Monthly Archives: November 2008

Henry Moore's sculpture in landscape and garden.

Henry Moore said that “I would rather have a piece of sculpture put in a landscape, almost any landscape, than in or on the most beautiful building I know.” He made a good point and when traveling by train I often think of his remark that one should not waste one’s time reading – because it is such a wonderful opportunity to look out of the window and think and think. Railway lines make a cleaner cut than roads, producing a cross-section through the land.

I very much like Moore’s sculpture in the landscape but I’m not so sure about putting it in gardens – they are are too close to ‘the most beautiful building I know’. The sculpture in Kew Gardens is a case in point. It looks right because it has a ‘landscape setting’

Multi-objective water conservation in India

A stepwell in India

Multi-objective design being more characteristic of traditional societies than modern ‘scientific’ societies, India has the best record in the design of structures related to water conservation. This step well, in Abhaneri, is a temple and a place of resort in hot weather – as well as a water tank and a place to wash. Such structures are found throughout the Indian subcontinent, though many were put out of use by British engineers who saw them as breeding grounds for the malarial mosquito. They are known as baolis or hauz, and many other names, in India and are often called stepwells in English because of the steps which give access to the water at whatever level. The design of step wells and ghats (steps to water) was fully integrated with other aspects of town design. Today, most of them are neglected and rubbish-filled. It is a pity – and too late to blame the imperialists.

I have been reading Amita Sinha’s book on Landscapes in India: forms and meanings (2006). An associate professor of landscape architecture at the University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign, she writes that ‘Rivers, mountains, seashores, and forest groves nurture the rich mythology of gods and goddesses. The association of pilgrimage centers with water can be clearly seen in the number of sacred spots that lie on riverbanks, at concluences, or on the coast. The devotees bathing in rivers on particularly auspicious days gather spiritual merit (punya) and are absolved of their sins. Along with mountains, water is one of the most important natural elements in Hindu mythology, and most sacres sites contain one or both of these elements. Many temples are along riverbanks; others have water in the form of lakes, ponds, or built tanks. Tanks are essential at any worship complex’. London has many, welcome, migrants from the Indian subcontinent and I wish their traditions were employed in the planning and design of the River Thames landscape. See review of London’s riverside landscape and riverside walks.

Anti-architecture and anti-landscape architecture

La Leche 'River' in Peru

Christine wonders if I am anti-architect and I thought, after a little introspection, that a public reply would be worthwhile. I would like this blog to be an interface between architecture, landscape architecture, garden design and planning – and regret it if I come over as more anti-architect than anti- the other environmental professions. I have worked with architects all my professional life, though more as a teacher than a designer, and have often found them to be more creative and more technical than many other built environment professionals. But I regard the twentieth century as a bad period in the history of urban and landscape planning – and part of the blame lies at the feet of the professions. Another, larger, part is an unwanted consequence of professional specialization. But perhaps the largest part is the fragmentary arrangements for commissioning work. River control structures, for example, are commissioned by specialized river authorities with no mandade to spend money on anything except riverworks. They might even be called up before the auditors if they ‘wasted’ money on architectural or landscape objectives. But when an abomination has been created, it is simplest and blame the designers and they do not lack culpability.

The phogograph of La Leche River in Peru is described by Gavaton as a ‘now-channelized-for-agriculture river’. He is very right, except perhaps in continuing to call it a ‘river’ – unless he would argue that a dead dog is still a dog.

Sparking the imagination

city visualisation by concept artist mark goernerCity visualisation by concept artist: markgoerner
The visualisation shown is by conceptual artist Mark Goerner. It would be interesting to surmise what premises might underlie this vision of a possible ‘future’ city? Although Mark is neither an architect or a landscape architect he has produced a vision of a probable reality that both architects and landscape architects can recognise and respond to.
I sent this picture to Tom after realizing I had confused the terms ‘aspect’ and ‘prospect’ in my previous comments [see where is this landscape?]. Tom sent through links to Repton’s discussion of aspect and prospect and Loudon’s response.
Perhaps the oversight (in not first checking terms) leading to this discussion is more valuable than I first realised. It is unfortuneately relatively common in architecture to deal with issues of sustainability by modifying climatic effects using techonology (green or otherwise), often without first having planned the use, proximity and orientation of spaces in an iterative manner. [In this discussion also no regard has been given to topographic (and other) concerns ie. founding materials, volumes and degree of incline etc on the arrangement of space.] This way of proceeding, if Repton’s comments are anything to go by, is hardly new. And, if Loudon’s response is correct (and I believe it is), this oversight is a constant source of chargin to architect’s who seek to optimise (the positive) and minimise (the negative) by design.
Prospect is an essential part of the visual experience of a building from the interior; as much as it is an essential part of the visual setting (perhaps approach…but not always) of a building. Aspect is essential to the bodily experience of a building from the interior; as much as it contributes to how the building and landscape meld in harmony to form a composite at a myriad of viewpoints and scales.
Where might this city most probably be located? Why is it situated and arranged in the way that it is? What is the relationship of built form to landscape? What sort of a place would it be to live in? Is it a sustainable city?

What is the future direction of garden design?

Where should we look to find a welcome future direction for the art of garden design? Chelsea? Kyoto? California? Australia? Saudi Arabia? Wales? A candidate list is, please don’t laugh, in Wales. It was made by the Centre for Alternative Technology CAT.

Local slate and a local chicken

Local slate and a local chicken

Food being grown amongst flowers

Food being grown amongst flowers

They are muddled in some respects, including the design of a Japanese-ey Bridge, but they are surely right about three things:

  • they place a great emphasis on the use of local materials. In a famous slate-quarrying region, slate is used in the CAT garden as a building material and as a paving material. This is a welcome contribution to the Great Cause of context-sensitive garden design. If gardens are made with standard ‘garden centre’ products they will not have local character
  • CATare experimenting with the re-combination of food plants with beautiful plantsĀ  in gardens. This is how gardens always used to be made. The idea of having separate ‘aesthetic’ and ‘vegetable’ zones in garden began with the renaissance
  • CAT also have chickens at loose in the garden. They are ornamental and they lay better eggs than anything ever sold in a supermarket.

I would like to see CAT take these principles to the Chelsea Flower Show – and employ a really talented designer to explore and publicize them.

Dispersal of Landscape Institute Library and Archive

The UK Landscape Institute announced today that it has decided to sack its archivist (and four others), close the LI library archive and seek ‘a new home for the collections’. What a terrible shame. The old idea was that when you have only one loaf of bread left in the world you should sell half of it and buy a book. Or, if one is not quite so hard hit by the credit crunch, one should follow the Chinese proverb: ‘When you have only two pennies left in the world, buy a loaf of bread with one, and a lily with the other’.

One really wonders why a professional institute should employ 26 staff and yet can’t maintain a library or publish any useful policies to support its members. Whose interests are being served?