Perry Lethlean

You were one of the first students to participate in the RMIT Landscape Architecture course at its inception in 1982, and you completed an Urban Design Masters here in 1992. What inspired you to return to RMIT to do your PhD?

I have had choices to go to many universities across Australia, but I keep returning to RMIT, not because they are teaching the course that I think I will enjoy, but because they are teaching classes that will challenge me. That is a personal response. 

If we don't renew, reinvent, investigate and challenge ourselves every ten or so years, we become a bit tired, safe and predictable; it is about embarking on a new creative process. For me, it was doing a PhD, which was about understanding why you design, what your legacy is and what your next challenges will be.

What is it about RMIT's Landscape Architecture degree, and design as a whole, that has produced so many industry-ready graduates? 

RMIT has the strength of not being tied to a cloistered historical sandstone narrative. RMIT's narrative is around the contemporary city and is shown by its location in the heart of the city as well as by how it has integrated into the life and added to the vibrancy of the city. Unlike most universities, RMIT has been at the forefront of commissioning breathtaking architectures for its own, multiple-campus landscapes. 

Within that broad, encompassing spirit, I believe it is only natural the University teaches great design courses that continue the narrative of RMIT and its role as part of a vibrant city. The Landscape Architecture design courses are a robust part of this.

Portrait of Dr Perry Lethlean

How do you stay connected to RMIT now that all your study is finished?

There is a strong connection between our firm TCL (Taylor, Cullity, Lethlean) and RMIT. We fund scholarships and prizes for the Landscape Architecture discipline. Some of our staff teach design studios and tutorials at the School. Many students come into the firm via the School's  internship program. As an RMIT alumni, I want to give something back - staying connected is one way of doing this.

As a professional landscape architect, you have the ability to leave a lasting impact on our built environment. Which of your many projects do you believe has had the strongest impact on the public?

The project that stands out to me as one of our most powerful is the Australia Garden in Cranbourne, Victoria. A native garden of this enormous scale had never been designed or built before.

The Australia Garden celebrates Australian flora and the landscapes that support it. Until this project, most botanic gardens, both private and public, were centred around a European use of plants, or even a European look and feel. The Royal Botanic Gardens in the middle of Melbourne are an example of this Euro-centric approach to a large public park space. 

This Australian Garden project was a great challenge. Our client, The Royal Botanic Gardens Organisation in South Yarra, was exceptionally open, and encouraged very creative and sculptural responses to the project brief. We can gladly say the results have resonated strongly with the public and the industry over the last ten to twenty years. In fact, the Australia garden has won over 30 planning, design and landscape awards up to 2013, and in 2016 it won a prestigious international garden tourism award.

What is next for you and TCL?

Over the past twenty-five years, TCL has delivered a wide range of projects across a variety of public and private settings, from urban waterfronts to desert walking trails. Our current landscape project is very exciting - we are working on the master planning and expansion of Werribee open range zoo!

The zoo has a great vision to expand their open range zoo and relocate a number of their animals from Melbourne to Werribee. We are now involved with planning for the next four or five years.  

One of the enormous pieces of the expansion is the new open range elephant enclosure, which will be equivalent to the size of the entire Parkville Zoo in Melbourne – around twenty hectares! 

We are the lead consultant for this project, which means working with the zoo directly to determine what their vision is, as well as what their staff and animal requirements are.

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Acknowledgement of country

RMIT University acknowledges the people of the Woi wurrung and Boon wurrung language groups of the eastern Kulin Nation on whose unceded lands we conduct the business of the University. RMIT University respectfully acknowledges their Ancestors and Elders, past and present. RMIT also acknowledges the Traditional Custodians and their Ancestors of the lands and waters across Australia where we conduct our business. - Artwork created by Louisa Bloomer