What is the style of contemporary garden design and landscape architecture?

Andy Sturgeon M&G Garden Chelsea 2012

Andy Sturgeon's M&G Garden Chelsea 2012

The M&G Garden, designed by Andy Sturgeon, would have received the Gardenvisit Award for ‘Best in Show‘, but for the designer’s crackpot explanation. Here is the Telegraph’s account of what he said: ‘The M&G Garden’ 2012, a ‘New English’ garden harking back to the Arts and Crafts movement, but with a modern-day twist. Featuring monolithic blocks of stone, a 98ft free-form ‘energy wave’ sculpture and a mix of formal, asymmetrical designs and informal cottage-garden planting, the garden truly reflects the values of M&G.’
Artists have been much better at naming styles and Wiki gives the following for the contemporary period:
Contemporary art – present
Toyism 1992 – present
Digital art 1990 – present
Postmodern art – present
Modernism – present
New realism 1960 –
Performance art – 1960s –
Fluxus – early 1960s – late-1970s
Conceptual art – 1960s –
Graffiti 1960s-
Junk art (adde) 1960s –
Psychedelic art early 1960s –
Lyrical Abstraction mid-1960s –
Process art mid-1960s – 1970s
Arte Povera 1967 –
Photorealism – Late 1960s – early 1970s
Land art – late-1960s – early 1970s
Post-minimalism late-1960s – 1970s
Installation art – 1970s –
Mail art – 1970s –
Neo-expressionism late 1970s –
Metarealism – 1970 -1980, Russia
Figuration Libre early 1980s
Metaphorical realism
Young British Artists 1988 –
Rectoversion 1991 –
Transgressive art
Synaesthesia events
Neoism 1979
Battle Elephants 1984
Massurrealism 1992 –
Stuckism 1999 –
Remodernism 1999 –
ArT is free 2010-
Would any of these fit Andy Sturgeon’s garden? Well ‘postmodern’ certainly would. Readers are invited to suggest classifications.
‘Classifying Andy’ is part of a wider problem: are garden designers and landscape architects totally lacking style?

11 thoughts on “What is the style of contemporary garden design and landscape architecture?

  1. Jerry

    Tom, I want to know that why you would like to give a ‘style’ to garden design work. I see a good garden design work as ‘a way to deliver the designer’s inside’ to the real world. This inside here means that it should have the philosophy of the designer himself/herself and the style should be just his/her character. For example, those famous Chinese classical scholar’s garden which were designed by ‘Scholars’ and they use the garden to ‘express their idea of life’.

    So, in my view that there should not be a ‘style’ summary of garden design. Design is actually designer himself.

    1. Tom Turner Post author

      It is a fair question (‘Why should garden design be in a style?’) and my answers are:
      1) garden design certainly does not HAVE to have a style
      2) but when you think about how most work in most arts at most points in history can be, and is, categorized into styles then the question to ask is ‘Why shouldn’t garden design be in a style?’
      3) the reason for styles is that groups of designers/musicians/writers etc then to have common aims and methods which tend to produce common features. The commonalities relate to: construction, planting, social use, aesthetic ideas, philosophical and religious ideas, etc etc
      The worry is that garden designers have excessively narrow perspectives and ignore most things outside their garden boundaries.

  2. Jerry

    I think I must join the garden history course again next term, and maybe use GIS to draw the gardens in London and compare those made at different points in history… and have a look at the style change.

  3. Jerry

    Yes, I actually agree with you about the genres in different period, but I may not believe that a designer could think about ‘ what is my style ‘ when they are designing the gardens. For example: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HP1FoZpdNtM ( What is the style?)
    And this http://www.grand-illusions.com/images/articles/opticalillusions/garden_of_dreams/mainimage.jpg( what is the style)

    Could you please let me know what your writing style is? Do you know it?

    1. Tom Turner Post author

      I don’t know much about style or genre in music but Sa Dingding seems to be classified as New Age. To take another musical example, surely a Bluegrass or a Rap or a Garage musician KNOWS what genre they are working in?
      Writing style is a big subject but one can associate styles with the occasions and purposes for which text is written. Eg poetry, prose, love letters, reporting, government documents, theses, marketing, music criticism, emails, texts etc

  4. christine

    Could I suggest that unless Andy was consciously following a style or creating an aesthetic theory, about the ‘New English’ garden, then perhaps the best description for his work might be eclectic, in that it borrows aesthetic references from many styles and periods: and yes, not unlike the postmodernist.

    But is he as deliberately post modern as Charles Jencks?

  5. Tom Turner Post author

    The words which most often come to mind when thinking about contemporary urban planning and landscape design are ‘Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.’ They are from Luke’s account of Jesus’ words on the cross (Luke 23:34, King James Version). Highway engineers probably mean well. Andy Sturgeon doubtless means well – but he and they are insufficiently knowledgeable about how their work fits into broader narratives. As design critics, we can classify Andy’s work as ‘eclectic’ but this is not the most useful category for designers to have in mind as they begin work on a project – or when they try to explain projects to clients or the public.

  6. Grant

    Safe-ism….making sure you get a gold without risk to your sponsers

    To take design to another stage invokes risk, that is risk of failure, reputation etc.

    So generally all great movements started from a point of miss-understanding by the general public till acceptance over time. (i.e. the proof of the pudding is in the eating…time).

    So who will put there head above the parapet next?



  7. Christine

    Grant is right about exceptional design. Although whether the designer preceives risk or the client does is a relevant question. Utzon said “I have a strange innate sense for space, I dream a house and then I have it in my head.”

  8. Stephen Harmer

    I agree I dont think present day designers always understand the past and only pay it fleeting inaccurate attention. ‘What goes around comes around’.This simple title sums up modern garden design.There is not a great deal in garden design that in same way shape or form has not been done before; be it 3000 years ago or within the last few hundred years. The case in point is the pyramid constructed by Diarmuid Gavin for Chelsea this year.
    Yes the pyramid uses less space on the ground so can be used in urban areas, and it would encourage communities to work together to produce food but what was not discussed was the pyramids role in garden design in ancient Egypt. The pyramid was symbolic of a sacred mound, the land emerging out of the water and would have had a garden in front of it containing date trees and plants providing shade. (Ref Tom)
    Another historical garden theme inspired Thomas Hoblyn at Chelsea this year. He took his inspiration from the Italian renaissance for his garden, or did he? In the interpretation material produced it is stated that Villa Lante and Villa d’Este were the inspiration, but these gardens were really baroque in style and had moved on from the original renaissance concept. His garden it was explained had moved away from the ‘’flamboyance and decadence’’ of the renaissance, which really was not a part of the first Medici renaissance gardens but was certainly part of the baroque period in Italy and in France.
    That being said, again we see the emergence of old historical styles proving that they still have relevance in modern garden design, which can only be good for garden historians.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *