Category Archives: garden history

Mandala landscapes for stupas, temples, gardens and the Druk White Lotus School DWLS

We tend to think of a mandala (मण्डल) as a graphic pattern, though the Sanskrit derivation of the word is from the ‘cycles’ or ‘circles’ (ie ‘sections’ or ‘books’) of the Rig Veda. The Vedas were hymns recited on ritual occasions. Mandala patterns were developed to symbolise the rituals and the ideas underying the rituals. Buddhists took on the idea from Hindus and used mandala patterns in the design of stupas (chortens), tankas and many other things. Used in this way, a mandala symbolises the geography of the cosmos. Early mandala patterns had a lotus flower with open petals and the Buddha at its centre. Circles and squares were added and a mandala came to represent the four material elements of the universe (earth, water, fire, wind) with Mount sumeru as the world axis. Energy moves in a cosmic dance from the centre to the periphery, and then back to the centre, encompassing inanimate and living things.
Buddhist Chinese and Japanese gardens are also mandalas. The word ‘Pagoda’ derives from ‘stupa’ and these gardens symbolise the cosmos, with the temple as a house for a Buddha. In later Chinese gardens temples evolved into garden pavilions for the delight of their owners.
A real landscape can also be a mandala, with the Lapchi region on the Nepal-Tibet border a famous example, which includes Milarepa’s Cave. Lapchi’s mandala landscape is conceived to have three sacred triangles formed by the sky, the earth and the three rivers. The central mountain is seen as the Palace of Chakrasamvara.
The landscape around the Druk White Lotus School in Ladakh can be thought of as an emerging mandala landscape.

  • It has a modern mandala plan, by Arup and Arup Associates.
  • It is in view of three famous Buddhist gompas: Shey, Thikse and Matho.
  • It is in the valley of a sacred river: the Indus

Time lapse photography of Buddhist monks using coloured sand to produce a sand mandala (courtesy camera_obscura):

Cross country event in Greenwich Park landscape

OK, I am a grunge re the 2012 London Olympics. For example, I drove past the Olympic Park last night at a peak period when the official websites were predicting fortissimo traffic chaos. The A12 was almost deserted and the Olympic Lane had nothing but empty buses. London is being described as a Ghost City, because so many sensible Londoners have fled to the shires.
So what of Greenwich Park? Unable to get a ticket, I looked first to the BBC, whose website had crashed. So I turned to Youtube and thank keirshepherd for the above video. It is nice to see folk having a great day out in the Park but (1) it looks as though I could have had a ticket without the Park becoming over-crowded (2) the competitors look amazingly relaxed – are they judged on the jumps and not on their speed? (3) where on earth did the kitchy ideas for the jumps come from? They make the aesthetics of Disneyland in the 1960s look restrained and tasteful. To find anything as bad in everyday London, the only place I can suggest is a pet superstore. Do we conceive the animal world as inferior to the youngest kids? Are horses imagined to enjoy trashy sentiment and sickly colours?
Greenwich Park was designed as a place to keep deer and for the young royals to learn horsemanship. One can imagine the Queen Elizabeth I taking the park at full pelt. The spirit of the Tudors could have been caught with a wild racing gallop – more Cecil B DeMille than Micky Mouse.

Image courtesy Peter J Dean

Hemel Hempstead Water Gardens to be restored

We contributed to the shaming of Dacorum Borough Council and thus to its decision to restore Geoffrey and Susan Jellicoe’s design for the Water Gardens in Hemel Hempstead. See blog post: Hemel Hempstead Water Gardens are a National Disgrace. HTA Landscape Design has been appointed by Dacorum Borough Council to restore the the gardens. I hope volunteers will be involved and look forward to reporting on the success of the scheme.

Greenwich Park uses demountable buildings for the 2012 Equestrian Olympics

Andre le Notre's parterre is being used as a building site

Andre le Notre's parterre is being used as a building site

Andre Le Notre was the greatest landscape architect of the seventeenth century and he only designed one project in England. It was the parterre in front of the Queen’s House in Greenwich and it was selected as the best place to build a stadium for the 2012 equestrian olympics. This shows no regard for conservation and, if it had to be done, there should have been a full archaeological investigation and a full restoration plan for the surviving earthworks. They are not being damaged but nor is there any restoration plan.
Setting this issue aside, the scene illustrated above does make me wonder if Olympic structures should all be demountable, like the tent for the Chelsea Flower Show. The International Olympic Committee could spend less money on luxurious provision for its hated members and more money on a stock of re-usable buildings. The Montreal Olympics set a standard for profligacy and left the city in debt for 30 years. The Athens Olympics gave the whole country a taste for debt which took it well on the way to the country’s present financial predicament: ‘As of 2012 many conversion schemes have stalled owing to the financial crisis in Greece and most of the Olympic sites are either derelict or dilapidated.’ So why not have a stock of temporary structures which can be put up and taken down. Greenwich has shown that permission to build on EVEN THE MOST SENSITIVE HISTORICAL SITES can be obtained in a conservation-obsessed country. The principle to follow is that the after-use of any facilities should be planned and designed and funded before any temporary Olympic use is considered. This approach would be more sustainable.
Note: the ugly temporary fence in the foreground is the Royal Parks’ annual botched attempt to deal with the grass on what used to be the Giant Steps. The correct policy, which will surely be implemented at some point in the future, would be to use geotextiles to restore the historical feature. The underlying problem is that there are, so far as I know, no garden historians or landscape architects employed in the Royal Parks. It is like running a hospital with no doctors. Nursing is not enough.
It is appropriate for a Chief Executive of the Royal Parks to have a broad view of the role of parks in society, rather than a specialist view, but one does wonder if Linda Lennon’s background with the Parole Board and the Family Courts is ‘just the thing’. This may be what is needed for troubled parks in run down urban areas – but is it right for the Royal Parks in Central London? Maybe she just has the talent to run anything, as is assumed to be the case for the UK’s top civil servants.

Does Greenwich Park have the oldest avenue of trees in England?

The most important avenue in Greenwich Park, because it is grass, not tarmac, and because it has so many ancient chestnuts, is blocked by a Royal Bin Store for the cafe (above left - also note the design of the picnic tables, and sigh). When the bin store is removed the view on the right will be revealed. Queen Elizabeth I was born in 1533 in the palace of Placentia, in Greenwich, and learned to ride a horse in the park (not in this avenue, which was not planted until 1660-1, possibly on the recommendation of John Evelyn).

The candidates for ‘oldest avenue of trees in England’ include:

  • The yew trees in Westbourne said to have been planted in 1544.
  • The Bucklebury Oaks, also known as The Queens’ Avenues, which may have been planted to commemorate a visit by Queen Elizabeth I as well as a later visit by Queen Anne
  • Joris Hoefnagel’s drawing of Nonsuch Palace makes it look as though a line of trees leads to the entrance and there was a similar feature is shown on reconstructions of the Palace of Beaulieu

But the ‘correct’ answer depends in the interpretation of the question:

  • the processional route at Stonehenge is often described as an avenue and probably passed through trees for some or all of its length. Other stone circles (eg Callanish) also had what are assumed to be processional routes, as did Egyptian and Mesopotamian temples
  • the word ‘avenue’ (from the French avenir) was not used in English until the mid-seventeenth century. A similar feature made before this date would probably have been called an alley (from the French aller)

So on a strict interpretation of the word ‘avenue’, the oldest avenue in England may be in Greenwich Park. The chestnut trees, which survive, were planted c1660 and John Evelyn, who is recorded in the OED as the first English author to use the word ‘avenue’, may have advised on the layout. He had an avenue, which does not survive, in his nearby garden (at Sayes Court in Deptford). The best-looking avenue of old trees in Greenwich Park runs north from a point near the intersection of the Great Cross Avenue with Blackheath Avenue. The view along this avenue was blocked a few years ago by the erection of a ‘hit-and-miss’ fence round an outdoor rubbish dump for the park cafe. It makes one think that the Royal Parks, who manage Greenwich, either have no knowledge of garden history or no interest in garden history. So one does not know whether to conclude ‘forgive them, Oh Lord, for they know not what they do’ or whether to conclude ‘forgive them, Oh Lord, for they know exactly what they do’. But I regard the positioning of this rubbish dump as unforgivable. When an airplane crashes, an accident investigation team is established. There is a need for a similar investigation of the Royal Parks Agency. The Commission of Enquiry should have plenipotentary powers to call for papers, to summon witnesses, to take evidence under oath and to make binding recommendations, if necessary for the future involvement of expert garden historians and landscape architects in decision making for the Royal Parks. How many managers of Royal Parks have qualifications in garden history? Are there any qualified garden historians on the agency’s payroll? Several excellent landscape architecture firms have given advice on Greenwich Park but, so far as I know, no trained designers or historians have had a role in the Greenwich Park management hierarchy. And it shows. Greenwich Park is to be closed for a month in 2012 for the Olympic Equestrian Events. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the rubbish dump were removed as part of the Olympic legacy to Greenwich Park?

Campaign to restore Jellicoe's Water Garden in Hemel Hempstead New Town

Thank you to Tamzin Baker for her article Streams of the subconscious, in today’s Financial Times, which lends support to the campaign for Dacorum District Council to restore the Water Garden which Geoffrey Jellicoe designed for Hemel Hempstead New Town. See also:

Jellicoe’s Subconscious Approach to Landscape Design
Could Hemel Hempsted’s Jellicoe Water Gardens be managed by volunteers?
Hemel Hempstead Water Gardens are a National Disgrace
Hemel Hempstead Water Gardens are getting worse and worse and worse.


London's Roman Palace Garden at Cannon Street Station

Roman palace garden image projected onto a minimalist wall at Cannon Street Station

Reading about London’s Roman archaeology, I was deligted to find that the site of the Provincial Governor’s Palace is open to the public. It is now the foyer of Cannon Street Station (ie the foyer is above the garden site). So I went to take a photograph. My camera went ‘click’ at 09.52.15 on 05.1.2012 and 57 seconds later a shifty looking man approached me with an ID card and we had the following exchange.
‘I am the station manager. Did you know that this is a private place and you are not allowed to take photographs?????’.
‘No. I thought it was a public place. Please can you show me the sign which says “No Photography”‘
‘There isn’t one. Do you have a sign in your house saying “No Photography”?????’
‘No but there is a difference between a private house and a ………..’
I could not finish the sentence because he interrupted me to say ‘I could call the police’. I asked him not to interrupt and made 3 more attempts to complete my sentence. It could not be done, so I ended the conversation with the remark that that ‘If this is how “station managers” waste their time it is no surprise that National Rail has operating costs way above the European average. It also has lower standards – and the staff are often impolite’.
No doubt he could have given me the Nuremberg defence ‘I was just following orders’ and to show I bear no personal grudge I have decided not to bill Network Rail for the imaginative proposal, above, for using his blank wall as a place on which to project illustrations of Roman Palace gardens. He should also install a Triclinum and train for the more rewarding job of serving Roman delicacies to customers suffering psychological damage from their experiences with London’s rail system.
The site of the Villa and Palace Garden of London's Roman Provincial Governor is now below the foyer of Cannon Street Station

The site of the Villa and Palace Garden of London's Roman Provincial Governor is now the foyer of Cannon Street Station

. Let us hope National Rail ‘read the writing on the wall’ and put on the Roman Palace Garden Projection as a contribution to the 2012 Chelsea Fringe Garden Festival.

Tim Mowl's Youtube garden history lecture on Claremont and William Kent

Congratulations to Tim Mowl for providing the best garden history content on Youtube (one can’t be quite sure: The FAQ says ’48 hours of video are uploaded every minute, resulting in nearly 8 years of content uploaded every day’). The lecture was given at Claremont Landscape Garden and was about the history of this garden and William Kent. Though Tim Mowl obviously knows more about the period than me, I offer the following comments:

  • Mowl mentions Renaissance Italy and Ancient Rome, in relation to the development of England’s eighteenth century gardens, but I wish he had said more about them.
  • In my view, Mowl over-emphasises the concepts of ‘nature’ and ‘geometry’ in explaining the ‘great revolution in taste’. Since most English garden historians do this, one can hardly complain. Conceptually ‘Nature’, belongs more to the history of philosophy than the history of art.
  • I would have like to have heard more about the transition from Baroque to Neoclassical, in art, literature and gardens. Conceptually, the links between these topics are closer than then link between gardens and philosophy. There is however no doubt about the importance of ‘Nature’ as a philosophical concept (rather than as a geometrical concept).
  • I agree about the eclectic character of the first (Augustan) phase of the English landscape garden, but see it as a consequence rather than a cause of the revolution in taste. The cause was a desire to see, know, understand, learn from and represent the classical world. ‘Eclectic’ is almost a term of abuse and ‘Historicist’ may be a more useful term.

See also:

Concepts of sacredness and beauty

It is likely that the history of Japanese gardens finds its origins in Shinto traditions. In particular the sacred nature of rocks: “from the ancient remains of rock arrangement” of the fifth century AD, we find a resemblance to existing Japanese gardens. “However it appears they were used for the spiritual rituals and not designed as a stone arrangement for the beauty of gardens.”

The earliest known Japanese gardening texts are a medieval text, Sakuteiki, and an illustrated text dating from the Muromachi period (1333-1573). The origins of Japanese garden design principles are said to be traceable back to these two texts. The location of Shinto shrines were near striking natural formations, waterfalls, caves, rock formations, mountain tops or forrest glens reflecting the idea that kami spirits were located in nature. The earliest shrines were mounds, caves or groves. Kami occur in two categories (object kami) and mythical and historical persons (active kami). Illustrated is off-shore rock kami.

The following story is related of an off-shore rock just off Oshima:
“The kami enshrined here is Ichikishimahime, daughter of Susano, and eldest of the three Munakata princesses. Just off Oshima is a large rock protuding from the sea. The story is when Ichikishimahime heard she was going to be enshrined on Oshima, she was really excited and proud because Oshima means ‘Great Island’, but when she got here and saw just how small it really was, her tears formed the rock.”

With the introduction of Buddhism into Japan the earliest interaction saw local kami asking to be saved from their kami-state by means of Buddhist ritual.

Garden design and the history of art

Developments in gardens parallel developments in the fine arts

The top pictures show a medieval statue, Michaelangelo’s David and Bernini’s David.
The lower pictures show a medieval garden, a renaissance garden and a baroque garden.
The pairs represent the devotional attitude of the middle ages, the static calm of the renaissance the drama of the baroque.
I think there are closer parallels between the histories of gardens and fine art than between the histories of gardens and dynasties, which makes me doubtful about the categorisation of British gardens as Tudor, Stuart, Georgian, Victorian, Edwardian etc. Nor do I think kings and queens have had a leading role in the development of garden design. So why are royal names so popular in Britain? Are garden historians flunkies? And how do the Irish manage without royal names for garden styles?

Are garden historians flunkies?

John Evelyn's garden at Sayes Court and the Convoys Wharf Urban Landscape Master Plan

John Evelyn's garden superimposed on plans of the Convoys Wharf site in the seventeenth century, the nineteenth century and, one hopes not, the twentyfirst century

Steen Eiler Rasmussen concluded the second edition of his brilliant book London: the Unique City with these prophetic words: ‘Thus the foolish mistakes of other countries are imported everywhere, and at the end of a few years all cities will be equally ugly and equally devoid of individuality. This is the bitter END’. So what would he think of the Hutchison Whampoa Master Plan for Convoys Wharf? He would detest it, utterly. The architects are Aedas, who claim that ‘ We provide international expertise with innate knowledge and understanding of local cultures’. Evidently, this expertise does not extend to the local culture of Deptford – unless they think it is the same as the culture of London/England/Europe or the World. The planning consultants, let it be recorded, is by bptw . Their website promises ‘responsible architecture executed with imagination’. Maybe the firm can do this. Maybe the client’s brief made it impossible at Convoys Wharf. Or maybe what the project required was a firm of Urban Landscape Designers, rather than a firm which sees its main business as architecture. The architecture makes one yearn for the imaginative approach one sees in Dubai. The spatial pattern resembles that of the Ferrier Estate in Kidbrooke, the planting design is what Chris Baines calls ‘a green desert with lollipops’. I am not an admirer of the scheme – and I much regret that John Evelyn’s design for Sayes Court has been cast into what Leon Trotsky called ‘the dustbin of history’. It is a quotation which gives us a lead into the origins of the Convoys Wharf design. In days gone by it might have graced a Parisian banlieue (like Sarcelles), a suburb of East Berlin – or even Moscow itself. With specific regard to the Sayes Court Garden, we should remember that (1) Evelyn, beyond doubt, was the greatest English garden theorist of the seventeenth century (2) Evelyn played a key role in introducing Baroque ideas on garden design to London (3) the Convoys Wharf site would never have come into public ownership were it not for the generosity of John Evelyn (4) Sayes Court was very nearly the first property to be saved by the National Trust.
THEREFORE the Convoys Wharf site demands a context-sensitive urban landscape design.
Wikipamia shows the present condition of the Convoys Wharf site and the Sayes Court Estate. Also see the Convoys Wharf Planning Application Documents.

This drawing purports to show 'Landscape, Townscape and Visual Amenity' . Phooey

La Primavera, Plato, Alchemy, Love, Flora and Venus in a garden grove with a flowery mead

La Primavera (‘Spring’) was painted by Sandro Botticelli c1482 and is one of the world’s most popular paintings. It shows a playful group of young maidens, two males and one putti. They are in a garden grove of orange trees with a flowery mead beneath their feet. The charming scene is interpreted as an allegory of Neoplatonic and Alchemical love, according to the philosophy of Marsilio Ficino. Venus is the central figure, as she is in many garden scenes. The Zephyr on the on the right tries to rape Chloris but then transforms her into Flora (the goddess of flowers). Alchemists believed one must go through difficult times in the progress of the soul towards perfection, as base metals must go through fire to become gold. The garden represents the physical world and the painting was partly inspired by Ovid’s description of the arrival of Spring

The Claremont Amphitheatre as a problem in historic garden restoration

The amphitheatre in Claremont Landscape Garden

The historic amphitheatre in Claremont Landscape Garden

Clockwise, the images of the Claremont Amphitheatre show (1) Charles Bridgeman’s design, as illustrated in Stephen Switzer’s Hydrostatiks (2) John Rocque’s drawing shows the garden as modified by William Kent after 1734 (3) a drawing by an unknown artist with the water as a circular pool (4) a recent photo of the amphitheatre as a feature in what is now called Claremont Landscape Garden. Claremont is a pleasant and popular place – so why not leave it as it is? The amphitheatre was almost lost at one point and then restored by the National Trust. I am sure they were right to restore the amphitheatre but I do not think they went far enough. Stephen Switzer (in his Introduction to a general system of hydrostaticks and hydraulicks 1729) wrote that: ‘The upper part of the work may very easily be seen to be a sketch of the fine Amphitheatre at Claremont, (belonging to his Grace the Duke of Newcastle) the design of the very ingenious Mr. [Charles] Bridgeman; and the lower part, where the water spouts out, is an addition of my own, from a work of that kind that I have done for the Right Honourable the Earl of Orrery , at Marson in Somersetshire. In this composition, which I humbly conceive to be the noblest of any in Europe, may be seen a very magnificent taste and way of thinking, and in which I can’t help observing, that had the ingenious designer had more room at Claremont, he would certainly have made his water much larger than that little circular basin, which is seen therein, and which is very much eclipsed by the prodgious grandeur of that Amphitheatre. And this I note for the advantage of those who have more room for such a purpose: as for the rest the plan speaks for itself.’
Bridgeman and Switzer and are significant figures in the history of garden design and far too little of their work survives. More of Kent’s work survives. The problem with Claremont is that it lacks the high quality one would expect from such a distinguished cast, though Vanbrugh’s avenue, bowling green and Belvedere Tower are very good. My suggestion is to restore more of the design shown on Switzer’s drawing. I would like to see Switzer’s ‘water spouts’ and the first metre of the baroque canal (it could be done with jetties if there is insufficient land). Restoration of the ‘wilderness’ in which it is set would also be welcome (ie the woodland with straight rides and twisting paths). This would give Claremont a clear separation between (1) the Kentian landscape garden (2) the late baroque features designed by John Vanbrugh, Switzer and Bridgeman. If some way of arranging it could be found, a way of viewing the house and setting which Lancelot Brown designed for Lord Clive would also be highly desireable. The aim should be to make Claremont into first class garden it should be: it is in danger of becoming a public park for the middle classes.

A new-to-become ancient tree was planted in Greenwich Park in 2011

New ancient chestunt tree in Greenwich Park

There used to be a Horse Chestnut tree planted here. It died and was left as a 750mm stump for a few years, in which time it was much used by children and by those parents who liked to see their offspring acting as statues. When the heartwood began to rot they dug up the stump and planted a Sweet Chestnut last month. Yesterday they placed the circular seat around the tree. I see this as a clear indication that the park managers are avid followers of this blog and are hoping the new tree will have a long life. The tree against which it is seen has been there for 350 years. They hope to keep a full copy of the internet on – so I hope someone will be able to find this blog post in 3011 and take a photograph of whatever is then growing on this spot. I would also like to know how long the seat will survive (<30 years, I guess) and how long the dog litter bin survives (>100 years, I guess). Dogs used to drop their litter everywhere when I first visited Greenwich (about 30 years ago). Then some good ladies and gentlemen held a Dog Day. One of them stood by each entrance to the park for a day and very politely handed out polythene bags and asked dog owners to collect any droppings from the dogs. The idea caught on and the Royal Parks commissioned these iron dog litter bins. It has been a great success and the park is almost free of dog dirt. As Roland Barthes observed, the droppings of wild animals are inoffensive but those of domesticated pets, and humans, are offensive. Interesting.

Roland Barthes' diagram deals with the wild:domestic binary pair and applies to trees as well as animals

Love and care for the ancient trees in Greenwich Park

This is the right way to look after England's ancient trees

In 1661, Louis XIV was King of France, Charles II was King of England, Australia had been ‘discovered’ but not colonised, the Qing Dynasty and Harvard University were new – and this Castanea sativa was planted. The ugly 20th century bitmac path cut across its roots has been troubling me for years. So please join me in toasting the Royal Parks for re-routing the path to respect the tree. Better still if they had ripped up the beastly bitmac and replaced it with flint gravel, but one can’t have all one’s dreams come true in one week. They will just have to move the path again in a ?200 years time. See the Woodland Trust’s Ancient Tree Forum and the Guardian’s photos of Ancient Trees.

Michaelangelo's David considers the history of planting design and wonders if the LCHF diet would help the obesity epidemic

Michaelangelo’s David has wandered from his usual haunt, outside the Palazzo della Signoria in Florence, to visit the nearby garden of the Villa La Petraia. Looking west, he sees his American cousin, Dave, and wonders why he eats so much bread, candy and icecream, and why he has grown so fat, and why he has diabetes and heart disease. The trouble, David concludes, is that so many of his male contemporaries, despite their admiration for his lean figure, became interested in the aesthetic aspect of garden design. In Michaelangelo’s day, the main use of gardens was to grow vegetables and herbs, to flavour the fresh meat hunted on the hills around Florence, and fresh fruit, to eat as a desert. The Baroque style originated in Italy, but was developed in France and then returned to influence Italy. The old beds of fruit, herbs and vegetables then became ornamental and were laced with the clipped box hedges we see in Italian gardens today. Italian nobles turned away from their ‘Palaeolithic’ diet of meat, vegetables and herbs. Instead, they began to stuff themselves with pasta. Baroque navigation took Europeans to the Americas and by the late twentieth century Americans were stuffing themselves with pizza, hamburgers, candy and sweet soft drinks. This gave them the characteristic Dave figure, also seen at Villa La Petraia. Luckliy, Dr. Eenfeldt,, from Sweeden has given the Americans an excellent lecture on the Low Carb High Fat (LCHF) diet and you can see it on Youtube. See also: Sugar may be the world’s worst poison – so the EU subsidises sugar growers through its Common Agricultural Policy (CAP)

Garden design for modernist architecture: Le Corbusier and Patrick Gwynne

Gardens at Le Corbusier's Villa Savoye and Patrick Gwynne's Homewood

Le Corbusier cared deeply about greenspace but liked to view if from afar and above. He was not an enthusiast for gardens, as can be seen from the Villa Savoye. It has an attractive roof terrace but is plain old grass at ground level. Many of Corb’s British admirers shared his views and gave little attention to gardens. Patrick Gwynne was a notable exception. The Homewood was designed shortly before the Second World War and its garden was dug up during the war to make space for growing vegetables. This would have made it easy for Gwynne to lay a Corbusian lawn but, over the many years he enjoyed his beautiful house, Gwynne gave much attention to making what is best described as a classic example of the Gardenesque Style. From a theoretical standpoint, it does not seem the right thing to have done. But which of them to you think had the ‘correct’ attitude to gardens? And which house would you rather live in?

Make it extraordinary

What makes the setting of a town extraordinary? What makes a development extraordinary? What makes a garden extraordinary?

Is it the subtlety of colour? Is it the unexpected? Strong formal qualities? A sense of fun? Or a location to die for?

Or the delight of the whimsical? Or recognition of the familiar?

Just what is the X-factor that makes a design extraordinary?

The future is blossoming

The stained glass windows of Josef Albers (1920-33) demonstrate the remarkable advances that were made in glass art in the period between 1885 (with the Tiffany glass Company) and 1933 (with students from the Bauhaus), and the increasing links between emerging art movements and gardens (hinted at by Filoli ).

Art Nouveau began a remarkable period in the history of art, when designers inspired by nature and natural forms, began a creative transformation which would lead to the pure abstraction of Modernism, perhaps most typified in the work of Gustav Klimt.

Louis Comfort Tiffany, was the third generation of successful American entrepreneurs. His father founded the jewelry company, Tiffany & Co, while his grandfather had been a leading cloth manufacturer.

Mirroring the emerging emancipation of women which typifies the age, the daffodil lamp, designed by one the ‘Tiffany Girls’ Clara Discoll, is considered among the most famous of the studio’s designs.

Contemplative places: watching and listening

Contemplation has been defined as thoughtful or long consideration or observation. In the East, Christian contemplation has been associated with spiritual transformation. “The process of changing from the old man of sin into the new born child of God and into our true nature as good and divine is called theosis.” The process has often been described by the metaphor of a ladder, with the acquisition of the state of hesychia or peace of the soul being the summit where the person is said to reach ‘Heaven on Earth’.

Perhaps the purpose of a public contemplative space might be to give visitor glimpses of ‘Heaven on Earth’? What might such a space look and sound like?

Natural spaces are most often associated with a sense of restfulness and peace. Water can create a sense of calm, while beauty can promote a sense of wonder.