Monthly Archives: July 2010

Attitudes to life, death and trees in western culture and 'civilization'

Attitudes to trees in Ancient West Asia and Early Christian Europe

Attitudes to trees in Ancient West Asia and Early Christian Europe

The illustrations show a Tree of Life (above left) in ancient West Asia, the felling of a Sacred Tree by St Boniface (Thor’s Oak, above right) and a Hanging Tree during the 30 Years War (below).

Jacques Callot, The Hangman’s Tree, 1633,

Jacques Callot, The Hangman’s Tree, 1633,

What do the illustrations tell us about changing attitudes to trees in western civilization? Here are some possibilities:

  • the ancients saw trees (and forests) as symbols of the natural forces which control the world
  • the early Church regarded tree-worship as idolatrous, because there is only one true God
  • both trees and people were destroyed in the religious wars of the seventeenth century

In clearing and ‘managing’ what is left of the world’s forest cover we may be marching in the path of the Easter Islanders. At present, the most densely wooded countries are Finland (86% of the total land area), Sweden (57%) and Austria (47% ). Australia, suprisingly, has 20.1% forest cover. The European countries with the least forest are Ireland, with 8% of the land as forested and the United Kingdom with 11%.

Gardening on the roof, don't pass on the past….

What can the past teach us about gardening in the present?

Undoubtably our ancestors were more agriculturally minded and more in tune with the rythmn of nature than we are today. The urban environments in which many of us live are climate modified, we buy our food from the supermarket and we heat and cool our living spaces. 

Perhaps by revisiting previous garden traditions – such as the zen tradition in Japanese gardens – we can begin to imagine a variety of ways of utilising our urban roof spaces for a variety of purposes.

The project to document Middle Eastern garden traditions is likely to provide a valuable source of inspiration for the future as well as potentially preserving and enhancing our knowledge of the past. Don’t skip the drawings.

The art of sketching and drawing can itself through film and projection techniques transform the urban landscape and create a virtual landscape….and a new way of thinking about ‘green’ surfaces.

A book for the landscape architect to die for is Sketch Landscape. There are many ways of communicating ideas, and this book  has 500 sketches and scribbles by some of the best.

Dutch Baroque Gardens

Honselaarsdijk © British Library

Honselaarsdijk © British Library

The British Library is making some  of its most important books available online with its Turning the Pages technology. The first garden book in the series was published as Tonneel van Nederlandse Lusthooven which translates as The Theatre of Dutch Pleasure Gardens.  There are high-resolution colour imges and accompanying audio. It is a brilliant production. But the title  Dutch Baroque Gardens is questionable. France was the country which set the standard for High Baroque gardens and the examples in this book have a different character. A Dutch friend suggested the classification Dutch Classical Garden for the style of Honselaarsdijk – and I think he had a very fair point. It is unlike Versailles – and if Baroque is ‘the style of the Counter-Reformation’ then it is not very appropriate for such a Protestant country as Holland.

How green is my garage?

Bill Gates is famous not only for revolutionising communications but also for being the proud owner of the largest green roof garage in Seattle.

Maserati recently ran a garage design competition…and entries included not only green garages…but an insanely cool garage that is everything about setting and concept (if just a little light on resolution).

The winning entry shown on this youtube clip is car as ‘art’ and perhaps might be a useful way of thinking ‘green garage’ for Lace Hill.  

Is this the landscape of future architecture?

Should one call this architecture or landscape architecture or neither or both? It is a competition entry for 2010 Competition Entry for International Business Center with an Intercontinental Hotel in Yerevan. The designer explains: ‘Instead of a towering Iconic image, disconnected from historic, horizontal Yerevan, Lace Hill stitches the adjacent city and landscape together to support a holistic, ultra-green lifestyle, somewhere between rural hillside living and dense cultured urbanity’. The images are good but, if I were one of the judges, I would want to see some cross-sections and floor plans before awarding a prize.

image courtesy Forrest Fulton

Please can we have more houses with happy smiling faces

It could be a normal request in briefing letters to architects: ‘Please give my house a happy and beautiful face’. The house in the above photograph is not convulsed with laughter but I read the slightly raised eyebrows as a sign of good humour – and the face of the house shares a beautiful simplicity with Botticelli’s face of Venus. I would like the house to have flowing tresses of vegetation and some beautiful steps could symbolise lips. Can the faces of buildings be classified as masculine and feminine? .