History of Asian garden and landscape design book

Himalayas by Ilker Ender

Himalayas by Ilker Ender


My ‘Tomfool Project’ to write a history of Asian gardens and landscape architecture is done: I have just posted the CS (computer-script) to the publisher. The main subjects are Ancient Garden Design,  Islamic Garden Design, Indian Garden Design, Chinese Garden Design,  Japanese Garden Design and modern landscape architecture across Asia.  The text files, drawings and photographs fit on one DVD, so all I have done is re-arrange some binary code, unless you count taking over 100,000 photographs. The easier-to-write chapters drew on other work but the difficult chapters took a year each for research and travel. The sensible alternatives would have been not to have begun the project or to have started 40 years earlier by learning half a dozen Asian languages. But I enjoyed the work and will be a lucky man if the ‘royalties’ pay for the travel – so you could say the books will be sold at ‘cost price minus’. It reminds me of the advice I received from Arnold Weddle about 30 years ago. We were making use of adjoining urinals at the time and I think the conversation went like this:

‘Hi Tom, how are you and what are you doing’. Ignoring the obvious, I replied ‘Fine – I’m writing a book, actually it’s about Landscape planning‘. Arnold, who had recently founded the journal Urban and landscape planning, replied: ‘Hmmm. Don’t expect to make any money by writing books’

Weddle was a wise man and I often quote another of his remarks. In Techniques of landscape architecture he wrote that the landscape profession is distinguished from its related professions by looking beyond their ‘closely drawn technical limits’ and ‘narrowly drawn territorial boundaries’. Though not quite what he had in mind, I have taken his advice in Asian gardens by relating garden design to the religions, mountains,  forests, deserts, social customs, art and architecture of Asia. As you can imagine, this has involved a number of topics in which I might wish to have more expertise.  Ananda  Coomaraswamy would have been a good man for the job, helped by one of his photographer wives and his ability to think in English, Hindi, Greek, Latin, Sanskrit, Pali, Persian and Chinese.

[See also: next post on Asian gardens and landscapes]

10 thoughts on “History of Asian garden and landscape design book

  1. Pingback: The world’s first historic gardening experiment | Gardenvisit.com Blog

  2. Christine

    Wolfgang Sonne is his paper ‘The Birth of Urban Design History out the Spirit of Multidisciplinary’ says;

    “Urban design history, or more precisely: historiography, seems to emerge as a typical disciplinary product of art history. In 1920, art historian Albert Erich Brinckmann published the first general history of urban design with the title The Art of Urban Design: Historic Sections and Contemporary Goals.”

    He goes on to say that for Brinckmann the program of artistic urban design is;

    “…..to bring building masses and spaces into a relationship and to develop them from each other.”

    This is an interesting and important definition and historical genesis for urban design. The definition does not seem to reflect a full understanding of contemporary meanings of the term. For example;

    1) it seems to tip the focus more towards architecture and less towards landscape
    2) it encompasses the scale of an urban design project rather than the idea of the city as an entity

    However it is a useful distinction to consider in the light of the potential of the Parliament House competition. The Parliament House site operates at the scale of an urban design project within a city setting. The original design for Canberra (by Burley Griffin)had the broader scope. It was concerned with the idea of the city as an entity.

    When we speak of a more contemporary term ‘human settlement’ it is my belief that we are talking of a wider term again. It encompasses the notion of ‘existential dwelling (perhaps but not necessarily within a community setting).’

    How would you define or describe ‘landscape and urban planning’ and its relationship to the project, city and human settlement?

  3. Tom Turner Post author

    I would not want ‘urban design’ to be be regarded as a category of fine art – though I would certainly want to have a ‘fine art’ and ‘art history’ input to urban design. The attractive thing about ‘urban design’ is that it involves a multitude of disciplines and professions. Should any one of them ‘own’ the subject and the activity it would surely die.
    A particular interest of mine is ‘garden design as a crucible for urban design’. There are few opportunities to handle outdoor space at the city scale but many at the garden scale. So gardens can be for urban designers rather what flight simulators are to pilots.

  4. Christine

    Seems to me there is so much potential to be explored in the garden city concept…http://ar-chi-tect.org/garden-city-and-city-beautiful-movement-theory/… that doesn’t need to be the sole activity of the architect.

    Architects have a long history of ….& some of the best/most influential ideas are….paperworks. For example Archigram’s Walking City
    a) http://www.joerobson.co.uk/history_02.html
    b) post on Archigram on a graphics blog http://noisydecentgraphics.typepad.com/design/graphic_design_consultancies_creative_companies/

    No reason not to start an e-works trend. If Tom is in agreement lets explore the multi-disciplinary possibilities of the city over the e-waves! And may the best collage/drawing/multi-media mash-up triumph!

  5. Tom Turner Post author

    I agree about the influence of ‘paperworks’ with the tradition extending back to Ledoux and Palladio, so it would be great to have an e-works tradition for the future. I think Canberra was designed without Walter Burley Griffin having been down under, in which case it could be regarded as a paperwork transformed into a realwork.

  6. Sian Harris

    The Arnold Weddle you quoted in this blog may be related to me. I am tracking down my family tree and I know that this is completely off the subject but it would really help me out. Did Arnold have a wife called Beryl? Any information or storied you could tell me would be fantastic.
    Thanking you in advance

  7. Marian

    When is this book coming out please Tom? Are you involved in the upcoming Symposium at the Garden Museum on The Wind from the East: Learning from Chinese and Japanese Gardens on
    Mon 7th Dec?

  8. Tom Turner Post author

    Here is the publisher’s answer http://www.routledge.com/books/Asian-Gardens-isbn9780415496872 and it should be possible. I have seen the edited copy but not the page proofs.
    I did not know about the Garden History Society symposium. It sounds interesting.
    Far too many garden historians have dealt with the history of EITHER Japanese OR Chinese gardens, which is about as sensible as writing a history of Spanish or French gardens without giving a thought to Italian gardens. Perhaps it is even as unwise as trying to write a history of Roman gardens without regard to Tuscan gardens.
    Blinkers are useful if you want a horse to walk in a straight line but I do not recommend them for garden historians!


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