Monthly Archives: September 2009

Saana Pavilion at the Serpentine Gallery

The Saana Pavilion would be EVEN more beautiful with water and bamboos, instead of white chippings and trad flower pots
The Saana Pavilion would be EVEN more beautiful with water and bamboos, instead of white chippings and trad flower pots

The Saana Pavilion is the most beautiful, so far, in the Serpentine Galleries series of Summer Pavilions, but it is a disappointment for no fault of the architects. Obviously, it should have been integrated with an equally brilliant  garden design.

The Online Etymology Dictionary has this for Pavilion: 1297, “large, stately tent,” from O.Fr. paveillun (12c.), from L. papilionem (nom. papilio) “tent,” lit. “butterfly,” on resemblance of wings. Of unknown origin. Meaning “open building in a park, etc., used for shelter or entertainment” is attested from 1687. Saana have done the butterfly idea to perfection and it integrates with the plane trees better than any of its predecessors. But it could have been so much beautiful if integrated with, for example, water and bamboos. I hear the pavilion has been sold, so perhaps I will visit a garden some day and find this has been done. I hope so.

My suggestion to the Director and Trustees of the Serpentine Gallery is that they move heaven and earth, in their customary style, to raise additional funding for a combined pavillion+garden and then invite entries from integrated professional teams. This would:

  1. easily outdoo the best designs at the Chelsea Flower Show, which are often architecturally disappointing (see design reviews of Chelsea Flower Shows and Haruko Seki’s 2008 Silver Moonlight Garden)
  2. attract many extra visitors and far more media coverage, because gardens get far more media attention than buildings
  3. match the etymology of ‘pavilion’ as a building integrated with its setting
  4. achieve the wondrous goal of encouraging indoor and outdoor designers to work together on every possible occasion
  5. in all probability, make a series of contributions to the cause of sustainable green design

The Serpentine Gallery has a better opportunity to promote garden and landscape design than any other gallery in London: the Serpentine itself was once a leading-edge design. I think it is one of those occasions when an opportunity becomes a duty.

Context: Skyrise, highrise and surprise

gold-coast-skyrise-q11Increasingly there is a trend towards the design of skyrise buildings in the inevitable push skywards which is the fascination of architects [and city fathers] worldwide: why? Because we can.

Beyond the temptations of exploiting the limits of technological possibility are a number of very real concerns about context which architects should be mindful of.

Each building contributes to the visual amenity and character of the urban fabric….and in the case of cities, located as Surfers Paradise, is on the edge of a spectacular coastline….to the landscape setting and ecology.

Each building’s context is unique. So there are no hard and fast principles applicable in all circumstances. [Truly great designers delight in confounding principles…so with some risk I say] Some general principles do apply in relation to the general impact of the height of a building on its context.

For example, a generous open landscape setting such as is present on the Gold Coast in Australia, visually permits a correspondingly generous height of built form. And a predominantly vertical city fabric is little impacted by an additional vertical built form – even if it breaks the previous skyline limits. However, this is only to say something of the visual impact of such developments. And of course there are many other considerations, not least being the impact of shadows etc on the useability of both the surrounding buildings and the surrounding streetscape and landscape.


Niwt symbol: ancient Egyptian city determinative hieroglyph

First draft: niwt determinative heiroglyph logo

First draft: niwt determinative heiroglyph logo

Second draft: stylized niwt determinative heiroglyph logo

Second draft: stylized niwt determinative heiroglyph logo

From virtually thousands of emails, I know that many of our readers are throbbing with curiosity about the significance, if any, of the logo. There being no reason for secrecy, and the explanation will now be given. The symbol was inspired by the Egyptian hieroglyph niwt (pronounced ‘nee-oot’). Niwt is used as a determinitive so that, for example, if written with a pictogram of a falcon (Horus) the combination of symbols  means ‘the city of Horus’ (which the Greeks called Hierakonpolis).

Most heiroglyphs began as pictograms and many people think that this must be true of the niwt symbol. It is read as a protective wall round a settlement with crossing roads within. But it is also known that niwt was used for small towns before it was used for large towns, and it could therefore have meant a house-and-garden before it meant a town. My own reading of the symbol is that it reflects two very ancient and fundamental truths about dwelling places:

  • they must provide safety and security
  • they must be connected to the world outside the dwelling place

IF this is correct, then the niwt hieroglyph can be read is the world’s most ancient ‘plan’ of a dwelling place, representing a linkage between indoor and outdoor space – as the great majority of historical gardens have done. We therefore judged it a most appropriate logo for a website dealing with ‘design on the land’ by landscape architects, garden designers and others. We hope you like it. Logo design is an interesting craft.

The Egyptian settlement which most obviously reflects the ‘niwt’ plan is the worker’s village of Dier el Medina.

Capernaum House of St Peter and landscape archaeology

The Octagon Church is a fine example of context-insensitive design, despite its octagonal shape

The Octagon Church is a fine example of context-insensitive design, despite its octagonal shape

When building a visitor centre on an archaeological site the best policy is assemble a group of experts and ask them to make a reconstruction of the original building. The worst policy is to invite a trendy designer to exercise his or her creative imagination. The Octagon Church at Capernaum shows ‘how not to do it’. The building dominates the ancient town. I find it no comfort at all that visitors can look through the glass floor and see the ruins of the octagonal church which the Byzantines built on the supposed ruins of St Peter’s House.

” According to Luke 4:31-44, Jesus taught in the synagogue in Capernaum on the sabbath days. In Capernaum also, Jesus allegedly healed a man who had the spirit of an unclean devil and healed a fever in Simon Peter’s mother-in-law. According to Matthew 8:5-13, it is also the place where a Roman Centurion asked Jesus to heal his servant… One block of homes, called by the Franciscan excavators the sacra insula or “holy insula” (“insula” refers to a block of homes around a courtyard) was found to have a complex history. ..The excavators concluded that one house in the village was venerated as the house of Peter the fisherman as early as the mid-first century AD, with two churches having been constructed over it (Lofreda, 1984).”  Info from Wiki. Photo courtesy kokorokoko

There is a great need for landscape architects to become involved with archaeological sites. They are far too important to be left to the care of archaeologists.

Robbie Williams and the Compton Bassett garden design

Robbie Williams bought this garden, with the adjacent house, for £8.5m in 2009

Robbie Williams bought this garden, with the adjacent house, for £8.5m in 2009

As a solo artist Robbie Williams has  “sold more albums in the UK than any other British solo artist in history and has won more BRIT Awards than any other artist to date”. But I don’t think much of his taste in gardens or architecture. Compton Bassett once belonged to Lord Norman Foster of Thames Bank and was re-worked by the architect Michael Phillips, who specializes in chic hotels. Maybe the interior is comfortable, but what on earth could one use the walled garden for? The landform is amphitheatre-ish but it is designed sort-of-like a renaissance parterre, without the hedges and with wonky geometry. Then one wonders why there is a penguin pool in the bottom left corner and a rotunda overlooking the tennis court. Its a mad world and, as usual, I advise anyone who wants a good garden design to employ a good garden designer. You might ask them to knock-up a quick scheme for the house but I doubt if this will work out very well.

Gardens being made today, for the likes of  Robbie Williams, will be open to the public one day and I would like to offer two words of assistance to those garden historians who will doubtless try to classify the styles in which they were  designed: “Good Luck”.

Useful info for Robbie Williams:

Loampit Vale Redevelopment in Lewisham

Its ugly and its un-London.

Its ugly and its un-London.

The UK Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) was launched in ill-omened year: 1914. But it was founded by idealists and played an honourable role, until another year of destiny: 1947. Effectively, it then split. One portion became an arm of government, forever beholden to the ugliness of local government in the UK. The other portion, which has grown in size, became an arm of the property development industry. The idealists left.

The above image of a ‘regeneration’ proposal in Lewisham, South London, shows the result. There is a lot of patter about sustainability etc but the design is 1930s Corbusian with a sprinkling of rancid green sauce. The developers get a fat profit; the local council gets more tax income; the people get an ugly and badly designed project: 98% of respondents to a consultation were against the proposal. If Steen Eiler Rasmussen, author of London the unique city, could give an opinion he would surely sign it ‘Disappointed, Disgusted and Revolted of Copenhagen’. He believed London unique among world cities because such a high proportion of its residents have their own gardens and do NOT live in flats. Rasmussen also loved London’s parks and would be horrified the social uselessness of the proposed ground level space in Lewisham. The design is context-insensitive to a high degree. Poor old Lewisham. Poor old London. Poor old England.