Monthly Archives: December 2008

Graffiti in the garden

Kelburn Castle. Images by flickr user guinavere.

Kelburn Castle. Images by flickr user guinavere.

My local council detests graffiti artists. A rapid response team in CBRN Suits (chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear) soon arrives with tanks of noxious chemicals. Understandably, allowing citizens to paint wherever they wish without permission is an unworkable situation and definitely not one I am going to argue for.

However, sometimes I feel too little thought is put into whether the environment has actually been improved with the odd dash of new paint here and there. So, I was delighted to find a more-enlightened attitude on the Glasgow Riviera. Kelburn Castle has been in our Garden Finder for ages, without being on many people’s must-see garden lists for Scotland. Then they employed Brazilian Graffiti artists for a paint job. Now it’s a real spectacle. On cold winter days Kelburn blazes on the landscape as though on fire.

Is it Art? Or should someone call the CBRN guys as soon as possible? Peronally, I love it.

Bauhaus Design Principles

Why did the Bauhuas succeed in Weimar and Dessau, while the New Bauhaus,  founded in Chicago in 1937 (which became Illinois Institute of Design) did not succeed? Laszlo Moholy-Nagy founded the New Bauhaus. A painter, photographer, filmmaker and teacher, he saw the artist as a visionary and said: “We need Utopians of genius to foreshadow the existence of the man of the future, who, in the instinctive and simple, as well as in the complicated relationships of his life, will work in harmony with the basic laws of his being.” [] In his book Vision in Motion Moholy wrote that ‘art’ is the result of an inner drive. However, he qualified the usefulness of this inner drive by saying “only by translating an intuitive grasp of the unadulterated problems of his time into imagery, can a coherent expression be ‘best’.” 

Although the curriculum at the New Bauhaus was reputed to be the same as the basic or founding course developed by Walter Gropius for the Bauhaus in Germany, the Bauhaus in Chicago never reached the same heights of design innovation. The Chicago Bauhaus is recognised today for advancing the art of photography. In terms of design, the School is credited with changing the stylistic direction, resulting in a reduction in the then dominant ‘Beaux Arts’ tradition in America.  []

Modernism, in one sense,  became America’s post-war style. Designers in the UK and Australia looked to the United States for the new direction. Perhaps this is the legacy of the Bauhaus? Yet, one of IIT’s (the New Bauhaus) famous sons is Charles Owen. He is known for the customer-centric process called ‘Structured Planning’:  “Structured Planning is a methodology that generates and optimises the insights and information necessary for planning customer-centric service systems, and has the added advantage of enabling traceability of decision-making, a feature that is particularly relevant in an accountability-focused government environment.” Owen’s philosophy of the customer-centric process is clearly different (if not in opposition to) the idea of the crafts-based artist expressing an inner drive which is representative of his historical time. Or is it so different?

The diagram ( ) is from the 1939 brochure of the New Bauhaus School of Design. It has Architecture and Engineering at its heart and Nature Study near the periphery. Garden design and landscape architecture do not appear on the diagram.

Greenwich Park Restoration after 2012 Equestrian and Modern Pentathlon Events

Greenwich residents mostly oppose the plan to convert ‘their’ park into what the organizers call ‘A world-class venue on your doorstep‘. I support them but believe that, as at public inquiries, the objectors should also have a list of conditions to be imposed on the developers in the unwelcome event of permission being granted. For the horse riding events in Greenwich Park, this should include:

  • extensive protection and conservation of ALL historic landscape and architectural features
  • even more protection for the most ancient artefacts in the park: the remains of a roman temple and the Saxon burial mounds. The greatest possible care should go to the vestegial grass on the burial mounds: it may be the most ancient grassland in the whole of South London.
  • a full archaeological investigation and restoration of the Le Notre parterre. This is the only work in England by the greatest landscape designer of the seventeenth century and, some will argue, the greatest landscape architect who ever lived. The parterre is currently managed as though it were a football pitch. The lawn and its chiseled grass banks should be maintained with the precision they deserve.
  • the Giant Steps which ran up the axis from the parterre to the Greenwich Observatory should be restored using modern grass reinforcement techniques. They were the central visual component of the seventeenth century design for Greenwich Park. Restoration has been considered on several occasions. The proposed 2012 Olympic Equestrian Event creates an opportunity to act.

Unless the 2012 organizers can demonstrate beyond reasonable doubt their willingness to leave Greenwich Park in  better condition than they find it, they should be thrown into the deepest dungeon in the Tower of London, thus creating what would undoubtedly be a popular tourist attraction. I will supply the salt beef and when dropping it in will ask “Why not use Charlton Park instead?”

Note: for more discussion see article on The Conservation of Greenwich Park.

See also Mass Protest against Greenwich Olympic Equestrian Event

A revised plan for the equestrian route was published in The October 2009 “Greenwich Park Venue Update”. It is shown below, on a Googlemap. Their plan shows it avoiding the Anglo-Saxon Tumuli but without a geophysical survey how can they be sure?

October 2009 Revised plan for the equestrian route

October 2009 Revised plan for the equestrian route

Context-sensitive design

This view, in Bundi, inspired Kipling to write Kim - which is full of 'context-sensitive' local character.More design (cities, architecture, landscapes, gardens etc) should be more context-sensitive:

  • it is more sustainable (less energy, local plants, local materials etc)
  • traditions which have survived what Christopher Alexander calls ‘an endless period of time’ are likely to be adapted to local cultural and geographical circumstances
  • local character is what local residents usually want
  • local character is what tourists usually want

I am NOT however arguing against innovation, which local people and tourists can all appreciate. I am arguing that every design team MUST explain and MUST justify the contextual approach they have adopted. Similarity, Identity and Difference are all welcome in the right circumstances. Garden travel is one of life’s great pleasures – and it helps one see that Russian design should not be copied in China, French design should not be copied in Russia, American design should not be copied in Dubai, British design should not be copied in India, Japanese design should not be copied in America, etc etc etc. Mobile phones and cameras are international go-anywhere products. Designed gardens and landscapes should have local roots, however much they learn from elsewhere. Curiously, designers often understand this best when working outside the countries in which they were born.

The photograph is of the garden in Bundi where Rudyard Kipling wrote Kim, and possibly wondered:

Winds of the World give answer! They are whimpering to and fro

And what should they know of England who only England know?