Tag Archives: landscape design

The Shock of the New – Freeway

The freeway for the electric and hybrid car need not be the highway we are used to.There is no reason why it might not be encased in landscape when the view out is less than appealing: concrete noise barriers or the back of suburban areas or some of the more hostile industrial areas of our large cities.There is no reason why the drive to work need be monotonous…and why the landscape views might not be considered in the same way as a promenade through a garden. We should take advantage of what nature provides and the cultural landscapes we have created.

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?

In search of Sustainable Gardens…

So what is the sustainable aesthetic about? I suggest a few characteristics might be common to the sustainable garden aesthetic:

*  mimicking nature 

* minimal interference with the landscape

* native plant selection

* eco-material selection ie timber and stone

* bushland settings

* curved lines

* low water, low chemical and low maintenance

* absence of paths, boundary fences and made roads

For a garden see: http://www.e-ga.com.au 

For a plant aesthetic see:  http://www.flickr.com/photos/42478440@N00/517961141 

For an idea of how art & sustainability (green design) might have a more dramatic relationship also see the El Molino garden, a blend of formalism and naturalism http://www.anthonyexter.com/gardens/el_molino/2.php which possibly focuses on reduced resource use (water and energy) and plant selection , rather than a strictly natural aesthetic in the form, layout and background to the scheme.


Seine it before?

If the Parisian plan to build a replica of the Sydney Opera House goes ahead half the world will be able to save their airfare to Australia and visit the Opera House and the Effiel Tower simultaneously. Perhaps Sydney need only build an Effiel Tower on the harbour and Australians will have no need of a trip to Paris?

Still, the Opera House undeniably looks good wherever you build it. You can’t blame the Parisians for their good taste!

Perhaps an enterprising young Australian or Danish architect will suggest to the French that they can come up with an original design that will do for the Seine River what the Opera House has done for the harbour in Sydney…..

The city of Graz in Austria has made a low-key addition to the River Mur. While the Brazilian architects Architectum have designed a mobile gallery for the Thames.

As for landscape design? Well tree-lined rivers are not always a priority.


Living with green and blue

What is the future of water architecture? [  http://wiki.provisionslibrary.org/blog/index.php/2008/02/06/water-architecture-a-floating-alternative-for-the-future/ ] Surely it is zen. http://www.whatsonyourplate.msstate.edu/architecture/water.html Or…. http://www.cmoa.org/exhibitions/popup/diller.html

Corbusier’s influence continues to inspire and to produce some of the most evocative architecture sensitive to its landscape setting. The building does not dominate the landscape, rather the landscape is both shield and platform. Garden is both formal and informal. http://www.archdaily.com/374/os-house-nolaster/

living-with-green-and-blue1cliffside

Roberto Burle Marx as a context-sensitive designer

Paving at Copacabana Beach, design by Burle Marx, photo by Christina

As a painter, Roberto Burle Marx was an international abstract expressionist. But as a garden designer and landscape architect he showed a high degree of sensitivity to context – I say ‘surprising’ only because I was so slow to appreciate the complexity of this point. His planting was voluptuously Brazilian, like his mother, and Marx could see no reason for using European plants. Nor did he see any reason for the hard detailing to draw inspiration from the land of his father: Germany. Instead, he drew upon the country whose language is spoken in Brazil. The accompanying photograph is of Copacabana Beach – but could just as well have been taken in Portugal. Until I went to Portugal, I thought this amazing design was an example of Burle Marx inventiveness as an abstract painter. I was very wrong.

Design theory in architecture and landscape

The softness of lime mortar has allowed the doorway in an old garden wall to  be filled with respect to the bond pattern.

An email arrived today with the comment that ‘My primary interest is in design excellence (aesthetics) & I have been writing about how architecture is an art, and unlike other fine arts it is a practical art: a public art.’ But that ‘… because of the demands of sustainability there needs to be a way of re-thinking how we do architecture, privileging design. Central to this idea is that architecture is functional (modernist programme), sceniographic (post-modernist) and meaningful (post-postmodernist agenda)!?’

I agree that architecture and landscape architecture are applied arts. But in this, they do not differ from garment design, furniture design, etc. All should be functional and are best when they have high aesthetic quality. Sustainability considerations apply to each of these arts: if the world is running out of resources then we need to be more economical. This is, amongst other things, an argument for using lime mortar instead of cement mortar. Lime bonded brickwork and stonework can be disassembled, allowing design changes the the reuse of materials.

The public aspect of some applied arts raises other issues. The furniture in my home would seem to be entirely my own concern. But if I want to build a tall modern building in a medieval village then this becomes a matter of legitimate public concern. Ditto for the Martha Schwarz post-modern amhphitheatre in Castleford, especially because a bunch of idiots dipped their hands into the public purse to fund the park.

‘Meaning’ is another issue. A modernist approach to the Castleford Park would have been to discover what people wanted for the space and then make provision for their activities. The postmodern approach, as used by Schwarz, was to give the space a ‘meaning’. I do not know what words she used – could it have been to ‘echo a Roman approach to open space design, as exemplified by the Colisseum’ – but they must have been something inappropriate. A post-Postmodern approach to the Castleford park would have involved recognition of the multifarious interests of local people combined with intelligent design leadership. Beliefs shared between the public and the designer would have facilitated their combination. Flying in a US Design Queen might have worked in the context of shared beliefs.

What is the difference between garden design and landscape architecture?

Residential garden design - or landscape architecture?It’s worth looking to see what Wikipedia and Britannica have to say on this question. And I have to say that the Wiki entry on landscape architecture is a lot more useful than the Britannica entry on garden and landscape design. Britannica only let you have a quick glimpse at their text before a big black screen tries to sell you a subscription. But you have enough time to discover that the text is badly written garbage. Here is a sample: “Efforts to design gardens and to preserve and develop green open space in and around cities are efforts to maintain contact with the original pastoral, rural landscape. Gardens and designed landscapes, by filling the open areas in cities, create a continuity in space between structural urban landscapes and the open rural landscapes beyond. ”

The Wiki entry ( at 10.40 GMT on 1.7.2008) is so much better, or at least so much closer to my own view, that I suspect the author of having made good use of the Gardenvisit.com website. It states that: “Both arts are concerned with the composition of planting, landform, water, paving and other structures but: (1) garden design is essentially concerned with enclosed private space (parks, gardens etc), (2) landscape design is concerned with the design of enclosed space, as well as unenclosed space which is open to the public (town squares, country parks, park systems, greenways etc)”

Compared to Europeans, Americans tend to be a bit sniffy about garden design. They see it (as in the Britannica quotation above) as a subsection of garden design. This makes garden designers inferior people, because they can only do a fraction of the work undertaken by landscape architects. The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) only introduced a professional award for garden design, actually called “residential design” in 2005: ” The ASLA 2005 Professional and Student Awards program features a new category—Residential Design—drawing more than 120 entries in its inaugural year. Cosponsored by Garden Design magazine, awards in this new category will be presented on Monday, October 10, during the ASLA Awards Ceremony. A special luncheon honoring all award recipients, their clients, and professors will be held following the ceremony.”

Personally, I see garden design as much closer to a fine art than landscape architecture. Art is for art’s same and gardens are for garden’s sake. Landscape architecture is often for a public or private body with a shedful of axes to grind. It is similar to the distinction between painting and graphic design or between sculpture and product design.