Obituary: Wilson Mark Turnbull

Wilson Mark Turnbull - Landscape architect, US Fulbright scholar, expert witness and keen yachtsman. Picture: contributed
Wilson Mark Turnbull - Landscape architect, US Fulbright scholar, expert witness and keen yachtsman. Picture: contributed
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Mark Turnbull

Born: 1 April, 1943,

Died: 19 May, 2016.

Mark Turnbull, who has died suddenly aged 73, was one of the country’s most eminent landscape architects.

He brought great experience and skill to bear from his time working in both the UK and the USA. During a lengthy and distinguished career he was, latterly, instrumental in reinvigorating the Landscape Institute Scotland (LIS), which he chaired, repositioning it in the wider political and public arena as a body of influence and reach.

He was also chair of the Technical Committee of the UK’s Landscape Institute and a member of its Board of Trustees. He was a Chartered Landscape Architect, Chartered Architect, a Fellow of the Landscape Institute, a Fellow of the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland and a member of the British Computer Society

He was principal of his own practice, MTLA, which he formed in 1999 having sold the Turnbull Jeffrey partnership, and was chairman of Envision3D, a company specialising in computer graphics, mapping and visualisation, which he co-founded. He was also a director of the Edinburgh and Lothians Greenspace Trust.

He was a former member of the Countryside Commission for Scotland, the Royal Fine Art Commission for Scotland, a former chairman of the Edinburgh Green Belt Initiative and former vice chairman of the Edinburgh Green Belt Trust.

Mark Turnbull was born in Edinburgh on 1 April, 1943 to Wilson Turnbull, a stockbroker and his wife, Margaret. He was educated at George Watson’s College which he left to become an apprentice at the architectural practice, John Carnegie, thence to Reiach and Hall as an assistant. Following that he studied architecture at Edinburgh College of Art where he graduated with a Diploma in Architecture with Distinction in Design.

In 1968, a Fulbright Scholarship took him to the USA where he qualified as a landscape architect with a Masters in Landscape Architecture from the University of Pennsylvania. He was awarded the Faculty Medal. While there, he assisted Ian McHarg, the Scottish landscape architect who founded the landscape department at the university, on his influential book, Design with Nature which pioneered the concept of ecological planning.

After working in landscape architecture and planning, including carrying out research projects for the US Atomic Energy Commission, he joined the University of Southern California where he became an assistant professor. He taught architecture, landscape architecture, urban design, ecological planning and design-related research, working closely with Professor Ralph Knowles. Much of that research was spent developing computer techniques for the areas in which he taught at a time when the use of computers for such purposes was in its infancy.

He returned to Scotland in 1974, joining the environmental consultants, W J Cairns. While there he was project landscape architect for the Flotta Oil terminal and partner in charge of the Megget Reservoir Scheme. In 1982 he formed the Turnbull Jeffrey Partnership with Alan Jeffrey. With Jeffrey’s retirement in 1988, the firm concentrated on planning, landscape architecture, landscape quantity surveying and computer services, developing to become Scotland’s largest landscape practice.

He sold Turnbull Jeffrey in 1999 and formed his own small, design-led practice, MTLA, through which he continued to provide services to a wide range of clients.

He married Sharon Cope the day after the sale of Turnbull Jeffrey. They became a devoted couple and were popular hosts, regularly entertaining friends and colleagues at their home in Balquhidder.

Never one to bow to convention, he was renowned for an aversion to the common necktie and other items of more formal apparel. He was an expert witness at a number of public inquiries and was asked by its chairman whether he thought a tie would be appropriate for such an occasion. He replied: “Sir, I do not own a tie.”

Outside work he was a passionate yachtsman. His Westerly 35, Venture Forth, was based at Dunstaffnage Marina near Oban. In mid-summer months the boat was often to be found moored at Croig in northwest Mull, close to the home of his brother Nick.

He was an inspirational friend and mentor to many across the landscape profession in Scotland, the UK and beyond.

He is survived by his wife, Sharon, his brother and his nieces and nephews.