The Landscape Guide

19.6 The structural revolution in garden design

Contents list

Even more than individual ideas and local ideas, structuralism is the force that will guide the garden revolution of the 1990s. Structuralism is a broad term for a movement that identifies common structures in different fields of experience. Roland Barthes uses wine as an example (Barthes, 1972). Advertisers show us that wine is not merely a drink. It is a powerful symbol, which speaks of sunshine, glamour, pleasure, relaxation and a way of life. Gold, candlelight and beautiful women convey some parts of the same message, which is why advertisers use them in combination. Men offer wine as a meaningful symbol to women. Structural analysts find codes that are common to:

  • style (e.g. cars, clothes, furniture, buildings);
  • visual imagery (e.g. advertisements, paintings, films);
  • behaviour (e.g. etiquette, ritual, body language);
  • ideology (e.g. religions, schools, families, games);
  • narrative (e.g. myths, fairy tales, comic strips, novels).

Analysts are interested in taking things apart; designers in putting them together. Structuralist procedures can be used in borrowing ideas from one field and deploying them to make new places. Styles, images, behaviour patterns, ideology and narrative can find their place in gardens. This approach opens up a host of inviting prospects. Instead of saying it with words or flowers, you can say it with whole gardens.

Music provides an example of a type of structure that can be used to organize designs. Patricia Sheares describes a project where

Design criteria were elaborated from the score itself [of Britten's Peter Grimes], using its "mathematical' form to impose an order on the design, especially the planting details. (Sheares, 1994)

The instrumentation and the melodic lines thereby provided a direct design structure, which was then linked to external factors of the journey. The aim was to turn the music, which had found its inspiration in the landscape, back into that same landscape without losing it.

Structuralism can infuse gardens with post-Postmodern ideas and beliefs.