Designers better known in China than in Sheffield

Weddle Landscape Design,based in Kenwood,Sheffield. Pictured seated are Lu Zhong & Mike Browell with their team LtoR. Jonathan McLoughlin,Neil Northrop,Xiang Wang,Chris Braine,Tom Beaumont,Dave Wilson

Weddle Landscape Design,based in Kenwood,Sheffield. Pictured seated are Lu Zhong & Mike Browell with their team LtoR. Jonathan McLoughlin,Neil Northrop,Xiang Wang,Chris Braine,Tom Beaumont,Dave Wilson

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They’ve made their mark on prestigious projects for blue chip clients across the UK.

From the Oval cricket ground and the environs of the Old Bailey in London to the Humber Bridge and Drax Power Station and, further north, Heriot-Watt University, near Edinburgh.

In Sheffield they played a pivotal role in the creation of the Winter Garden, the Mosborough townships and the Steel Valley project at Stocksbridge.

They were even the ones who came up with the idea of putting a giant stainless steel statue of a bison by the M1 motorway after Swedish firm Avesta, whose emblem it was, merged with British Steel Stainless 22 years ago.

They were one of the first and are now one of the foremost environmental planning and landscape architecture businesses in the UK, but, despite that, Nether Edge-based Weddle Landscape Design is probably better known in China than their home city.

From Shanghai to Quingdao and Nanjing to Pizhou, the firm’s skills are in demand for prestigious schemes ranging from massive business parks to residential developments and shopping centres to major tourist attractions including botanical projects five times bigger than the Winter Garden.

The growth of Weddle’s business in China couldn’t have come at a better time.

“We had been doing very nicely up to 2007,” says Weddle’s principal, Mike Browell.

“The practice had thrived on a range of projects, switching from sector to sector. From power stations and business parks to new towns and mass private housing. Then, from 2007, virtually everything we were involved with started slowing down.

“Projects didn’t stop dead, but, after a year, the housing sector disappeared completely.”

Weddle’s Chinese success is largely thanks to taking on Lu Zhong – one of an increasing number of Chinese architects attracted to Sheffield by Sheffield University’s international reputation for post graduate studies in landscape architecture.

“After six years experience of work, I thought I would like a career break to study more,” says Lu, now a British citizen.

“I looked at the University of Sheffield because it was highly rated and accredited by the Landscape Institute. My initial plan was to complete a two-year course and return to my previous company, but, after the course finished, I decided I would like to get some work experience and came here.

“It’s a very nice office and I decided to stay.”

Fortunately for Weddle, the law at the time allowed students who had completed their course but still had time to run on the visas to work.

Now, that is no longer an option, so firms like Weddle and the local economy may no longer be able to benefit from the expertise, ideas and contacts that foreign students offer.

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