Category Archives: Uncategorized

The future is blossoming

The stained glass windows of Josef Albers (1920-33) demonstrate the remarkable advances that were made in glass art in the period between 1885 (with the Tiffany glass Company) and 1933 (with students from the Bauhaus), and the increasing links between emerging art movements and gardens (hinted at by Filoli ).

Art Nouveau began a remarkable period in the history of art, when designers inspired by nature and natural forms, began a creative transformation which would lead to the pure abstraction of Modernism, perhaps most typified in the work of Gustav Klimt.

Louis Comfort Tiffany, was the third generation of successful American entrepreneurs. His father founded the jewelry company, Tiffany & Co, while his grandfather had been a leading cloth manufacturer.

Mirroring the emerging emancipation of women which typifies the age, the daffodil lamp, designed by one the ‘Tiffany Girls’ Clara Discoll, is considered among the most famous of the studio’s designs.

The passing of a friend: Anna Mendelson of the Angry Brigade

Passing time on the web, I discovered that a long-lost friend died in 2009: Anna Mendleson.
I knew Anna for 3 days only. Drinking hot sweet tea with a friend at a cafe in Bodrum in 1968, I watched her climb out of an old landrover. She came over and asked if we were looking for a place to sleep, explaining that she had come to collect someone who had not arrived. We said ‘yes please’ and were driven on a rough track to a peaceful villa in a remote seaside village, where we spent time swimming, cooking and eating – for which Anna took no money. One night there was a village wedding. The unmarried girls from the village, in long dark clothes, took it in turn to do modest shuffles on a low stage. Each was greeted with mild applause. There was a little moonlight and a glow from some tungsten bulbs. Anna, in a very short orange dress, then took the stage and lit up everything. She did a wildly energetic dance with bare limbs shooting in every direction. All the fire of the 1960s was there. This led to a storm of applause from the menfolk and dark frowns of frozen fury from the girls. The next I heard of Anna, she was arrested for being a member of the Angry Brigade. The police arrived and were horrified to find a large room with many people and a doorless doorway beyond which was a visible toilet with a girl using it. The police were genuinely horrified and, not for this reason alone, Anna was sent to jail for ten years. They released her on bail after four years. She changed her name and became a poet. I believe she was a kind person and wrongly convicted. Given all the police fabrication of evidence for terrorist trials since that date, I am convinced that Anna told the truth at her trial – and that the police lied. One can but remember Kipling’s words, after the death of his son in the First World War: “If any question why we died/ Tell them, because our fathers lied.” Here is one of Anna’s poems, published under the pseudonym Grace Lake:

i.m. Laura Riding
if thought be woven from the brain wished ill may learn to love again
a moonlit dusk by lamplight’s side a less anxious life
where proof of purse is not in pride nor strife a jokey vendetta
beginning twice more to examine extremes of sanctioned shapes
which knew to lighten mechanics with previewed disfunction
once the essentials are proven and normalities intergraved
it will not be mine to decide who are the damned and who the saved.

She died age 61 and here is her obituary. RIP

Tirtagangga water garden: the garden that time forgot

The Tirta (Holy Water) gangga (Ganges) water gardens in Bali are composed of three main elements: water, sculpture and gardens. They were originally built by the
late King of the Karangasem in 1948. However in 1963 with the eruption of the volcano Gunung Agung much of the palace was destroyed leaving only the bathing pools. The garden is said to be designed in a mixture of Balinese, European and Chinese styles and have undergone reconstruction.

Just around the Corner

The Architectural Association in describing ‘Landscape Urbanism’ says what Landscape it is not. It is NOT:

“…understood as a scenographic art, beautifying, greening or naturalising the city.”

And then what it IS;

“…scalar and temporal operations through which the urban is conceived and engaged with.”

Thus, Landscape Urbanism prioritises the phenomenological experience of the city, while distancing itself (perhaps defensively) from the visual aesthetic. Perhaps an ironcial realisation of this preference for the non-aesthetic is the prediction by James Corner of the disappearance of the city into the landscape. Perhaps this prophecy will be realised quite differently than the romantic post-industrial ruin?  Corner, typified by the high line project, focuses on the rehabilitation of the abandoned elements of the city and post-industrial landscape.Can landscape urbanism be artfully conceived? 

Perhaps the city of the future will afterall disappear under the advance of the landscape, but once again capture something of the beauty which is now itself abandoned by its favourite profession?

Theorising the possible

Whatever happened to beauty?

Modern art turned the viewer’s gaze inward to the inner world rather than outward to the external world. In doing so, modern artists prefiguring existential and phenomenological accounts of perception highlighting that art is not only seen, it is experienced.

In this first post of a series, with thanks to Tom for his comments and suggestions, I shall explore the work and artistic legacy of the Futurists.

At the turn of the twentieth century a young ecletic group of artists in a hurry collaborated under the banner of Futurism. The Futurists in particular grappled with the role of perception in artmarking.

They were concerned to portray the world as it is experienced and viewed, and perhaps more importantly as it could be, through a richer perceptual lens free of the constraints of the academie which had become ossified and rule bound.

The Futurists in their abstractions were concerned with expressing the emotional state of the artist rather than depicting nature. This interest in the emotional state of the artist/observer of life arose from in part from the sculpturer Boccioni insistence on the work of art as an essential manifestation of reality, an aspect of sensation, rather than as an activity of the spirit.

It is thought that the philosophy of Bergson was an important influence on the Futurists. Berguson espoused two types of knowledge objective and subjective. Objective knowledge is “conceptual knowledge directed towards the requirements of our practical life and lending itself to the analytical procedures of the natural sciences” while subjective knowledge “is a projection of our intimate self-awareness onto the external world.” Berguson termed this intuition.

Boccioni attempted to describe the proces of intuition the ‘terrible tension’ as he experienced it:

“the artist seeks to maintain himself continuously ‘in the inside of the object, to live its changeability and to grasp its unity.”

See article by Brian Petrie, ‘Boccioni and Bergson’.  The Burlington Magazine Vol 116, No 852, Modern Art 1908-25) pp140147.

It is possible to unpick this concern of the Futurists with close attention to the disappearance of beauty from the discourse of aesthetics. Arthur Coleman Danto in ‘The Abuse of Beauty’ believes beauty lost its descriptive power with the early Logical Positivists. Instead the word came to stand for an expression of overall admiration. He says:

“Beyond what could be dismissed as ‘its emotive meaning’, the idea of beauty appeared to be cognitively void – and that in part accounted for the vacuity of aesthetics as a discipline, which had banked so heavily on beauty as its central concept.” 

The Futurists in grappling with these concepts enriched our understanding both of artmaking and visual perception.

Gazing on planet Earth

If we are not really that sure what is going on with our planet right now – that is not surprising! Just looking at the earth from a distance, even in a satelite photograph is an awesome experience. Add to that the sense that in an unknown galaxy – even on the moon – there are unknown possibilities… and you have fertile ground for a new generation of sci-fi movies about saving the planet from global warming.

Perhaps the middle of the GFC is not the right time to be thinking about space exploration and solutions to a crowded resource poor planet. But perhaps it is the right time to be doing some of the thinking about other planets if not the going. The atmosphere of Mars it is said to be 95.32% carbon dioxide. Yet, sometime in its past it is believed that Mars did support life – fishes, reptiles, birds, small water snakes, microbes etc (even if they were 1/3 the size of ours here on Earth.)

Clearly life on Mars did not die out because of anthropogenic global warming….so what went wrong?

Melting away in time

Some predict that as the polar ice caps melt major cities such as London, New York and Bangkok will be flooded.

How are we to determine if such a future is in store? And how quickly it might become reality?

To understand the likelihood of such an event, and perhaps how quickly it might be likely to occur – some understanding of the historical  and contemporary geological setting of the cities is useful.

It is believed that the continent of Britain was formed some 200,000 years ago during a megaflood event.

What is happening today? Does the eruption of the Eyjafjallajokull volcano have any relevance for Londoners apart from air traffic disruption?

(Geology experts most welcome to comment!)

Southern Cross Station in Melbourne

Can an image capture an experience? Every so often one is fortunate to have a truly unique, new and revelatory experience of architecture and space.  Southern Cross Station in Melbourne by Grimshaw’s offers such an experience.  But I have not seen  an image it would seemwhich adequately conveys the experience.
It is  interesting for architecture, landscape and urban design . Because the boundaries between built space, enclosed space and open space, inside and out are not clear, the inside bleeds into the outside and vice versa. So thankyou to Grimshaw.  Southern Cross Station is a delight to experience!

(image courtesy Ian)

Landscape architects, including Martha Schwartz, covered in mud

Kevin McCleod on Channel 4 looked at three landscape projects in Castleford on TV last night. Martha Schwartz did worst. Tempted into describing herself as one of the ‘Two Queens of Landscape Architecture’, she forced a celebrity design for a park amphitheater down the reluctant throats of a mining community in the North of England. There was a community ‘consultation’ exercise in which she was told they did not want it. So English Partnerships paid the £1m project cost. It was built. The community do not like it and do not use it. Sic transit gloria mundis.

Parklife, a London landscape firm, also did a community ‘consultation’, and then provided the adventure playground which was requested. Very sensible. It cost £200,000. But the landscape architects refused to provide a fence and so the vandals are pulling the park to pieces and ripping out the plants, night after night. Very stupid. Sic transit gloria hortus.

A local community leader said the first step in making a public open space was to build a high fence. She did this and then forced the designers to make what is now called the Cutsyke Play Forest. It is popular and remains in excellent condition. Very sensible. I congratulate her. See our essay on Parks and boundless space for a discussion of the role of boundaries in the planning and design of public open space.

National Trust Gardens

A National Trust bench at Studley RoyalWhen Dame Jennifer Jenkins was appointed to chair the UK National Trust she commented that the main criticism of the gardens they manage is that ‘They are all the same’. It is not quite true but they do have an alarming similarity. This was brought home by visits to some visits to Yorkshire gardens this year. Studley Royal, run by the National Trust, has not had the ‘curse of Sissinghurst’ laid upon it. Of course I love Sissinghurst and of course it attracts busloads of visitors, but I do not want to see England’s historic gardens getting ever more like Sissinghurst. Studley Royal retains its independent dignity but it IS getting more National Trusty. Perhaps the paths are being too well kept; perhaps too many seats are appearing; perhaps that terrible Visitor Centre has an existence outside my drawer of garden nightmares. I can see that the architect had a lot of fun but the National Trust does not exist for this purpose. Its not such an ugly building: it just does not belong at Studley Royal.

From Studley Royal I went to Bramham Park – and was delighted to see how un-National Trusty it remains. In parts the standard of maintenance is higher then the National Trust would attempt. In other parts is is lower. In other parts, like the tennis court on the front lawn, it is entirely as the resident family wish it to be. It is a real garden.

Chatsworth Garden was also a pleasure to visit. Apart from its unique historic character, it has an individuality which, I can only assume, results from the kindly care lavished upon the estate by the Devonshire family. The food was also a great deal better and cheaper than in a National Trust multiple.

These considerations remind me that a friend of my grandfather’s was one of the National Trust’s first 100 members. In the 1950s, they both resigned with the explanation, in my grandfather’s words, that ‘They will be just like the monasteries, and all monopolies, when they get too large and too wealthy, they become lazy and corrupt’. He thought the National Trust was doing too much to become larger with ever more jobs for ever more boys and ever more girls. Instead, he argued for a plethora of smaller trusts each with its own role and its own policies. I think he was right.

Let us hope the National Trust’s new chairman, Sir Simon Jenkins, can do something more effective about the problem than Dame Jennifer Jenkins. He has long argued for effective devolution from Westminster to the regions. The problem he faces is that the great estates can’t very well be returned to their ancient families. One thing he could and should do is rid the National Trust of fawningly busybody interference of the kind pioneered by Graham Stuart Thomas during his reign as gardens advisor to the National Trust.