Monthly Archives: November 2010

Charles Platt: Pools of inspiration and transformation

The swimming pool and bathhouse at Manhassat Long Island by architect and landscape architect Charles Platt demonstrates the transformation in design thinking from European ideas that slowly began to characterise the design approach in the United States. The Manor House garden is remarkable for illustrating the genesis of this transformation in thinking with the ‘before’ garden centred on a fountain and the ‘after’ garden centred on the pool.

Gwinn, for which Platt contributed the architecture and collaborated with Ellen Biddle Shipman Warren Manning on the landscape contributes to the transformation of the Italian villa as inspiration to an American sensibility. There are particular elements of the garden design on the shores of lake Erie which introduce a genius for place into the American oeuvre, and are more suggestive of the quintessentially casual out-of-doors leisure lifestyle.

The turf maze as a game of love

A labyrinth has a single path to its centre and was a Christian pilgrimage symbol during the middle ages.
A maze, with many blind alleys, puzzling events and difficult choices, became the setting for a garden game for six unmarried youths and six unmarried maidens. In pairs, a boy and a girl make their way in opposite directions, one centripetal and one centrifugal. Cupid, who directs the game, encourages them to kiss if they meet. They all dance when the game is over. Ringhieri, an Italian author who explained the rules in 1551, appends some questions to the rules: ‘Why is the maze blind? Why is love a maze? Is human life a maze? Why is womens’ hair like a maze? Is philosophy a maze? Is human life an inextricable maze?
The game and the questions form part of the ‘labyrinth of love’ (see, for example: Boccacio’s Corbaccio o Laberinto d’amore).
A game of love on a turf maze would be fun during a university fresher’s week – when there is everything to play for.
The maze in the photograph is on the village green at Alkborough in Lincolnshire – and I do not know if it was used for the game of love. Arthur Mee says it was cut by monks in the 12th century and White (Lincolnshire Directory (1872) that it was made by the Romans. Others think it is medieval. The excellent Labyrinthos website states that the first record of the Alkborough Turf Maze dates from the 1690s. Eight English ‘turf mazes’ survive. They are actually unicursal labyrinths and may be old – but the earliest records are from the seventeenth century. Their locations are interesting in themselves. One is in a garden; three are in the hills; four are on village greens or similar places:
Alkborough, Lincolnshire – near the village church and overlooking the Rivers Trent and Humber
Dalby, North Yorkshire – on the hills between the villages of Brandsby and Dalby
Wing, Rutland – on the edge of the village green
Hilton, Cambridgeshire – on the village green
Somerton, Oxfordshire – in a private garden
Saffron Walden, Essex – on the Town Common
Winchester, Hampshire – on a hill on the south of the village
Breamore, Hampshire – on a remote hilltop

Image courtesy Lincolnian (Brian)

The classical gardening ideal of George London, Henry Wise and Virgil's Georgics

Here is the explanation of the frontispiece to The Retir’d gardener by George London and Henry Wise. Though England’s greatest Baroque garden designers, London and Wise dreamed of the simple life.
I. Agriculture, represented by a country-woman; her left hand upon a fruit-tree, her right upon a Zodiac, two genii supporting it.
II. Industry, represented by a woman standing on the other side of the tree, holding a book in her right hand, and a lamp in her left, with a crane at her feet representing vigilance; to show, that besides the labour and practice abroad in the day-time, to come to a perfect knowledge, we must read and study at night by the light of the lamp.
III. One of the naides or nymphs of the water, to water the tree; water being the soul of all vegetables.
IV. Terra, or mother-earth, with a wreath of flowers upon her head, a cornucopia in her right hand, and the globe of the earth in her left.
V. A view of a plantation of trees.
VI. Spades, pruning-hooks, &c. upon the ground.

The reference is to Virgil’s Georgics: Blest too is he who knows the rural gods.
And what more could any of us want: agriculture, the industry to seek perfect knowledge, water, earth, trees and tools?

Henry Wise retired to enjoy a life of rural retreat at Warwick Priory. In 1925 his house was sold for its bricks, which were used to built Virginia House in America.
The Undersecretary of State for the Home Department knew it was to be demolished, in 1925, and said that ‘financial reasons’ prevented his doing anything. As Thomas a Kempis put it, Sic transit gloria mundi. The foundations of Warwick Priory were partially excavated in 2002-3. .

Urban agriculture in Korea and in English public open spaces and parks

If the above open space was in England it would surely be managed as vacant gark-land, for two reasons (1) views of grassland are thought to have public health benefits, because it was once believed that dirty air (rather than dirty water) was the cause of infectious disease (2) because it is believed that any food which is not fenced-in will be harvested by marauding gangs of theiving youths. So England has hectare-upon-hectare of mown-but-scarcely-used urban grass land – and Korea, like Japan and other SE Asian countries, has agriculture which still prospers in urban areas. The photograph does not have the beauty so often seen in agricultural landscapes – but this would surely be achievable. I would not want London’s parks to be any less functional or any less beautiful. But I would like to see producing food and am sure it could be healthier and tastier than shop food which has been over-irrigated, over-fed and over-treated with pesticides. Does anyone know of any good examples ‘beautiful urban food’ to inspire Londons park designers and planners?

Image courtesy Steph L

Video on rooftop farming in New York City NYC:

What is beauty?

Many things.

The mirror art left is by Russian artist Francisco Infante-Arana who formed the Russian movement group in 1964. His simple gestures, while a subtle visual disruption to nature, reflects back to the viewer the essence of the invisible beauty which is accentuated in the visual perception of the artist when he contemplates nature.

Modern definitions of Western beauty have been given as ‘the unification of variety’, ‘the sensual manifestation of the idea’, ‘freedom in appearance’ and ‘the infinite expressed in the form of the finite.’ For Onishi, modern Western aesthetics in founded on the congruence of opposites (coincidenta oppositorum.) See ‘A History of Modern Japanese Aesthetics.’ ed Michael Marra 2001.

Recent Waterscapes by Herbert Dreiseitl – book review

Lewis Mumford, in his introduction to Ian McHarg‘s Design with Nature, wrote that ‘It is in this mixture of scientific insight and constructive environmental design, that this book makes its unique contribution’. It was a perceptive remark and I would like to pay a similar comment to the books which Herbert Dreiseitl has published with the title Waterscapes: Herbert Dreiseitl combines scientific insight with an ethical concern for sustainability and an enthusiasm for artistic creation. See Herbert Dreiseitl biography & cv. Waterscapes is already on our list of 100 best books on landscape architecture and in 2009 Dreiseitl published Recent Waterscapes.
Dreiseitl has the scientific insight to understand the water cycle and the negative impacts upon it from poorly conceived urbanisation. He also practices constructive environmental design and he makes a unique contribution. Landscape architecture would be a far stronger profession if more designers were able, simultaneously, to make the world more sustainable and more beautiful. But is it art? and, indeed, What is art? Leo Tolstoy asked this question and, in the Wiki summary: ‘According to Tolstoy, art must create a specific emotional link between artist and audience, one that “infects” the viewer.’ The Wiki entry on Art, begins as follows: ‘Art is the product or process of deliberately arranging symbolic elements in a way that influences and affects the senses, emotions, and/or intellect. It encompasses a diverse range of human activities, creations, and modes of expression, including music, literature, film, photography, sculpture, and paintings.’ I think Dreiseitl passes these tests but I also remember Tracey Emin‘s declaration that one of her works was art ‘because I say it is art’. Dreiseitl could pass this test – and I think he should have a go at it, with a better explanation than Emin. He could say that he has analysed the nature of the world’s watery aspect and found a way of expressing his view in a 3-dimensional and visually dramatic way which depends upon the exercise of hard-won skills. His water sculptures are made in a studio at a 1:1 scale and then cut in granite. Similarly, Rodin worked in clay and had his sculptures cut in marble or cast in bronze. Rodin’s interest was sex; Drieseitl’s is also concerned with the future of life on earth. But my account of his work will not do: Dreiseitl needs to pen an account of ‘why I am an artist’ – and he should exhibit sculptural work in galleries so that it appears in catalogues and passes the commercial test for a work of art.
My favourite projects from Herbert Dreiseitl’s Recent Waterscapes, from left to right, below are:
The Nuremberg Prisma, Hannoversch Munden, Town Square in Gummersbach, Tanner Springs Park in Portland,

There is one problem with Dreiseitl’s projects: the vegetation is often managed on a habitat-creation basis and this tends to look ragged in the early years. In the fullness of time, they may well become beautiful semi-natural habitats. But one wonders if there is a way of making them more beautiful in the early years. The example below is a rainwater retention scheme on the Kronsberg in Hanover, Germany.