Monthly Archives: October 2009

Light 2c by


The Made of Light project by Speirs Major and Associates Lighting Architects is a wonderful e-book that discusses the relationship between architecture and light in 12 simple themes.

1. Source – natural and artifical

2. Contrast – light and darkness

3. Surface – light and texture

4. Colour – spectral colour

5. Movement – where time meets space

6. Function – the ability to see

7. Form – visual shape of mass and volume

8. Space – the absence of mass

9. Boundary – to unify or separate

10. Scale – the comprehension of size

11. Image – creating identity and charater

12. Magic – phenomena which can inspire us

The photographs above pick up many of these themes in the use of light in the landscape.

Charles Jencks Portrack Garden of Cosmic Speculation

Charles Jencks has been making the most interesting postmodern garden in Britain, with the Prince of Wales Highgrove garden as its only rival. Jencks, as the leading theorist of postmodernism, has the stronger theoretical base and I daresay there is not much to chose between the gardens with regard to resource costs. The Prince is the clear winner on sustainability grounds.

Apart from its striking visual character, the most interesting thing about Jencks Portrack garden is the way it carries forward the ancient project of making gardens which imitate (mimesis) the Nature of nature. Jencks seeks to understand the nature of the world, through science, and to embody the nature of the world in a garden design. The pharaohs, Plato, the emperors of China, Alberti, Capability Brown, William Robinson and Charles Prince of Wales  had the same intention. The results differ because their understandings of nature differ.

One criticism I have heard of Jencks’ Portrack Garden is that he is too literal in his ‘imitations’ of physical and chemical laws, principles and formulae. While not seeing this as a fault, I agree with the observation. The alternative would be to use the revelations of science as Jencks’ renaissance predecessors used optics and mechanics to produce remarkable visual effects and devices in gardens. Outside the garden realm, one of the most dazzling examples of what might be done, from the nineteenth century, is the Foucault Pendulum, demonstrating the rotation of the earth. “The direction along which the pendulum swings rotates with time because of Earth’s daily rotation. The first public exhibition of a Foucault pendulum took place in February 1851 in the Meridian Room of the Paris Observatory. A few weeks later, Foucault made his most famous pendulum when he suspended a 28-kg bob with a 67-metre wire from the dome of the Panthéon in Paris. The plane of the pendulum’s swing rotated clockwise 11° per hour, making a full circle in 32.7 hours.”  It is not too late to be making Foucault Gardens, Foucault-inspired gardens and other gardens inspired by a scientific understandings of Nature.

Charles Jencks Portrack House

Charles Jencks Portrack House

Image courtesy Marilyn Mullay

Zen: garden as house


Apart from what looks what looks unfortuneately like artifical turf on the roof – the Garden House by Takeshi Hosaka Architects with its tight triangular plan is a surprise and delight! Definitely a garden for my soul! The living spaces are designed around the edges of an enclosed garden courtyard, cleverly stacked and arranged to take advantage of every square mm of space, create privacy and capture views. In the photographs the garden is very young…it would be fantastic to revisit the house as the tree grows and the potted garden matures.

If you can’t resist viewing more  maybe a trip to Japan is in order…

Prince Charles' Postmodern Garden Design for Highgrove

The cover of The Garden At Highgrove by the Prince of Wales and Candida Lycett Green illustrates the postmodern character of even the central vista

The cover of The Garden At Highgrove by the Prince of Wales and Candida Lycett Green illustrates the postmodern character of even the central vista (the cedar tree has since died)

Gods bless the Prince of Wales

I once wrote that ‘Royal leadership in the art of garden design began to decline after the accession of George I in 1714‘. His successors lacked the garden enthusiasm of their predecessors. No one could say this of Prince Charles. With talent and resources, he is making one of England’s great gardens. Should he become Charles III, as I  hope, he will be the most talented garden designer ever to sit on the throne of England or Great Britian. He has substantial talents in garden design, landscape architecture and landscape painting. Charles is already The Green Prince. But will future historians state that ‘royal leadership in the art of garden design resumed when the Duchy of Cornwall bought Highgrove from Maurice Macmillan in 1980’? It is possible. But it is too early to judge. The Prince has, he tells us, put his soul into Highgrove. You can find a few images on the web and many in his book  but unless you manage a visit, as I was lucky to do, you will not get a good idea of the garden. With 6 full-time gardeners and 4 part-time gardeners, it is a fast-changing and, as yet, a rather admirably untidy place.

I will try to put my analysis into the standard format of a design critic and teacher: classifying the approach, saying what is good, saying what is not so good, and making suggestions re ‘what could do with further thought’.

The style of the Highgrove garden

The house dates from the 1790s and the design theory underlying the garden dates from much the same time. Humphry Repton, who once worked for a Prince of Wales, would have strongly supported the use of a compartmented structure and, unlike Arts and Crafts compartments, they would have had design themes.  I do not doubt that Repton would have approved the use of contemporary themes at Highgrove – and the view of Tetbury steeple from the front of the house is uncannily like a Reptonian sketch. But the visual character of Highgrove is uncompromisingly postmodern – to a far greater extent than the Abbey Garden in nearby Malmesbury by the brash postmodern developer-architect Ian Pollard. In detail, it may well be that Prince Charles has drawn inspiration from his annual visits to the Chelsea Flower Show and, perhaps, from Ian Hamilton Finlay’s Little Sparta and from the work of Geoffrey Jellicoe.

What’s good about the Highgrove garden design

The Prince has been very brave. His skill with pen and brush have educated a discerning eye and a creative imagination, able and willing to work as a patron for talented craftworkers.  Individual compartments are highly experimental, with some notable successes and some requiring further thought. He also has a grand theme – sustainability-  which,  it must be hoped, will unite the compartments into what could become the greatest Postmodern Garden in Britain. At present Portrack, by Charles Jencks, is its chief rival.

What’s not so good about the Highgrove garden design

The Highgrove garden lacks spatial coherence. This flaw may be a consequence of its youth. But it may also result from the lack of a ‘master plan’ at the outset of the project. It is perfectly logical for a Postmodern garden to be without a master plan but its lack may diminish the eventual quality of the design.

Respectful suggestions for the Highgrove garden

I saw Highgrove in early autumn. It may be that a flowing springtime meadow, billowing  around the geometrical core, gives more coherence. But I doubt if this would be enough, even though Miriam Rothschild advised on the composition and management of the wildflowers. My first suggestion to Prince Charles is to get some feint outlines of the garden plan printed onto the best watercolour paper and then to lay some washes to create a shape and a pattern for this space. My second suggestion is to give some more thought to the pedestrian circulation. This should be done first by user analysis (records of walks: by residents, visitors, staff, animals etc) to plot desire lines, and then by the Prince, if he can find the time, doing a series of quick watercolours to show views along a ‘processional route’ (ie a recommend route for visitors). They should be arranged in sequence and used as a design tool for future projects. Eventually, it might be found that they can be edited to tell a story.

PS I use ‘gods’ instead of ‘god’ in the heading for this post for several reasons (1) Prince Charles has stated his desire to be the Defender of Faiths, rather than Defender of the Faith (Fidei defensor), (2) many ‘gods’ appear to be respected and represented at Highgrove, (3) Christianity has not been a fruitful religion with regard to garden design.

PPS I also liked the Orchard Room designed by Charles Morris and consider Jonathan Glancey’s piece on A royal bungalow in the Tesco style bigoted.

Gardens for the soul


How will we define the gardens of the future if many are no longer dominated by greenery? See Kengo Kuma & Associates water/glass villa

Do plants have to be vegetable? Solar panels reminiscent of vegetation and slim line turbines feature as technological ‘plants’ in the Lotus Garden for Seoul.

What happens when city buildings start looking more like vegetation than architecture?