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Father of NZ landscape architecture dies

Media release – September 24, 2007

Charlie Challenger – father of NZ landscape architecture - dies

Charlie Challenger was a father figure for landscape architecture in News Zealand.

He founded the first landscape architecture course at Lincoln College in 1969.

He was widely known with a high profile career as a teacher of landscape architecture.

Challenger died at home at Okuti Valley, Banks Peninsula, on Friday, aged 84. His funeral service will be held at Westpark Chapel, Burnside in Christchurch on Wednesday.

The New Zealand Institute of Landscape Architects (NZILA) president Renee Davies said many senior members of the profession were educated by Challenger.

``All of us have been influenced by and benefited from his leadership in education and the profession.

`` Charlie’s significant and ongoing contribution to the landscape architecture profession, is recognised through our bi-annual NZILA Pride of Place Landscape Awards where excellence in landscape planning is awarded the Charlie Challenger Supreme Award”.

Former NZILA President Di Lucas said Challenger was the inspiration for the profession in NZ.

``We owe our skills, commitment and passion for the protection and restoration of, and creative change and problem solving in, NZ landscapes to Charlie's teachings and leadership through the years when the profession was established.

``NZ landscape architects are often seen as world leaders in the profession. Charlie should be credited with that.’’

Challenger trained the first generation of landscape architects in New Zealand. His demanding teaching standards and role in founding the NZILA greatly influenced the profession’s successful establishment and recognition.

He grew up in pre-war Britain. He loved the countryside and remembered his boyhood bicycle excursions around Gloucestershire as being a major formative influence.

With a degree from the University of Reading Charlie lectured in horticultural science at the University of Bristol.

In 1956, he and his wife, Pat, emigrated to New Zealand and he became a lecturer in horticulture at Lincoln Agricultural College in New Zealand. By the time he became head of the horticulture department in 1962, he had read avidly about landscape architecture and saw a need for it in New Zealand.

The following year, he travelled to Sweden and was so impressed with the landscape design he saw there that, on his return, he convinced Lincoln College to establish a landscape architecture course.

The problem was – the lack of suitably qualified people in New Zealand to teach such a course. So, Charlie travelled back to Britain where he studied landscape architecture at the University of Newcastle, passing with distinction. He returned to Lincoln in 1968 with a scant six months to set up the two-year postgraduate diploma course (Dip LA) and to find a teaching assistant – former horticulture student, Frank Boffa, who had just qualified as a landscape architect in the United States. The first intake of five students graduated in 1971.

Challenger was keenly aware of the hurdles that his students would face when they went out to work in this virtually unknown profession.

Landscape architecture was not understood in New Zealand and most often perceived as a fancy form of gardening. Charlie recalls that the first graduates had to be “apostles who had to sell themselves to people who were suspicious of them”.

One of those graduates was Robin Gay, said Challenger was `absolutely stimulating and he had an amazing sense of what New Zealand should be doing and where we should be going with our landscape’’.

Challenger was among a small group who founded the NZILA in 1972 and he became a life member 10 years later.

One of his 1972 students Gordon Griffin said every one of his lectures was a work of art.

``I wondered if there might be another level of consciousness that saw us and heard Charlie and marvelled at the ideals and vision and zeal and beauty of his lectures and his self, and at our level, it seemed a pity that each of those lectures was not being filmed and stored for others to see and hear, for posterity. We were very lucky. All enriched still more by his lovely accent.’’

Challenger headed Lincoln’s landscape architecture department for 15 years.

Since his retirement in 1982, the Dip LA at Lincoln has been replaced by a bachelors degree, and Masters and PhD programmes in landscape architecture have been added.

Challenger received Lincoln University’s highest award in 2002 - an honorary doctorate in natural resources.

``The successful establishment of landscape architecture in New Zealand, germinated from Charlie’s ground-breaking course,’’ Lucas said.


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