Not one to shy away from expressing her at times controversial opinions, Lucas has helped develop the landscape architecture profession in New Zealand, and nurture our diverse landscapes.
Di Lucas knows what she likes. And she definitely knows what she doesn’t like. Chances are you do too. Not one to shy away from expressing her at times controversial opinions, Lucas has helped develop the landscape architecture profession in New Zealand, and nurture our diverse landscapes.
“Yes it was tough at times but we’ve got through,” Lucas says during an interview to discuss her latest achievement, being made a life member of the NZILA.
Not only was there no blueprint for what the profession was supposed to achieve when she was starting out in the 70s, many men in the Ministry of Works didn’t fancy being told what to do by a woman.
“The whole sexism thing was a terrible battle to start with,” she says, recalling she was often the only woman in the office allowed to do field work. She resigned in 1979, saying she couldn’t work under the Muldoon government whose primary production subsidies were adversely affecting natural rural landscape and biodiversity attributes around NZ.
Proud moments - she’s had quite a few. Based in Geraldine, she flew to Auckland for a day in 1982 to design and name the first NZ Colorsteel range, designed to work with our landscapes of town and country. Five of the six colours she came up with are still manufactured today, and one is still the bestseller in every region. (In hindsight, she wishes she’d asked for payment of 10c a sheet!)
There’s her early adoption of the use of native plants - a little more controversial than you might think - and her development of methods to assess landscape past a superficial level. “And now it’s recognised best practice, what we developed all those decades ago.”
Last year she was made an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit (ONZM) for her services to conservation over many decades. Her business - Lucas Associates - specialises in landscape and environmental planning. As well as seeking better recognition of natural values, she’s long sought recognition of bi-cultural landscapes and works lots with iwi. “I get embarrassed at how arrogantly and ignorantly Eurocentric so much landscape planning is.”
She and her team work with farmers too, to plan their transition to net carbon zero – the first in NZ to do this. “We have even done dairy farm plans that include food forest type regimes to offset emissions, and that’s a very different skill set needed for managing production. Very different to milking cows,” Lucas says, “but the farmers are keen”.
“Landscape architects should be leading a lot of planning for rural landscape change. But sadly the profession has become too urban-fixated. I want to see people declining those silly projects of naming the green bits in a wee urban site plan. Oh yes, and please stop that nonsense of matching foliage colour to structure colours! Spare me please!!”
“Go on, say ‘no’ to those briefs. I’ve done that from day one, and I’ve never been short of work.”