Professor of Landscape Architecture at the Edinburgh School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture (ESALA), Director of the OPENspace research centre and Associate Dean for Research, Knowledge Exchange and Impact for the College of Humanities and Social Science,
University of Edinburgh
Catharine Ward Thompson' s research focuses on inclusive access to outdoor environments, environment-behaviour interactions, landscape design for older people, children and teenagers, and salutogenic environments. She also has expertise in the history and theory of urban park design and conservation, the history of landscape design, and landscape aesthetics and perception. As a Landscape Architect, she supports good access to high quality open space that offers opportunities for a rich experience for all.
She is founder and Director of OPENspace, an internationally recognised research centre based in both the Universities of Edinburgh and Heriot-Watt. Established in 2001 with support from the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council, the Centre has held three international conferences and attracted over £5m in external funding. As Director of OPENspace, Catharine has led numerous major research grants and collaborations, including highly-innovative research on ‘GreenHealth’ for the Scottish Government (2008-12) and the award-winning consortium, Inclusive Design for Getting Outdoors (I’DGO); cited by the World Health Organization, I'DGO research has had a significant impact on joined-up policy making and planning for healthy environments.
Catharine's current research projects include a study funded by the National Institute of Health Research (NIHR) on the effectiveness of Forestry Commission Scotland’s programme, ‘Woods In and Around Towns’ (WIAT), particularly on improving psychological wellbeing in deprived communities. She also leads the £1.6m EPSRC-funded project, Mobility, Mood and Place (MMP), an interdisciplinary project working with psychologists, neuroscientists, health geographers and gerontologists, as well as engaging Masters-level students in developing co-design as a research tool.
She is a Fellow of the Chartered Landscape Institute and the Higher Education Academy. She was a member of the Scottish Government’s Good Places, Better Health (GPBH) Evaluation Group from 2010-11 and was a part of the Working Group advising on the recently-launched National Walking Strategy for Scotland. She was Head of the School of Landscape Architecture at Edinburgh College of Art from 1989-2000 and continues to teach history and theory of Landscape Architecture at all levels. She coordinates the Landscape Architecture PhD programme in ESALA. She has lectured widely throughout the UK and in Europe, Canada, Australia, Malaysia and China. She was educated at the Universities of Southampton and Edinburgh and has practised as a Landscape Architect in Vancouver, Canada, and in the UK.
Catharine’s early research focused on children’s perceptions of play environments, using projective methods. She subsequently undertook analysis of policy drivers, perceptions and user needs in urban park renewal in North America, Europe and the UK. She has since researched inclusive access to open space for a range of age groups, and in different contexts, recently demonstrating the key importance of childhood experience of natural environments close to home. She co-edited the first Open Space: People Space book, published in 2007 and the second, on Innovative Approaches to researching Landscape and Health, in 2010.