The founder of landscape architecture at the University of Toronto was an eco-pioneer
When describing Michael Hough, who died in January at the age of 84, it seems only right for his former colleague to choose a metaphor from nature. “He was a lightning rod for landscape architecture,” says Prof. Robert Wright, an associate dean at the Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design. “For him it was not just an aesthetic adventure – he was driven by very fundamental environmental principles.”
Hough was a true pioneer. When he arrived in Canada from England in 1959, “there were only 20 to 25 landscape architects in the whole country,” says his wife, Bridget.
In 1965, he founded U of T’s landscape architecture program, and soon acquired one of his first major design commissions: the university’s new Scarborough campus. Against prevailing wisdom, Hough and architect John Andrews insisted on building into the side of the Rouge Valley instead of its floor, which had been ravaged by Hurricane Hazel. It was the first major expression of Hough’s life wish: that urban spaces should be consistently designed to harmonize with the natural world.
Many other commissions followed, the best known of which is Toronto’s award-winning Ontario Place, on which Hough collaborated with Eberhard Zeidler. At U of T, Hough designed the landscape for the University College Quad. He also created two unique courtyards outside the Earth Sciences building: working with foresters, he replicated a tiny Carolinian forest in one yard, a boreal forest in the other.
Hough famously disdained front lawns: “He felt that nature knows best, and favoured a sustainable landscape that takes care of itself,” says Wright. Hough’s early forays into urban agriculture (such as growing tomatoes on the flat roof of his garage) seemed eccentric 30 years ago; today they’re accepted practice. In Wright’s words, “he really anticipated the green movement we’re experiencing now.” It was not easy being ahead of his time, and Hough sometimes found himself clashing with eco-averse developers and politicians. He was often successful, as with eff orts to clean up the Don River.
Hough taught at U of T for 14 years, then returned as a visiting professor after 35 years at York. “He elevated his whole profession,” says Wright. “He not only educated four or five [school] generations who went on to carry his aspirations, but also practised what he preached.”