Landscape HISTORY & THEORY: History,
Landscape Architecture, Manifesto,
Professional Oath, Landscape
Architecture History and Theory CD, Definitions,
Landscape Architecture Theory
A theory is a 'supposition or system of ideas explaining something' Concise
A theory of landscape architecture should explain:
- the nature of the discipline
- how it should be practiced
Our webpage on landscape history concluded
with a comment on the vast scope of the subject, as treated by Newton
and Jellicoe. One might imagine that landscape architects have primary
responsibility for laying out forests, fields, roads, towns, parks and
gardens. Well, they do have an involvement with these tasks but, except
in the case of public parks, it is a relatively minor involvement. We
therefore need a new history and a new theory.
The former Professor of Landscape Architecture at the
University of Pennsylvania, John Dixon Hunt, published an important
book on on landscape theory, in the first year of the twenty first century:
Hunt, J.D., Greater Perfection: the practice of garden theory
(Thames & Hudson 2000). The following quotations reveal the extent
to which he challenges the current state of the subject:
- The subject of landscape architecture has no clear intellectual tradition
of its own, either as a history, a theory, or even a practice' (page
- ‘... though much has been written about the garden, none of it satisfies
even the basic requirements of a theoretical position’ (page 7);
- ‘Landscape architecture is a fundamental mode of human expression
and experience.’ (page 8)
- '... only dance and body painting otherwise come to mind as
arts that actively involve a living, organic, and changing component'.
- 'The most sophisticated form of landscape architecture is garden art'.
- 'Gardens focus the art of place-making or landscape architecture in
the way that poetry can focus the art of writing' (page 11)
- ‘... the point is that landscape architecture, locked
into a false historiography, is unable to understand the principles
of its own practice as an art of place-making’. (page 207)
- 'Walpole's achievement has to be saluted all the more when it is realized
that single-handedly he determined (or distorted) the writing of landscape
architecture history to this day' (page 208) [Note: the full text of
Walpole's essay is available online at the Gardens
Guide section of this website]
- 'The crucial moment of modernism occurred not circa 1900 but rather
one hundred years earlier... The failure to identify and understand
that watershed contributed substantially to the historical and theoretical
inadequacies of those who prompted modernist landscape architecture'.
[This quote comes from Hunt's 1992 book Gardens and the Picturesque:
Studies in the History of Landscape Architecture. There is a comment
on this book in an essay on 'The blood of philosopher-kings' in Tom
Turner's City as landscape (Spons, 1996) from which the illustration
below is taken].
Tom Turner's response (May 2000) to John Dixon Hunt:
I agree with Hunt about:
- the relationship of garden design to landscape architecture
- the weaknesses in the history and theory of both arts
- landscape architecture being a kind of place-making
- the mishap in landscape theory which occurred c1800
However, I would also make the following points:
- the key theoretical mistake was a failure to take account of shifts
in the predominant use of the word 'nature'
- it is insufficient to define landscape architecture as 'place-making'
- we have to specify that the aim is to make 'good places'
- we also have to specify the aspects of places with which the landscape
profession is concerned. Ian Thompson has done this job with the title
of his book: Ecology Community and Delight: sources of values in
landscape architecture (E&FN Spon, 2000).
- Hunt comments that 'there was never a body of specialists to compose
treatises specifically for what we have come to call landscape architecture,
as Vitruvius did for architecture', but Vitruvius
lays the basis for landscape architecture, just as he does for civil
and mechanical engineering.
SHORT SUMMARY: The aim of garden design, as of landscape planning,
is to make good outdoor space. This requires us to understand the nature
of the world. One must appreciate what can be changed
and how it can be changed. There is no one right way. Approaches
to understanding the nature of place, through art, science and religion,
yield different views of outdoor space: of how it can be moulded and of
the degree to which it should remain unchanged. With historical, philosophical
and etymological precision, these views can be described as 'landskips',
interpreting the word in relation to Plato's Theory of Forms.