practice, Armstrong Bell Landscape Design, in 1984 and works internationally across the Middle East, Europe and the UK, with a focus on large-scale public landscapes in the urban realm. Diana’s distinctive, innovative designs have won six international design competitions and short-listing in a further three. Her masterplan for Parco Franco Verga, Milan was exhibited in the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition in 2019 coinciding with the publication of her book ‘Sculpting the Land : landscape design influenced by abstract art.’ Diana has been working in arid climate zones since 1982 when she designed the landscape for the Arabian Gulf University, Bahrain on behalf of Atkins. This was followed by an ‘Ecological Study’ researching techniques for greening the desert. Diana has a considerable portfolio of projects carried out in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Iraq, Qatar and Syria. Diana responds to local culture and history whilst her extensive knowledge of arid zone planting and growing techniques allow her projects to work in harmony with the indigenous landscape. Diana taught Landscape Architecture at the University of Greenwich and at The Inchbald School of Design and she lectures widely in the UK and Europe. She contributes to international publications including ‘The Oxford Companion to the Garden’ and ‘Cinque Paesaggisti per Milano’ . She is to be included in the forthcoming publication ‘Maestri di Paesaggistica’ Diana studied art, followed by landscape architecture, at Gloucestershire College of Art and Design, where she won the Gane Trust Travel Scholarship, enabling her to spend a summer in Italy studying townscape in Siena. She is a chartered member of the Landscape Institute.

  • Karen Fitzsimon

    Karen Fitzsimon

    Karen is a chartered landscape architect, historian and horticulturist. Her research area is post-war designed landscapes and she is currently undertaking a PhD investigating the practice of the landscape architect Preben Jakobsen. She is a guest lecturer at the Bartlett, UCL and celebrates the work of women in landscape design on Instagram @women_in_landscape_design . Karen is also a member of the Garden Museum's Garden Visits Committee.