Southsayer: Rowland Byass, landscape architect

‘As someone else said, no one really cares if you’re miserable, so you might as well be happy’

‘I dislike the sloppiness and cheapness of much of London’s urban street landscape.’ Photo: Rowland Byass

Rowland Byass is a landscape architect with interests in planting design and management, historic gardens and landscapes and “the cultural and psychological dimensions of landscape”. After work as a journalist and copywriter, he returned to a passion for gardens and landscapes and, in 2008, completed a Masters in Landscape Architecture at the University of Sheffield. Find out more on his website here.

When were you happiest?
In early September, a long weekend in Berlin. Walking around the city in late summer sun, drinking beer in the open air and partying Saturday night and Sunday morning in Berghain, where I met some wonderful people and danced to some incredibly good music.

Where would you like to live in south London?
Other than Vauxhall where I live now: Peckham, probably. Or an apartment in Borough, but it’s so bloody expensive. I have a small garden right out of the back of my house, but I’d love a windswept roof garden with views over the city.

What is your favourite sound or smell?
The bird-like chirupping sounds my cat makes when she’s happy. My favourite smell is strong Indian or Arabian jasmine flowers at night.

Who is your favourite south Londoner?
Sally Butcher, who runs Persepolis in Peckham. She’s way cool.

What is the most important lesson life has taught you?
As someone else said, no one really cares if you’re miserable, so you might as well be happy.

What is your earliest south London memory?
Moving to London in 2000. Driving through Waterloo, seeing the London Eye above the streets and marvelling at the fact that I’d moved to the big city.

What makes you unhappy?
The length and greyness of the English winter.

What simple thing would improve your quality of life?
If London had, say, two months more guaranteed sun annually. Summer or winter – just less grey skies.

What is your most unappealing habit?
Picking my nose.

What is your guilty pleasure?
Right now, newly opened Dirty Burger in Vauxhall. The interior has a pleasingly dirty/gritty Vauxhall feel too.

Queuing on the first day of Dirty Burger Vauxhall
Queuing on the first day of Dirty Burger Vauxhall
Who or what do you dislike and why?
I dislike the sloppiness and cheapness of much of London’s urban street landscape. The cobbled together messiness of it. But then that’s part of London’s essential nature as well. It’s not Zurich, thank god.

Best south London gig or night out?
Horse Meat Disco, obvs.

What’s been your best experience (in south London)?
Lambeth Country Fair in Brockwell Park this summer was great. It’s an interesting collision of an English country fete and urban south London. Think sheep herding display with a dub soundtrack.

What do you most dislike about your appearance?
I wish I was a little bit taller.

What’s the worst thing anyone’s said to you?
‘You’re worse than Hitler.’

Tell us a secret.
I ate food out of the bins at Glastonbury.

What has your career taught you?
That you need to persevere, and not give up.

The house I live in is…
Built in 1971, when they still built social housing and designed it quite well. It’s flat-roofed so I put a green roof on it. Now there are grasshoppers living there.

What is your greatest life achievement?
I haven’t achieved it yet.

Describe yourself as an animal
A bear. I’m quite hairy, I like sleeping and honey. ‘Bungle’ – the bear from Rainbow on kids tv in the 80s – used to be my nickname.

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Your favourite (south London)…

… building or landmark?
The Salvation Army’s William Booth Academy just off Denmark Hill, by Giles Gilbert Scott, is a magnificent in an oppressive, glowering kind of way.

Brixton Village - it all happens through the arch
Brixton Village – it all happens through the arch
… shop?
Persepolis in Peckham, for all things Persian and middle eastern foodie.

… bar/pub?
Old Red Lion, Kennington Road

…place to eat?
Brixton market village – so many good things to choose from.

There’s a shop in between Vauxhall and Stockwell with a secret restaurant downstairs where they serve grilled meat on skewers hung from the ceiling. It’s really fun.

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