Gardening on the roof, don't pass on the past….

What can the past teach us about gardening in the present?

Undoubtably our ancestors were more agriculturally minded and more in tune with the rythmn of nature than we are today. The urban environments in which many of us live are climate modified, we buy our food from the supermarket and we heat and cool our living spaces. 

Perhaps by revisiting previous garden traditions – such as the zen tradition in Japanese gardens – we can begin to imagine a variety of ways of utilising our urban roof spaces for a variety of purposes.

The project to document Middle Eastern garden traditions is likely to provide a valuable source of inspiration for the future as well as potentially preserving and enhancing our knowledge of the past. Don’t skip the drawings.

The art of sketching and drawing can itself through film and projection techniques transform the urban landscape and create a virtual landscape….and a new way of thinking about ‘green’ surfaces.

A book for the landscape architect to die for is Sketch Landscape. There are many ways of communicating ideas, and this book  has 500 sketches and scribbles by some of the best.

10 thoughts on “Gardening on the roof, don't pass on the past….

  1. Tom Turner

    I would like designers to spend more time thinking about types of space made in the past and less time thinking about images and design styles. ‘The Islamic garden’ and ‘The Chinese Garden’ are good illustrations. What they looked like is not as important as what they were used for. Curiously, sketching skills are not so important for this. But for physical design, sketching is very important.

  2. Christine

    Yes. Both function and form in design is important. Undoubtably, the Islamic and Chinese gardens incorporated both of these aspects.

    Perhaps there is another aspect you are referring to? Typology refers to the overall category which the garden belongs to. ie a garden may be a ‘pleasure garden’ (a garden used for recreation) but it may introduce new forms or hybrids into the existing set of gardens which are recognised under this category. For example an ancient pleasure garden was the Gardens of Sallust in Rome. [ ]

    Agriculture is probably the closest we have to a purely functional use of land:

    For example, a wheat field is a purely functional use of the landscape and I am sure no consideration is given to the aesthetic qualities of the field (although as many painters have demonstrated they often have accidental aesthetic qualities). Consideration is given rather to maximising crop yields and creating efficient harvesting conditions.

    In this sense the agricultural use of land has similarities to engineering. However, design engineers also will consider the aesthetics of ‘elegance’.

  3. Tom Turner

    Yesterday, I drove through a part of Scotland long famous for soft fruit (around Blairgowrie). The rolling scenery is attractive without being wonderful – and it is being wrecked by covering fields with polytunnels. They can do it without the need for planning permission because it is ‘agriculture’ rather than ‘development’ and they are producing a harshly functional landscape.
    Re the typology of gardens, I think it is very important, both for design and for historic conservation. Another place I visited yesterday was Edzell Castle. The organization which cares for it (now called Scottish Heritage) used to emply an architect who thought it must have been a place for viewing for the castle windows – so he designed a Scots version of seventeenth century (French) parterre. I am very doubtful about this being either its original use or character.

  4. Christine

    I have just finished reading a very interesting article on free and commercial Georgian and Regency Pleasure Gardens in Brighton.[ ] It is very interesting that the Steine seemed to do for Brighton at this time, what Gehry’s museum did for Bilbao.

    Would you consider subscription gardens a garden sub-typology or a garden management strategy for pleasure gardens? Or something else altogether?

  5. Tom Turner

    Christine: pay-to-enter pleasure gardens can be (1) an aesthetic type (2) an administrative type. My guess is that they were both. The best surviving example of the administrative type in Europe is the Tivoli Garden in Copenhagan. I believe there are many modern examples of the type in South East Asia (eg in Vietnam).
    Ying: I can well see that Tianjin is more like a western city than an old Chinese city – but I would not have thought that London is the modernist city which it most resembles. Judging from the photographs it looks more like the suburbs of Paris – or perhaps like the central business district of an Australian city?
    Re geometry, it is rather surprising that Chinese landscape architects associate it with ecology. In the west, it is more common to associate irregular lines with ecology. As to whether classical Chinese gardens were ‘ecological’ – well that is a difficult question!

  6. Christine

    It seems Tianjin has lost a considerable part of its urban heritage in recent years in favour of Western style development.

    Without further understanding of what has been lost…it seems a great shame that Tianjin didn’t copy the European precedents of keeping the old town centre (pedestrianised and for cycling) and restricting new development to beyond the old city boundaries.

    Perhaps you can tell me more about this?
    [ ]

  7. Tom Turner

    It is a great pity that the old centres of Chinese cities were not kept. I do not have the reference to hand but I read of a Chinese professor who worked with Patrick Abercrombie in London in the 1940s. When he returned to China he argued for the walls of Beijing to be kept and cried when they were demolished. As the old map shows, Tianjin was an imperial (administrative) city and therefore built according to the classic Chinese city plan. Pingyao is one of the best surviving examples of this plan.

  8. Tom Turner

    I have seen the great beds of ‘Mosaicculture’ in China – and agree that they are a bad idea. But I have never seen anything like them in the west and do not think ‘western’ is a good name for them. It is wonderful that so many Chinese people have ‘escaped from poverty’ so quickly but it is very difficult to build good cities if they are built at such a tremendous speed. Also, I think modern Chinese cities would be better if more responsibility had been given to landscape designers and less to engineer-planners. When you talk about ‘western’ influence, I think it is useful to distinguish between the influence of (1) Russia (2) America (3) Europe. They are very different.

  9. Christine

    Tom thankyou for the reference to Pingyao. Pingyao was inscribed on the world heritage list in 1997.On one website on the city is a comment that might be useful for Ying Li in understanding the international heritage protection movement and its link to development:

    “In every country I have visited, I have seen the importance of a sense of history and a link to the past. For real development to occur, it should be grounded in the culture of the people — drawing strength from their history.”

    – Mr. James Wolfensohn, former President of The World Bank

    The preservation of Ping Yao is endangered because of the poverty of its citizens.

    “With over 40,000 low-income residents living within its ancient walls, Ping Yao is facing unprecedented pressures and deterioration of its core historic Qing Dynasty district and last remaining temples, towers, palaces, banks, and ancient residences.”

    However there is some work being done on preservation and development by the Global Heritage Fund (GHF)so Ping Yao should have a bright future.
    [ ]

  10. Tom Turner

    I had an email yesterday from a friend who has visited the ‘heritage’ village of Portofino in Italy: ‘Portofino is very small place. There is almost nothing there except for the really fine port. It used to be the hangout of Greta Garbo, Elisabeth Taylor and many other celebrities. I do not think any celebrity visits Portofino now. It is swarmed by bus/boat loads of tourists walking in columns with tour-guide in front’. This is the danger in applying conservation only to heritage areas – instead of everywhere. A big advantage of green roofs is that they are likely to be conservable when whatever is beneath them comes up for modernisation.


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