Category Archives: Asian gardens and landscapes

Sigiriya Buddhist Garden in Sri Lanka

Sigiriya’s garden was probably made by Buddhist monks

Sigiriya has an exceptionally interesting garden. Though often described as a ‘palace garden’ its character is much more likely to derive from the time when it was a Buddhist monastery. What looks at first sight like a ‘formal water garden’ of the kind made in Renaissance Europe was probably a set of baoli ponds used by the monks for drinking water, washing and ritual cleansing. The beautiful goddesses on the mirror wall are akin to those in other Buddhist monasteries of the period.

Water of Life, Water of Death, Water of Gardens

The Ganges is a sacred river, particularly where it flows flows north at Varanasi, enclosed on the west bank and open to a floodplain on the east bank

The Ganges is a sacred river, particularly where it flows flows north at Varanassi, enclosed on the west bank and open to a floodplain on the east bank

Neil MacGregor’s Living with the Gods episode on water does not mention gardens, but it could have done! 

MacGregor starts by talking about water in Christianity and Islam before devoting most of the programme to India. What little is known about ancient Hindu gardens indicates they were flowery forests arranged around pools, which seem related to baolis, ghats and the pools in Buddhist monasteries.
In the modern world, I wish purity was more of a design objective for garden pools, as it is in Herbert Dreiseit’s Waterscapes. Even the worst books on garden design stress the centrality of water.  Dr D G Hessayon The Rock & Water Garden Expert 1993 is a good example of a bad book on garden design.

Beliefs, gardens, design and #GardenBeliefs

Beliefs have led to the planting of Nelumbo nucifera the Sacred Lotus since ancient times

Beliefs have led to the planting of Nelumbo nucifera the Sacred Lotus since ancient times

Beliefs have always influenced garden design styles, just as they influence contemporary gardens. And  just as they will surely influence future gardens. I do not have a religion but I do believe in beliefs and in their importance for designers. Neil MacGregor’s radio series on Living with Gods is therefore of great interest to me. Taking objects and places as examples, MacGregor explains the beliefs that led to their creation. This is what I tried to do when writing histories of Asian, European and British garden design.  So when I can see a connections between what MacGregor say and the history of gardens I will blog and tweet about them using the hastag #GardenBeliefs. I am hoping he will devote a programme to Nelumbo nucifera the Sacred Lotus – but doubt it. It was a celebrated garden plant long before the Buddha made it a very famous garden plant as recorded in the story of the Flower Sermon:

Toward the end of his life, the Buddha took his disciples to a quiet pond for instruction. As they had done so many times before, the Buddha’s followers sat in a small circle around him, and waited for the teaching. But this time the Buddha had no words. He reached into the muck and pulled up a lotus flower. And he held it silently before them, its roots dripping mud and water. The disciples were greatly confused. Buddha quietly displayed the lotus to each of them. In turn, the disciples did their best to expound upon the meaning of the flower: what it symbollized, and how it fit into the body of Buddha’s teaching. When at last the Buddha came to his follower Mahakasyapa, the disciple suddenly understood. He smiled and began to laugh. Buddha handed the lotus to Mahakasyapa and began to speak. “What can be said I have said to you,” smiled the Buddha, “and what cannot be said, I have given to Mahakashyapa.”

Alan Watts a great interpreter of Buddhist ideas for westerners made a wise comment on contemporary religious ideas (he uses the term ‘faith’ where I  use ‘belief’):

The present phase of human thought and history … almost compels us to face reality with open minds, and you can only know God through an open mind just as you can only see the sky through a clear window. You will not see the sky if you have covered the glass with blue paint. But “religious” people who resist the scraping of the paint from the glass, who regard the scientific attitude with fear and mistrust, and confuse faith with clinging to certain ideas, are curiously ignorant of laws of the spiritual life which they might find in their own traditional records.

The Beginnings of Belief and Garden Design

neil_macgregor_living_godsWith regard to garden design, I’m a great believer in the importance of beliefs – and used the word in the titles a book on the history of Asian gardens. Neil MacGregor’s Radio 4 series on Living with the Gods is therefore of great interest to me.

In the first episode MacGregor discusses is the Lion Man. This 40,000 year old figurine is interpreted as a representation of man’s relationship with the natural world – which is one of the grand themes in the history of garden design. A question for me is whether the Lion Man was made by nomads or whether it was made by a holy man who settled near a cave and a place where he could live without being nomadic.

In the second episode, on Fire and State MacGregor focuses ‘on sacred fire which comes to represent the state itself’. He discusses the perpetual fire tended by the Vestal Virgins below the Palatine Hill in Rome, which is in our Garden Finder, and also the  Parsi fire temple in Udvada, India, and ‘la Flamme de la Nation’ beneath the Arc de Triomphe in Paris’.

 

Pinjore Yadavindra Mughal Garden


Pinjore Gardens deserve more recognition as an example of the Mughal style. There is much more which could and should be done but the restoration work already carried out is good and the water features work most of the time. The lower section of the garden is of particular interest and with more work could become India’s best example of the ‘fruits and flowers’ approach to planting design which was once the predominant character of Indian gardens. Constance Villiers Stuart, who made the first serious study of Indian gardens, was well aware of this and wrote about Pinjore in her book: see C.M Villiers Stuart Gardens of the Great Mughals .

Edwin Lutyens read Villiers Stuart’s book when working on the design of New Delhi and Le Corbusier visited Pinjore when working on the design of Chandigarh. She surely influenced Lutyens design for the garden of the Governor’s Place in Delhi – and Corbusier might have done a much better job of Chandigarh’s Capitol Complex if he had learned more from Pinjore.

 

 

The Manali to Leh Highway & Landscape Change in Ladakh


Taking the footage for this video, in September 2014, was a good opportunity to reflect on landscape change in a hitherto remote region of India: Ladakh. There are many considerations:

  • Ladakh was an important sector on the of the Silk Road Network, particularly for north-south trade and travel between India and China. The video uses quotations from European travelers who undertook the journey c1850-1950.
  • Travel between Ladakh and Pakistan ended with the partition of India in 1947.
  • Travel between Ladakh and China ended with the closure of the border, by China, in 1949.
  • India responded by closing Ladakh to all travel and tourism
  • From 1949 until 1974 Ladakh was cut off and isolated as rarely in its history
  • Since 1974 Ladakh’s economy has become dependent on the army, which invests in roads. The military population of Ladakh is now greater than the civilian population but the army keeps its personnel largely separate from the local people.
  • Ladakh’s other post-1974 economic prop is tourism. In summer there are more tourists than locals in the regional capital, Leh.
  • Westerners, in the main, want Ladakh to remain an undeveloped and traditional region.
  • Ladakhis, in the main, want to experience the ‘luxuries’ of western civilization.

So what should be done? I think Ladakh would have done better, if it could, to have followed the development path of Bhutan. This involves a very cautious approach to development and a concentration on the luxury end of the tourism market.
As things stand, the best approach is probably the adoption a forward-looking development policy as firmly rooted as possible in the principles of context-sensitivity and sustainability. This policy is exemplified by the Druk White Lotus School and its Dragon Garden.
Romesh Bhattacharji, an Indian who knows Ladakh very well, wrote in 2012 of the new roads which will open up Zanskar that ‘Many people, all outsiders typically, I have met, however, also moan about the loss of the traditional way of life of the people of Zanska. The latter want a better way of life than just being museum relics for tourists’ It is a well-aimed criticism. But ‘traditional’ and ‘development’ need not be in opposition: a Middle Way is also possible, by design. The Druk School and Dragon Garden make a cameo appearance on the above video and are explained in more detail by the videos on the DWLS Dragon Garden Playlist.

Lamayuru, Ladakh, social, agricultural and urban change 1926 – 2010

Lamayuru, in Buddhist Ladakh, (1926 and 2010)

Lamayuru, in Buddhist Ladakh, (1926 and 2010)

The left photograph is from Himalayan Tibet and Ladakh: A Description of Its Cheery Folk, Their Ways & Religion, of the Rigours of the Climate & Beauties of the Country, Its Fauna and Flora (by Adolph Reeve Heber, Mrs. Kathleen Mary Heber, Ess Ess Publications, 1926). The right-hand photograph was taken by Nevil Zaveri in 2010. What can we learn from them?
– the town’s population is growing
– traditional architecture is still favoured, but new roads and telephone poles have an ‘anywhere’ quality (they are built and funded by the Indian army)
– Lamayuru is popular with tourists, despite its remoteness
– the expansion, so far, has been on stony ground
– there is a danger of Lamayuru expanding onto its very scarce resource of agricultural land (but there is also a danger of the land being neglected, because it is cheaper to import food from other parts of India)
– either there are more poplar trees or they are being allowed to grow taller for amenity reasons
– the ‘agriculture’ in old Ladakh is closer to what we would call horticulture than to what we call agriculture but if you call the cultivated areas ‘gardens’ it must be noted that their use is to grow food plants rather than ornamental plants.
Dr Adolph Reeve Herber, who took the black and white photo was an English doctor and missionary. He and his wife were based at the Moravian School in Leh from 1912-25. The mission ran a school, which survives, but did not have much success in converting the Ladakhis to Moravian protestantism. Nor did Dr Herber find much demand for his medical skill – because the local people were so healthy. He therefore had time to study other aspects of Ladakh’s culture and environment, including its flowers: ‘At the foot of the high Kardong Pass behind Leh… to mention a few only, are found yellow Iceland poppies, Michaelmas daisies, small deep-blue gentians, forget-me-nots, forming a carpet of blue on the Zogi [Zoji-La] stretches, but replaced by the deep blue of the borage below the Kardong, deep purple orchids, primulas in all shades of magenta and purple, cow parsley, a kind of stinging nettle, asters, saxifrage, vetches, Canterbury bells, and on the Zogi the single anemone and the tall bunched Japanese variety, even the green foxglove and the coarse edelweiss.’
Iris on the Zoji-La (Hooker's?)

Hooker’s Iris on the Zoji-La)

Landscape architecture as narrative – for a Dragon Garden in Ladakh


This video was produced to explain the ideas behind the making of a Dragon Garden for a Buddhist-influenced school in Ladakh. The aim was to explain the design to the school’s clients and end-users: the children.
I began studying landscape architecture in 1969 and was introduced to the subject by a garden historian (Frank Clark) and by an admirer and student of Ian McHarg (Michael Laurie). Frank had a keen appreciation of the role of association (with the classical world) in design. Michael, I later appreciated, was a Modernist – as was McHarg. It took me a long time to realise that these approaches have most value when combined.
Landscape Urbanism can, and in my view should, be regarded as a design approach which integrates ecological and cultural approaches to landscape design (‘Michael and Frank’ in my own mind).
‘Why the Dragons want a Garden in Shey’ is a children’s’ story. A great flood almost destroyed the Buddhist school in 2010. So the dragons said they would help make a garden. But only if the children would help too. When the garden was lush with vegetation and buzzing with bees, two of the children decided to become landscape architects.
There is also a more ‘grown-ups’ account of the Dragon Garden’s landscape architecture on Youtube.

Ebbsfleet Garden City: the landscape architecture will be calm, lush and green


‘Fresh calm lush green designer landscapes beckon you to lead a harmonious lifestyle at the garden city. The Garden City is a beautiful development, a delightful combination of three buildings, Almond, Jasmin and Mandarin. Nestled in a picturesque surrounding comprised of tree-, fruits- and flower-lined avenues The beauty and the grace of each flower type exude great confidence and reflect the true essence and exquisite quality of the tree, fruit and flower types after which they are named.’
I’ve solved the problem of why George Osborne envisages Ebbsfleet as a Garden City: he’s been to Dubai and seen the Ajman Garden City. He loved it with the adoration of a puppy. He wants Sunny Ebbsfeet to rival Dubai with its wonderful expanses of lawns embellished with wonderful expanses of charming roads and concrete slabs. The only features Ebbsfeet cannot rival are the intense heat, dust, glare and humidity. Never mind, the Chancellor can tell our state-owned banks to give starter loans for tanning parlours and tatoo artists. The UK economy will then boom with a slew of professional opportunities in skin cancer.
Please tell me it’s a spoof. The world cannot have clients fool-enough to build such a “”””Garden City””””. It cannot have designers bad-enough to produce the drawings. It cannot have buyers rich-enough to buy the property. But listen carefully: the voiceover is spoken in a near-human English marketing argot – but for the robot saying al-mond, insetad of aa-mond. So the Dubai video IS a prank by Gravesend kids doing robotics as a sixth form project. Ebbsfleet Garden City will, after all, be a place of semi-detached rose arbours where we can all enjoy harmonious lush green lifestyles.
Phew. What a relief.
See also Will Ebbsfleet be a Garden City a New Town or an overblown Housing Estate?

Landscape architect volunteers help make a Dragon Garden for the Druk White Lotus School

What is the difference between a trade and a profession? A Wiki article lists the characteristics of a profession as being present when: (1) an occupation becomes a full-time occupation (2) the establishment of a training school (3) the establishment of a university school (4) the establishment of a local association (5) the establishment of a national association (6) the introduction of codes of professional ethics (7) the establishment of state licensing laws.
I agree but would add that the code of professional ethics should include an element of idealism and altruism. As part of this, it should be the norm for professional people to follow the lawyers’ good example in doing unpaid work for good causes (pro bono). Lawyers have to spend much of their time defending the guilty and protecting the interests of land-and-money-grabbers. I therefore feel good when they do pro bono work and it also makes me happy to see young landscape architects doing volunteer work – as with helping to make a Dragon Garden for the Druk White Lotus School in Ladakh.

Roof SkyPark garden-landscape on Marina Bay Sands Hotel in Singapore

Roof garden swimming pool in Marina Bay Sands Skypark

Having proposed a Sky Park for the City of London, I was delighted to see a real Skypark on the Marina Bay Sands Hotel. ‘London talks and Singapore acts’. The Marina Bay Sands Hotel has 2,561 rooms and 55 floors. The SkyPark, 200m above ground level, is larger than three football pitches and has an observation deck, 250 trees and a 150m infinity swimming pool. It is a brilliant project by Las Vegas Sands and, I hope, a signpost to the future of urban form. See the Marina Bay Sands website for more details. I’d like to spend a few nights there, congratulating the hotel management for commissioning the project and then the city of Singpore for its policy of moving from ‘Garden City to Model Green City‘. But a design critic must also provide criticism:

  • the garden/landscape design looks ‘OK but dull’. The designers have not risen to the challenge of such a fabulous opportunity, perhaps to re-create some of the rain forest of pre-colonial Singapore with stylised beaches running to the perimeter pool. I wouldn’t even object to a glowing Tarzan by Jeff Koons in the heart of the jungle – and nor would the kids of the guests.
  • As built, SkyPark floats somewhere between the deck of a luxury cruise ship and the garden of a luxury hotel – and both are design categories which landscape designers neglect. What the SkyPark needed was a serious dreamland design to lift the imagination of guests, as well as the contents of their wallets. Moshe Safdie was the architect. He worked with five artists but, having written a book For everyone a garden probably sees himself as an expert on garden design. I do not doubt that, like Frank Lloyd Wright, Safdie has the ability to design gardens but as with all the arts, it takes time to develop expertise and one needs to love garden life and garden visiting to succeed. My belief is that Edwin Lutyens’ best gardens were designed in co-operation with Gertrude Jekyll and that Lutyens tended towards vacant formalism when working, like Safdie, on his own. Eero Saarinen had the great good sense to work with Dan Kiley.
  • the Tropical Island shape of the SkyPark sits unhappily on its three towers. There is a dash of HG Wells’ War of the Worlds about it. Or an out-or-water oil rig. Looking up, one wonders if a Tsunami left a cruiseliner or a surfboard perched on the roofs of its three towers. The resort hotel may appear more sensitive to its context when more of Singapore’s buildings have SkyParks
  • Safdie’s urban design, which I commend but which is not apparent from the photographs, was as follows: ‘A series of layered gardens provide ample green space throughout Marina Bay Sands, extending the tropical garden landscape from Marina City Park towards the Bayfront. The landscape network reinforces urban connections with the resort’s surroundings and every level of the district has green space that is accessible to the public. Generous pedestrian streets open to tropical plantings and water views. Half of the roofs of the hotel, convention center, shopping mall, and casino complex are planted with trees and gardens.

Top photographs courtesy Marina Bay Sands Hotel. Bottom photo courtesy Peter Morgan.

 

 

Roof garden structure for Marina Sands Hotel Skypark

 

 

 

Japanese Zen Gardens by Yoko Kawaguchi and Alex Ramsay Frances Lincoln 2014 – review

Tenryu-ji, photographed by Alex Ramsay

Tenryu-ji, photographed by Alex Ramsay

This book has excellent photographs, by Alex Ramsay, and the inclusion of garden plans is most welcome. Kawaguchi writes with admirable clarity about Zen gardens – compared to those I have seen of the 1,926 books on Amazon returns for a search on Zen Gardens. Allen Weiss, for example, begins Zen Landscapes (2013) by stating that ‘The essential elements of the dry Japanese garden are few: rocks, gravel, moss’. Kawaguchi explains that this is not how ‘Zen garden’ is used in Japan: it simply means ‘the garden of a Zen temple’ and such gardens are not stylistically distinct from other Japanese temple gardens. So Weiss should have used kare-sansui or dry landscape in his book title. I would also complain if ‘Protestant’ was the adjective used, overseas, for the gardens of eighteenth century England. I therefore recommend Kawaguchi as the first book to read on Zen gardens. Yet there are some critical points to make. First, I would like the introduction to have said more about the principles of Buddhism, the distinct characteristics of Zen Buddhism and the relationship between Buddhism and gardens. Second, the plans lack contours and, to my eye, look too English. Third, I would like the points made to have had bibliographic references. I do not think this would have spoiled the book design and I do not think it would have mattered if the references were to Japanese publications which English readers cannot follow.
Part One of the book gives a historical overview of the gardens made for Japanese Zen temples. The first such temples are dated to the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries (while the first Buddhist gardens in Japan date from the sixth century). The influence of Chan Buddhism, from China, which became Zen Buddhism in Japan, is associated with the Emperor Kameyama. He abdicated at the age of 24, in 1274, and became a Buddhist monk in 1289 and the abbot of Nanzen-ji. Ryoan-ji, which fascinates visitors and provides foreigners with their image of a ‘Zen garden’, is a mystery. Little is known of its date or its symbolism: ‘it is almost as though visitors to the temple have needed to be reassured that the garden is indeed a work of genius rather than a case of humbug’ (p.61). Kawaguchi also discusses the influence of Zen on twentieth century gardens, notably in the work of Shigemori Mirei.

Part Two of the book reviews the symbols and motifs used in Zen gardens. Many have Buddhist roots and many do not. The view from Shinju-an (illustrated below) uses symbols drawn from the beliefs of pre-Buddhist Japan: Shinto. Other symbols come from Daoism and China, including the turtle, the crane and the islands of the immortals.

My view is that it is pity to make either ‘Japanese gardens’ or ‘Zen gardens’ without the understandings of ideas and symbols which Kawaguchi provides. To state a tautology: the gardens of Zen temples are temple gardens.

japanese_zen_gardens_kawaguchi2

Urkraine President's palace garden

President Viktor Yanukovych's garden

President Viktor Yanukovych’s garden

As always, we welcome the fall of a dictator (Yanukovych, today) and puzzle over their bad taste. It looks like narcotecture, (aka poppytecture). Does the world have a design school with a specialism in this type of work? What are its origins? Hitler’s architectural taste was better. Though the (Berghof) was grandified vernacular it did not dissolve into baroque terracing or a bastard-baroque garden. It might be an idea for every presidential aspirant to design a garden and let voters inspect their work before the election is held. Jefferson, Washington, Churchill and many Japanese princes were respectable garden designer. Yanukovych also had a Japanese garden, very badly. Presidential candidates with gardening experience would reveal their character and learn that without loving care their subjects will perish.
(Photo BBC)

Persian garden tour April and May 2014 Iran

iran_persia_garden_toursPersian Gardens have a 2500 years history. They overcome environmental constraints and manifest the cultures and beliefs of people living in an often-harsh climate. In collaboration with the Iranian Society of Landscape Professionals (ISLAP) offer a specialized tour and workshop called “Taste Paradise”. This is a unique opportunity for Landscape professionals, architects, botanists and Landscape historians to exchange information with Iranian specialist experts while visiting Persian Gardens. After our very first successful international tour and workshop “Taste Paradise I” in May 2013, The Cultural Landscape Association (CLA) is planning to offer another journeys (Taste Paradise II and III) for experts and professionals all around the globe, to visit and enjoy the cultural beauty of Persian Gardens. You can find More Information here: http://www.shahromanzar.org/component/k2/item/400-tour/%20400-tour#
The dates are:
Taste Paradise II: April 12-18, 2014
Taste Paradise III: May 03- 09, 2014
Further information on Garden Tours in Iran and on Iranian Gardens:
http://www.gardenvisit.com/gardens/in/iran
http://www.gardenvisit.com/garden_tours/in/iran

Kongjian Yu – landscape architecture as an art of survival

I have praised Kongjian Yu’s work before and much enjoyed his lecture to the HGSD (above). I particularly like his advice to ‘make friends with the flood’ and to design for the ‘integration of contemporary art and ecology’. But I am having doubts about my call for him to be appointed Chief Technical Officer to the The Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development 住房和城乡建设部. For sure, he would be very good at the job – but the landscape architecture profession has greater need of him.
It is bad mannered of me to criticise Kongjian after he quotes me in his lecture, but there are two historical points I would like to correct. First, the history of landscape architecture in east and west can be traced back for thousands of years – though its name is but 185 years old. Second, the planning of western gardens and parks ‘for ornament’ dates from c1700 and is now in decline. Older parks and gardens were always planted for food.
So here is an invitation: next time Kongjian Yu is in London I would be delighted to show him round my local park and the new building for the University of Greenwich Department of Landscape Architecture. Greenwich Park was designed in 1660 primarily for food production – and it still produces a large quantity of food, much of which is collected by ethnic Chinese. So it is very appropriate that the roof of the new school has the production of food as one of its main design aims: it will be used for research into the use of living roofs for food production and other sustainable purposes.

Iran landscape architecture, urban design and politics

Modern landscape architecture, Tehran, Iran

Modern landscape architecture, Tehran, Iran

I share the general optimism about Iran’s new President, Hassan Rouhani, and Iran’s future. Many of the country’s problems were caused by western interventions. Others are indigenous. My own experience of Iranians is that they are kind, courteous and peaceful. This has made it difficult for me to understand their demonisation in the west. The new President has both liberal and authoritarian credentials. He gained a PhD in ‘no mean city’: Glasgow. He wear’s a cleric’s clothes and buys from Armani (I do not know how this is possible). If you are also wondering what relevance this has for this blog then I recommend Louise Wickham’s interesting book on Gardens in History: A Political Perspective. Garden design, like urban design, has always been influenced by politics. You can read something of Iran’s last half-century in the above photograph. The design is inoffensive: a little Iranian, a little European, a little modern and not much of anything. So my modest suggestion, assuming President Rouhani reads this blog, is to show your people what you can do for them by encouraging them to draw on the best of Iran’s traditions and the best of contemporary landscape, garden and urban design wheresoever in the world then can be found.
Photo (courtesy jturn) of Park-e Laleh, Jamshīdīyeh, Tehran, Tehran, Iran.

The landscape architecture of Taksim Gezi Meydani 'Park' or 'Square'

Taksim Gezi Park Istanbul is a rallying point for Turkish landscape architects

The Turkish government wants to build a shopping mall on Taksim Gezi ‘park’ or ‘square’. The local people are against it. One way or another, I believe the outcome of the Taksim Gezi events will be good for Turkish landscape architecture. To the barricades. If the shopping mall is built, it will become a cause célèbre. As Tertullian remarked ‘the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church’. And if the shopping mall is not built it will be a famous victory – in which landscape architects should aim to share.
Queen Anne asked one of her Ministers what it would cost to stop public access to London’s Hyde park and was told, “It would cost you but three crowns, ma’am: those of England, Scotland and Ireland.” . Public open space should be at the centre of public debate.
The Bosphorus is the traditional boundary between Europe and Asia and also the meeting point of the two cultures which govern modern Turkey: western and eastern. Many Ottoman intellectuals and leaders came from western (European) Turkey. Though born in Istanbul, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s political culture has Anatolian roots. Ataturk, who founded the Turkish republic, was born in Greece and sought to westernise Turkey. So the question, as ever, is: will Turkey look east or will Turkey look west? We can extrapolate the choice to landscape architecture. Looking east, to the Turks’ nomadic past, suggests a lack of significance for permanent open space. Looking west, to the settled lands of Europe, suggests a desire to protect open space.
Though rendered in English as Taksim ‘Square’, the Turkish name is Taksim Meydanı. ‘Meydani’ derives from the Persian word maidan which was used for a multi-purpose civic space. It was not a park (paradaeza in Persian) and it was not usually planted. The uses included markets, parades, festivals, games and camping. This made it a very important place – though the famous maidan in Isfahan has since been laid out as a western park and is not busy. So should Turkish landscape architects look west or east? Both. Topkapi Palace is a good symbol for this: the pattern of its open spaces is that of an encampment, but the encampment has become permanent (as Gülru Necipoğlu, explains in Architecture, ceremonial, and power: The Topkapı Palace in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Cambridge, Mass, 1991).
Well, Istanbul lost its chance to host the 2020 Olympics yesterday for, it is thought, two reasons (1) the brutal treatment of protesters over the proposed development of Taksim Gezi (2) Turkey’s poor record in controlling the use of drugs by its athletes. I give my sympathy to the landscape architects and others involved in Istanbul’s bid and have no hesitation in saying that the landscape architecture of Istanbul is of the very highest quality.
I am pleased to report that London’s park users (photo of the gates of Finsbury Park below) support Istanbul’s park users in calling for the conservation of Taksim Gezi Meydani. We might be able to send protesters if another occupation becomes necessary but we are not considering armed intervention of any kind.
London park users call for Taksim Gezi Meydani to be conserved

London park users call for Taksim Gezi Meydani to be conserved


Top image of Taksim Gezi courtesy Alan Hilditch. Lower image Gardenvisit.com

Beijing urban landscape: architecture, planning, design and conservation

Should the old urban landscape of Central Beijing have been conserved?


The montage, which is rough, shows a 1914 plan of Beijing superimposed on a recent Landsat image of the Beijing metropolitan area. When the reconstruction of the old city began, after 1949, Chen Zhanxiang recommended that a new city should be built outside the old walled city – so that the central area could be conserved. He had worked with Sir Patrick Abercrombie in London and understood the need for a city to engage in both conservation and development. Professor Liang Si-cheng commented that ‘demolishing the old wall is like peeling off my skin’ (Turner, T., Asian gardens: history, beliefs and design 2010, pp307-8). Beijing’s old walls, which became the 2nd Ring Road, are shown in the below photograph.

Osvald Siren's photograph of the old walls of Beijing, before they were demolished to make a ring road

Were the academics right or were the municipal authorities right? My vote goes to the academics. Central Beijing should have been as well protected from the twentieth century as Haussmann’s Paris.  The two capitals have comparable design histories. But, for Chinese urban designers and landscape planners, there were other problems. The old map makes a distinction between the ‘Tartar or Manchu’ Inner City (which contains the Forbidden City and the three Seas) and the ‘Chinese’ Outer City. The Manchus were invaders who spoke a different language. Their walls were a symbol of exclusion and repression, like the Berlin Wall, and were demolished by Chairman Mao’s government. Had the French and British not demolished the Yuan Ming Yuan, Mao Zedong might have done it for political reasons, much as he destroyed Buddhist monasteries. Mao’s position in Chinese history is peculiar. He will always have credit for modernising the country and educating women but, one day, he is likely to receive even more blame for the Cultural Revolution. He will also be blamed for destroying too much of China’s architectural and landscape heritage. So here is my advice to municipal authorities everywhere: find the best parts of your heritage FROM EVERY ERA and apply the most stringent conservation measures possible. This will require landscape assessement technqiues. The ‘blocky landscape’ of early 21st century Beijing will be disliked, sooner or later, but a good-sized zone should be subject to strict conservation measures – including those ridiculuous ‘flower beds’ which line any roads wide enough to have them.

The 2nd Ring Road in Beijing follows the walls of the old city - on which it stands


Images of Beijing’s 2nd Ring Road courtesy of ernop and poeloq

Tibetan Buddhist Peace Garden in London

 Interesting that it is quite possible to do a good design which is also the wrong design. This is what I think happened in the case of Hamish Horsley’s 1999 design for the Tibetan Peace Garden beside the Imperial War Museum, as explained in the video. Part of the problem is the small scale and obscure location of the Peace Garden vis-a-vis the War Museum. Surely we all prefer peace to war and to not want to see peace tucked away in a convenient, if noisy, corner. I think the scale problem could still be resolved, and cheaply, by placing prayer flag high in the trees – to let them waft their prayers for peace to every corner of the globe.

Mandalas in garden and landscape design

This video is an attempt to involve the forces of nature in making and un-making a ‘flower and sand’ mandala pattern.
Mandalas are diagrams which help explain, in Giuseppe Tucci’s phrase, ‘the geography of the cosmos’. Buddhist mandalas explain the Dharma – the Buddha’s teaching. It is both a philosophical system and a course of action. Sand mandalas are made in Tibet, as part of a monk’s training – and then ‘ritually destroyed’. The outer region of a mandala represents the world and the universe – samsara. It is impermanent. The inner region of a mandala represents nirvana – an ideal condition in which the spirit is liberated from the cycles of death and suffering. Some Buddhists think of nirvana as a real place. Other Buddhists think of nirvana as a state of mind. Mandala diagrams often have Mount Meru, a palace and a palace garden at their centre. The diagram then explains the path from suffering to enlightenment. It is a path which requires, study, meditation and compassion.
For western garden designers, and for non-Buddhists, a fascinating comparison can be drawn with the Neoplatonist/Idealist axiom that ‘art should imitate nature’. In aesthetic theory, it is now interpreted as a call for ‘naturalistic’ and ‘representational’ art. But for most of its history ‘art should imitate nature’ was a call to embody the fundamental essences of Nature in works of art. The principles of optics, for example, were seen as Laws of Nature which could and should be employed in the design of baroque gardens. Under the influence of Christianity, from the time of St Augustine (354-430) onwards, this meant the ideals, laws and principles upon which God’s design for the universe was founded. We could say that a mandala-based design is also ‘an imitation of Nature’ (which Buddhists understand as the Dharma).