In search of Sustainable Gardens…

So what is the sustainable aesthetic about? I suggest a few characteristics might be common to the sustainable garden aesthetic:

*  mimicking nature 

* minimal interference with the landscape

* native plant selection

* eco-material selection ie timber and stone

* bushland settings

* curved lines

* low water, low chemical and low maintenance

* absence of paths, boundary fences and made roads

For a garden see: 

For a plant aesthetic see: 

For an idea of how art & sustainability (green design) might have a more dramatic relationship also see the El Molino garden, a blend of formalism and naturalism which possibly focuses on reduced resource use (water and energy) and plant selection , rather than a strictly natural aesthetic in the form, layout and background to the scheme.

13 thoughts on “In search of Sustainable Gardens…

  1. Tom Turner

    The photograph is beautiful, as is the design. But the design inspiration is probably the ‘curvilinear Abstract Modernism’ which Thomas Church and Lawrence Halprin pioneered at El Novillero. There is also a relationship with ‘traditional’ Bauhaus Abstract Modernism – the Bauhaus Meisterhaeuser made a point of contrasting abstract (rectilinear) geometry with wild nature.
    My guess for a Sustainable aesthetic is that it will be:
    – a way of combining whatever become identified as the physical attributes of sustainable design (green roofs, green walls, SUDS/LID ponds, PV cells, etc).
    – a symbolic structure which represents the design aims
    – a geometry and visual character resulting from trends in the fine arts with comparable aims

  2. Christine

    Thankyou the garden heritage of California is very rich. It is thought that El Novillero may have been partly inspired by Thomas Church’s visit to Alvar Aalto’s Villa Mairea in Finland.
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    The Californian Garden and Landscape Heritage Society [ ] is a great reminder that it is important to promote the benefits, as well as understand the problems, inherent in both cultural and natural landscapes.

    Church’s statement “A garden should have no beginning and no end,” he wrote in Gardens Are for People (Reinhold, 1955), “and should be pleasing when seen from any angle, not only from the house” could certainly be the byword for an approach to a sustainable aesthetic.
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    It would seem Church’s text ‘Garden’s are for People’ should be on the reading list of every budding landscape architect.

  3. Tom Turner

    I have no specialist knowledge but (1) the idea that Alvar Aalto’s Villa Mairea was the inspiration for El Novillero is plausible (2) but I thought the shape of the pool at El Novillero was the work of Lawrence Halprin.
    For the present, I think the modernist design theory of Aalto, Church and Halprin is the best approach to developing a sustainable aesthetic which we may then classify as postmodern and sustainable. Part of the reason for this is that there was an element of fraud about the way modernism was implemented. I think it was Peter Smith who wrote (in a book on urban design) that the Arts Tower in Sheffield, in which his office was located, was a totally non-functional building with a claimed functionalist aesthetic.
    Perhaps we will read more about this in Mohsen Mostafavi’s Ecological Urbanism ‘While climate change, sustainable architecture, and green technologies have become increasingly topical, issues surrounding the sustainability of the city are much less developed. The premise of this book is that an ecological approach is urgently needed as an imaginative and practical method for addressing existing as well as new cities.’ I have not seen the book but it would appear to be suspiciously similar to the Landscape Urbanism he promoted when at the AA in London.
    I can see why Mostafavi might think ‘Ecological’ a better word than ‘Landscape’ but I think he is wrong. Ecology is a science, like geology, hydrology and all the other ‘ologies’. Would it make sense to have a Geological Urbanism or a Hydrological Urbanism? Well yes, it would make a little sense – but they would not be holistic approaches embracing a wide range of considerations drawn from both the arts and the sciences.

  4. Christine

    In the article ‘The Pool that Changed the World’ points to another important influence of the Californian Garden movement on a sustainable asethetic (born ironically from financial rather than environmental concerns);

    “California was screaming for an idiom of its own – one of drought resistant plants tolerant to the climate and simplified schemes suited to an informal alfresco lifestyle.” p80.

    (Dwell June 2001 pp78-81)

  5. Christine

    Tom, I hope you don’t mind but I have taken the liberty of exploring some of your ideas above….

    First, a little on Church’s design theory. His design process relied on four principle:

    1)Unity – which is the consideration of the schemes as a whole, both house and garden;
    2)Function – which is the relation of the practical service areas to the needs of the household and the relation of the decorative areas to the desires and pleasures of those who use it
    3)Simplicity – upon which may rest both the economic and aesthetic success of the layout
    4)Scale – which gives us a pleasant relation of parts to one another.

  6. Tom Turner

    They make a great list of garden design principles – and, as always, make me wish modernism had had more influence on garden design. Modernism produced some terrible buildings and it could have produced many more brilliant gardens.
    Modernism had little influence on the Chelsea Flower Show in the twentieth century but is having more and more influence in the twenty-first century. See this year’s review
    Part of the problem for modern architecture, as often discussed on this blog, was its lack of ideas on how to achieve context-sensitivity. Garden designers have often shown a remarkable ability to make the same mistake but this flies in the face of the underlying logic of garden design and goes against the classic principle of consulting the genius of the place.

  7. Christine

    The idea with modern architecture in general, although not with modern designers in specific, was that modernism as something discernably new – a decisive break with the past. So in that sense, context insensitivity was part of the mandate.

    Something of this originating impetus can be understood through the lineage of the Bauhaus designers and their relationship to Peter Behrens:

    “Young Gropius, though, was far less enamored than his forebears of the old revitalized Italian and Greek styles. He first went to work for Peter Behrens, a painter-turned-architect whose severe or at least austere buildings rejected old-world designs in favor of what he saw to be authentic (that is, innovative — not derivative or replicative) and useful (no extraneous elements and decoration). Behrens’ best-known structures are industrial, built of modern materials like steel and glass. They adumbrate those that Gropius — and the architects Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe, both of whom also apprenticed with Behrens — would conceive in years to come.”
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  8. Tom Turner

    I admire strict functionalism, minimialism, truth to materials and much else about the principles of modernism. But I also criticize Modernism for (1) context insensitivity (2) the self-deception of making dysfunctional buildings where were purportedly functional.

  9. Tom Turner

    I think the problem with Modernist Theory is more than context-insensitivity.
    Modernism rests design theory upon REASON. It turns away from BELIEF.
    REASON is everywhere the same.
    The principles of REASON are everywhere the same.
    Therefore DESIGN should be everywhere the same.
    This is the basic explanation for the construction of what the public damns as ‘matchbox architecture’ appearing all over the world. The designers of these ‘tower blocks’ have treated architecture as a mass-producable commodity, like cars and mobile phones, which can be endlessly repeated in every type of environment.
    I see the ‘blocks’ as dysfunctional because of their heavy energy demands and because most people in most countries would rather live and work in different types of buildings.
    The highest concentrations of people-unfriendly and environment-unfriendly blocks is now in China. They turned away from a 5000-year-old design tradition to adopt a fundamentally North European/US urban form.
    PS none of this is to deny the abstract beauty and purity of the best Modernist designs – in which group I would place Mies van der Rohe’s Barcelona Pavilion.

  10. Tom Turner

    Perhaps I should have said that the truths of science are everywhere the same – and science is beased on reason.
    Zaha’s car reminds me of one of two of my favourite car designs: the KR200 and the BMW Isetta 300 – with maybe a dash of Beetle thrown in – I would describe her taste, and mine, as retro-Germanic.


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