By: Laurie Olin
Laurie Olin, a landscape architect, is a founding Principal of Hanna/Olin, Ltd., in Philadelphia. His practice has a broad and international scope and currently includes design for Canary Wharf in London and the restoration of Bryant Park in New York City. He has collaborated with many prominent architectural firms such as I.M. Pei& Partners, Skidmore Owings and Mer rill, and Davis Brody; his work includes prizewinning competitions such as the Ohio State Visual Arts Center with Peter Eisenman and the Codex Corporation Headquarters with Fred Koetter, and public works such as Battery Park City, New York and the
15th Street Transitway/Mall in Den ver. While in practice, he has also taught and pursued historic research in landscape design. From 1982-1986 he was chairman of the Harvard Gradu ate School of Design, Department of Landscape Architecture; prior to this, from 1974-1982, he was a member of the Landscape Architecture faculty at the University of Pennsylvania. For his work and study in the field he has received Guggenheim and Rome Prize Fellowships; he is currently a Trustee of the American Academy in Rome, a Senior Fellow in Landscape Architec ture at Dumbarton Oaks, and a member of the Advisory Panel to the Design Arts Program of the National Endowment for the Arts.
Abstract: This essay develops the thesis that the range in landscape design forms derives, directly or indirectly, from nature and its processes, often translated through a series of abstractions and artistic expressio11s. Limitations upon the range and diversity of forms created have resulted largely from cultural norms. Recent projects seeking to expa11d the choice of formal structure, materials, palette, and expression, including intended meaning, areexamined and compared toseventeenth and eighteenth-century works of Brown and LeNotre, which arefound to be more successful i11 their transformation of preexisting prototypes, first asabstractions from nature and second in the tradition of devices used to invest meaning. Despite a perceived tension between theevolutionary tendency of art to renew itself through change and transformation, and thegeneral accessibility of works which is very much dependent upon their normative properties, the greatest examples of design in the field accomodate bothneeds. Devices which can combine to create meaning and characterize style areconsidered in works of the nineteenth century (Olmsted)and twentieth century (Haag, Halprin). The conclusion affirms the centrality of metaphoric device and concern for natural process in thecreation of work that eschews literal imitation of nature, but rather strivesfor understanding and emulation, informed by consideration of the history of endeavors to do so.
Historically, landscape design has derived a considerable amount of its social value and artistic strength from three aspects of the endeavor: the richness of the medium in sensual and phenomeno logical terms; the thematic content concerning the relationship of society and individuals to nature; and the fact that nature is thegreat metaphor underlying all art.
Human landscapes exhibit a complexity akin to living organisms. They are composed of disparate ele ments that form entities different from their parts; they inhabit real time and interact with their environment. They can be evolutionary, undergoing mor phological change (e.g., trees growing and maturing with subsequent visual, spatial, and ecological changes), and can even die, both physically and met aphorically.
Recently, two important and, in my view, incorrect theoretical assump tions have become so ubiquitous that they have seriously weakened land scape architecture as an artistic field, despite its social utility. The first has been to confuse human landscapes and the needs and achievements they em body with natural landscapes and their processes. Students, teachers, and practitioners alike demonstrate a lack of understanding of the relationship between the author/artist/designer and
Figure 1. Yankee ethos of rockbound coast meets modern metaphysics: a fountain of rocks and mist at the Harvard University Science Center, by Peter Walker. Source: Laurie Olin, 1987.
the medjum of expression; also, they fail to understand its limits, range, and potential on the one hand and display an ignorance of the formal issues with in the field and an anti-cultural stance that eschews aesthetic concerns and their history on the other. The second assumption is a new deterministic and doctrinaire view of what is “natural” and “beautiful” that has replaced older, alternative, views that were equally doctrinaire. Couched in a born-again language of fundamentalist ecology, this chilling, close-minded stance of moral certitude is hostile
to the vast body of work produced through history, castigating it as “for mal” and as representing the domi nance of humans over nature.
This failure to appreciate the for mal possibilities, typological reper toire, and potential content (alle gorical, iconographic, symbolic, em blematic) of the field that have been developed through history is encouraged in part by an anti-intellectual and anti-historical bias that runs deep in American society and the profession, and in part by the wide scattering of the built work in time and space. The mlTi culties that accompany the amount of travel necessary to visit thisdiffuse body of work are compounded by the difficulties of describing and recording the phenomenological natureof sites that possess even minimal complexity or subtlety. As long as I can remember, the vast majority of practitioners have espoused a functional and “problem solving” ethic which, although socially beneficial up to a point, has in effect asserted that mere instrumentality is sufficient in the creation of human environments, eschewing the more dif ficult issues that are raised if one also aspires to practice at the level of art.
In theory, the range of formal expression in landscape design could be as broad and varied in scope as that of the numerous landscapes, things and events in the universe, if not more so, since one might presuppose an opportunity for new experiments and combinations of existing phenomena. The things we make might only be lim ited by the laws of physics, chemistry and biology. As Buckminster Fuller once remarked, “The opposite of natu ral is impossible.”1 Yet despite the astonishing number of different land scape designs built since pre-history, there has emerged a finite, even lim ited, repertoire of favored formal strategies and expressions that have been applied to countless different and particular places through time.
Experimentation in Contemporary Landscape Design
The principal reason for the lim itation of formal expression thus far is predominantly cultural, although cer tain constraints in building materials and physical intervention transcend both art and technology. Water, when
Figure 2. Harlequin Plaza, Denver, Colorado, by SWA (George Hargreaves, principal designer) and Genzler Associates. Source: Terry Campbell.
unrestrained, runs downhill; plantsdie when their biological needs are not met. Neverthe1ess, the choice of materials with which to build-soil, stone, card board, tin, etc.-isdetermined almost exclusively bysocial factors (economics, safety) and cultural factors(aesthetics). The stir created by revolutionariesin design is usually brought about by their transgression of what is cu1turally acceptable regarding the choice of mate rial or form or composition.
Three recent American land scape designs that exemplify such transgression of convention, thereby attracting critical scrutiny, attack, and praise, are Martha Schwar:tz’s Bagel Garden in Boston, SWA’s (George Hargreaves) Harlequin Plaza in Den ver, and SWA’s (Jim Reeves and Dan Mock) Williams Square at Las Colinas near Dallas. These projects have fol lowed other contemporary art and design fields in an attempt to broaden the range of acceptable (and serious)
formal expression from that which is normative in the field. No one does this in the nameof program, function, or biophysical imperative except as broadly defined-i.e., only if aesthetics and the risk taking that accompanies inquiry and a craving for change (to see what is around the next bend) are defined as functions. In fact, one of the things that all of these projects have in common is how little they use the most traditional materials and devices of landscape design, specifically plants and reference to natural landscapes.
Their shock valuederives from this abnegation of “normal” imagery and texture. They are “contrast gainers” that in every likelihood will lose their strength and energy over time as they become members of a new class of landscape designs that eschew depen dence upon planting or direct reference to natural form for its organization.
This is not to say that they do not refer to nature. They do, but indirectly, by reference first to other works of art that were more directly inspired by “na ture.” As in transmission of energy in otherforms and media, there is at each step a loss and a dissipation of that energy.
One dilemma of much recent avant-garde landscape design is that, in the desire to reinvigorate the field, many have turned to devicesor strat egies that lead away from the central source of its power: Nature. In the attempt to avoid banality and tran scend imitation, a crisis of abstraction has developed. By adopting strategies borrowed directly from other fields and by referring to work that is itself an abstraction from the referent, many contemporary landscape designers are producing work that is thin, at best a second- or third-hand emotional or artistic encounter.
The work of Martha Schwartz (the Bagel Garden, and hermother’s garden in Philadelphia), of Schwartz and Peter Walker (the Necco field in stalled temporarily at MIT), and Walker’s Tanner Fountain at Harvard University raise the issue of palette. They argue that landscape design can usea host of untried and unconven tional materials. Garrett Eckbo and Gabriel Guvrekian pioneered this endeavor earlier in the twentieth cen tury with mixed results. Both experi mented with industrial materials as sub stitutes for traditional materials. One thinks of Eckbo’s useof plastic panels (corrugated and otherwise) and various precast elements and shapes in lieu of wood arbors, masonry walls, and screens: hissearch for new colors, tex tures, and shadows; and his adoption of shapes from the School of Paris painters, or of Guvrekian, who substituted shiny metal spheres and crystalline polygons for shrubs in his remarkable “Garden of Light.”
Landscapes throughout history have predominantly been made of nat ural materials, with the objects and structures placed within them made from processed or manipulated natural materials. In the nineteenth century, iron, concrete, asphalt, and glass were added in the works ofLenne, Paxton, Alphand, Olmsted, and others. Recent projects of artist Robert Irwin with ephemeral qualities that are both anal ogous and complementary to those of plants and the play of light and shade through their structure and surfaces, and the successful mingling of metal and wire with natural elements should convince any thoughtful person that the problematic effort to expand and invig orate the palette with which we work is a worthy one. On the other hand, when one considers the overwhelming variety of plants and the almost endless variety of patterns that one can achieve with only a few colors and shapes of pave ment stones, it is easy to understand why some of the most gifted designers in the field have spent their careers working with a limited palette that was self-imposed, gradually reducing their choices to fewer and fewer elements, thereby producing profoundly poetic works. In fairness, one must further remark that Schwartz and Walker have embarked upon a similar reductive regimen and that their exploration of tainted or unexpected materials and formal orders has been carried out with enormous self-control and restraint.
The self-conscious, continual referenc ing to contemporary works or art rather than to the world itself, however, is a genuine weakness.
Imagery Williams Square at Las Colinas, Texas, near the Dallas Airport by SOM, SWA, and the sculptor Robert Glen can be considered to have expanded the range of expression cur rently practiced by attempting to rescue rhetoric and imagery from the past, specifically that of Baroque aquatic sculpture groups. This is a revisionist (even historicist) piece that makes the assertion that a landscape design composition today can include elements that are figurative, narrative, and that they can be heroic in scale and understandable to laymen of the region. This work of folk irnagery “wild horses”-is raised to a level of civic prominence with violent and illu sionistic presentation. The frozen moment of the Hellenist tradition which was revived by Bernini and con tinued by the Vanvitelli in works such as Acteon and his dog the fountains at Caserta come to mind. The little jets which forever record the splash of the hooves are a touch that both the dilet tante and connoisseur of the eighteenth century would have liked.
At Harlequin Plaza (Figure 2), George Hargreaves and his colleagues used old and accepted materials ar ranged in geometric compositions that were new and startling to landscape design in America. The materials stone, stucco, soil, plants, metal, and water-can allbe found in the Bois de Bologne and Central Park. What is new and different (and unsettling to many) is the compositional methods and devices employed. The composi tion is indebted to strategies developed in painting, especially surrealism. This is a landscape of displacement, distor tion, and dislocation. There are echoes of Dali and DeHooch, ofDeChirico and Haight Ashbury, of Latin Amer ica, and of the School of Paris. Things assume positions or weight that we don’t normally expect. The floor, or pavement, which we usually expect to be a fairly neutral ground quietly hold ing everything in place, is not onlya brightly contrasting and active surface, but its orthogonal patterns are skewed and begin to writhe under the com paratively weightless objects that break and interrupt it more than sit upon it. Walls rise and fall, or are pulled apart, the outsides of which are harsh. Inside, between two central walls, things are small, fragile, oddly domestic, and out of place. Regardless of one’s personal pleasures and aesthetic preference, this is an effective and moving work. It stimulates and disturbs. It pleases and teases. It winks and talks tough. In this work we can see an old strategy that has led to a succession of design styles in painting and architecture. Style is largely concerned with the develop ment of a set of formal characteristics that are common to a group of objects or works of art (Renaissance, Baroque, Rococo, Picturesque, Gardenesque, Deco, Modern, etc.). Oncesuch a set of characteristics becomesobvious, at least to the point where a designer can consciously know how to achieve them, then it is only a matter of desire to be able to break from those conventions. Examples of how to break from the conventions of classical, beaux arts, and picturesque design composition lie all about uslike beacons in the work of many twentieth-century artists, writ ers, architects, and musicians. Har greaves simply stepped over that line, and utilized several of the most com mon devices of our era-principally collage and distortion.
I am a little uncomfortable with the results of all of these works, partly because of my own predilections regarding what I wish to make myself, but also because of my skepticism about either the position taken by the designer or the choice of subject or materials. Experimentation with new materials is desirable and Walker/ Schwartz in their emulation of Frank Gehry and numerous sculptors such as Carl Andre are to be applauded.
Walker’s fountain in front of the Phys ics building at Harvard-which places a series of handsome glacial boulders within a field of asphalt and water, steam and an eerie hum-is a remark able piece (Figure 1). In my opinion, it is stronger than many of Walker/ Schwartz’s other works because it refers more directly to the material that it
Figure 3. The horses of Las Colinas, near Dallas, an over life-size sculpture more in the spirit of WillJames and Landseer than Bernini, by Robert Glen (plaza by SWA and SOM). Source: Tom Fox, Landscape Architecture 75 (September/October 1985), p. 65.
abstracts: natural landscapes of vio lence and erosion. I would have ar ranged the stones differently-denser to looser and not so uniform and equal in space and stone sizes-and I would have set them within a sea of pebbles and smaller stones. This would, of course, have completely changed the effect and the meaning, which raises an important question: How can changing the spacing of the stones or the simple substitution of what is, after all, only the bottom of a basin (but it isn’t really a basin either, which is important) change the meaning? Because we invest certain patterns and materials with particular ideas and meaning, especially regarding nature and man’s works, these patterns are loaded with associations. In this case, the material-asphalt-and the uniformity of position between solid and void have an association in our culture with the mechanistic and artificial, even to the point of abhorrence, whereas, stones and water are quintessentially “natural” and are almost universally enjoyed by people, both old and young. This juxtaposition of the abhorrent and the delightful creates a challenge to our expectations of what is normal or proper. Likewise, the mechanical repe tition of the near grid and near random nessof the stones, which denies particu larity of place and focus, is both ironic in its self-denial (it is a particular place and a focal point within its context) and alludes to the absolute infinity of matter and its extension throughout the uni verse-a clearly evocative and apt metaphor to find at the doorstep of an academic building devoted to the study of matter.
This is a powerful and successful work, employing traditional artistic devices for the presentation of mean ing, some of which are referred to above. There is more here, for those who take the time to consider, about the seasons, the mutability of matter water, steam, and ice, for instance-the deception of appearances, the energy that comes unbidden from the earth or from the sky, volcanoes and sea coasts, and so on. The piece also raises questions about alternatives to conventional fountains with their cas cades, basins and pools, copings, walls and ornament. Although this design eschews planting, it relies for its success upon the circumstantial planting that exists there as its context. The trees and grass of its campus setting form a background, a benign cultural inter pretation of “mother earth” against which thisdisruptive and stimulating composition is positioned. Like many so-called site sculptors such as Michael Heizer, Nancy Holt, Mary Miss, or Alice Aycock, who are enormously dependent upon the pre-existence of a broad, cohesive, often beautiful, natu ral or cultural setting in which to make their disruptive gesturesor to build their mysterious large-scale objects, this fountain (and the early work of Martha Schwartz as well) are gestures that play off and against an environ ment but are not about nor capable of creating an environment beyond that of an extended object.
Denver’s Harlequin Plaza confronts different expectations and raises other questions. How are we to regard a landscape of disorientation and alien ation? Is surrealism an acceptable strategy to employ in constructing an ordinary part of the workaday world? Why or why not? Such thoughts first occurred to me upon seeing several projectsof Aldo Rossi. These were visually powerful schemes (for housing and education) that were obviously sophisticated works of art. The most apparent source of Rossi’s visual schemata is the early work of the Italian painter DeChirico, whose haunting work I greatly admire. I balk, however, at its use for the design of everyday environments for family and civic life. I do so because the principal focus of these paintings is upon alienation and a hallucinatory and obsessive preoccupa tion with loneliness, self, and unful fiJJed yearning. DeChirico’s paintings are among the most poetic works cre ated in the twentieth century, but it is debatable whether such private(even if universal) attitudes regarding aliena tion can and should be used as a basis for design of environments for dwell ing. The other undiscussed aspect of Rossi’s work is its familiarity and nostalgic evocation of the architecture of twentieth century totalitarianism especially that of Fascist Italy and Ger many. Do I think that Harlequin Plaza is crypto fascist or perverse? No, but I do think it transgresses the boundary between that which is acceptable and understandable in private and that which is welcome and desirable in pub lic. This doesnot imply a double standard, but rather that we have dif ferent needs as individuals and as a group. That with which people may indulge themselves on private estates may be of arguable justification when proposed for the public realm. My reaction has more to do with the rhet oricof coercion and gratuitous violence than it does with dreamlike distortions of traditional architectural elements.
Harlequin Plaza is, nevertheless, a watershed in American landscape com position and imagery. It hasopened up possibilities that did not seem to exist before its brash appearance.
The horses of Las Colinas, like the exuberant figure of Portlandia that hunkers (or floats?) above the entry to Michael Graves’s celebrated bunker in the City of Roses, attempt the retrieval of a distant trope from a society pro foundly different from our own. Sev eral questions are raised by this revi sionist work. Is any single image regardless of its merits-adequate for civic contemplation and elevation to heroic scale in an era of so many powerful and multiple images? If the
Figure 4. View from Heaven’s Gate at Longleat Park in England, as redesigned by Lancelot Brown. Source: Laurie Olin, 1972.
answer is yes, is this the one to be sin gled out for such an honorific situation? Or is it like many by Andrew Wyeth, a work that is nostalgic in its emulation of the technique and appearance of authentic work of the past yet lacking the authority of those works, an empty simulacrum of something else? Is it a daring and genuine piece, bursting with disarming energy and innocence? Have its creators simply said that nar rative and figurative sculpture used as the centerpiece of a public space is passeonly until someone steps forward and dares to attempt it? Is this private plaza in this suburban office sprawl a public place? I am skeptical of this piece, which seems too pat, too senti mental, too much a product of western cowboy commodity art of the sort that fills galleries throughout the Southwest with the kitsch that hasdevalued the work of Russell and Remington. The reason to devote attention to this design lies in its attempt to shift the boundary of what is acceptable, to retrieve an artistic strategy that has slipped
beyond the graspof the modernist norm. It is a powerful and evocative work; it has been embraced by the community and has been the recipient of an ASLA award. It is art regardless of how lasting or great it may turn out to be. What authority it possesses comes from cultural values and what form it has comes from art, not from natureor any fresh insight or abstrac tion therefrom.
Everything that exists has form. The words “formal” and “informal” as used in everyday speech are mean ingless and an obstacle to a discussion about design which by definition always contains formal properties of some sort. Where do forms come from? Forms come from forms first. Forms do not come from words. They cannot.
Words can describe physical forms, but they do not (or did not) originate them; nor can they perform operations upon them. One must be familiar with a rep ertoire of forms before one can use them or manipulate them. This in cludes the forms found in nature and the forms of art, ourart and that of others-other media, other cultures, and other periods. In nature are all the forms. In our imagination is their dis cernment and abstraction.
Art, and landscape architecture as a subfield of art, proceeds by using a known body of forms, a vocabulary of shapes, and by applying ideas concern ing their use and manipulation. Land scape architecture, like other fields, evolves as it finds new ways to perform operations upon a particular corpus of forms-re-using, re-assembling, dis torting, taking apart, transforming, and carrying forward an older set of forms-often quite limited in range, but constantly making new things with new meanings. Occasionally a few new forms will be let in or discovered, but more generally new material consists of the re-presentation or recombination of material that hasbeen forgotten or has been deemed banal or out-of-bounds for some reason.
Once again, where does this rep ertoire of forms come from? As I have remarked elsewhere in a discussion about places and memory, the only thing that we can ever know for certain about the world is that which exists now or has existed in the past. To make something new we must start with what is or has been and change it in some way to make it fresh in some way. To merely repeat or rebuild that which has existed is not creative and does not advance the field, eventually devaluing that which is repeated. How to make old things new, how to see something
Figure 5. Pastoral scenery in Blenheim Park byOxford, England, as redesigned by Lancelot Brown. Source: Laurie Olin, 1985.
common and banal in a new and fresh way is the central problem in Art.
Arthur Danto in the essay “Works of Art as Mere Real Things” goes so far as to say that the central activity of art is to transform ordinary (or extraordi nary) real things into things that are art, i.e., no longer ordinary or mere real things.2 Examples range from rep resentations of landscapes (say in Claude or Innes) to Marcel Duchamp’s declaring a urinaf or bottle rack to be art works. The planting of trees in rows, whether good or bad, new or old, is an act of transformation and can under particular circumstances be art of a very high order.
Two of the greatest landscape designers that ever lived are Andre Le Notre and Lancelot Brown. Neither of these artistic giants invented the ele ments that comprise the parts of their greatest compositions. In the case of Brown, the meadows, clumps, and belts of trees, lakes, dams, classical pavilions, even the positioning strat egies, aU existed in the landscape gardens of his contemporaries and immediate predecessors. Nevertheless, he produced unique, startlingly fresh, and profoundly influential designs which still possess energy and author ity. The elements he used can ‘be found in the works of Kent, Bridgeman, and Wise and the villas of Rome, especially the vignas of the Villas Madama and Julia, but it was his particular assem blage that blended these elements into cohesive and tightly structured (albeit large scale) compositions that were not episodic or disjointed, but plastic and “whole.” The source of cultural authority for these pastoral compositions was literature (from classical verse to the Georgian poets) and graphic art (from Roman frescoes to Claude and the Dutch landscape school especially Ruisdael, Hobbemaa, and Cuyp).
Also, there was a predisposition on the part of his audience to understand and appreciate his constructions, both as sensual environs and as emblematic representations of agrarian social views.
For Le Notre, one could say the same thing. Every shape and form he used exists in seventeenth century pat tern books and in the sixteenth century Italian and French gardens which he knew as a child and young adult. What then is so special and creative about his work? Like Andrea Palladio in his work at II Redentore or The Villa Rotunda at Capra, he is working in a tradition, using standard elements, yet the results are more than a skillful or interesting repetition, more than traditional. He was highly original. His invention is one of recombination and transforma tion, frequently accomplished through a jump in scale with the simplest of ele ments and unexpected juxtapositions. Take Chantilly as an example: every shape-oval, square, circle, rectangle, ramp, parterre, and cascade-can be found in any of a dozen Roman gar dens of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Part of the transformation was to take elements originally con ceived as furnishings for terraces or small garden rooms adjacent to houses (admittedly Vi11as and PalJazzi) and to change their scale, enlarging and fre quently stretching them, and then to use these new figures to organize and unify entire estates or large tracts of land, reversing the relationship until the building wasessentially a furnish ing or embellishment of the landscape composition. This istrue even when, as was usually the case, the building was the seed about which the enormous gar den had grown. IfVaux-le-Vicomte and Versailles are two of his central and most fundamental creations, Sceaux and Chantilly are possibly his most original. This is largely because of the amount of transformation from prototype and the relegation of the chateaux in each case to a peripheral or tangential relationship to the composi tion, especially in its relationship to the most important water elements which exist as if for themselves with the parks subservient and organized about them. Here the shape, spirit, and meaningof these axial bodies of water and verdure are transformed from those that pre ceded them in France and Italy, in his own work as well as thatof others. The source of their energy and authority is similar to that of Brown’s work: foreign precedent and aesthetic paternity (especially Roman literature, archae ology, and Renaissance masterworks) plus contemporary science, particu larly optics. How doesone go about doing such things? How did he know to do this? It is hard tosay. It is obvious that he had to abstract, perhaps I should even say extract, the forms, the types of basin, terrace, and bosque from the works he was exposed to, from his practical and immediate experi ence, and from representations in views, prints, and plans. Then, too, there was probably a certain felicitous amount of chance and direction given by the society, his clients, their budgets, programs, and desires, as well as the capabilities and constraints imposed by the site, the climate, and technology.
If one returns to my opening the sis that the strength oflandscape architecture derives from the fulsome sensual properties of the medium, its expression of the relationship of society to nature, and the centrality of nature as the ur-metaphor of art, it is not diffi cult to understand why the works of Brown and LeNotre are among the very greatest in the field. Despite their differences in geometric form and orga nization, both men worked with the same limited palette which reduced the elements of their designs to the most basic-earth, trees, turf, stone, water and arranged them at a scale that dwarfed the individual and created an ambience which, if not resembling any natural scene, by its very extent, diver sity, and texture possessed the attributes of one. It is difficult to exag gerate the impact of their work upon one’s sensibilities when on the spot, moving through their compositions.
Artificial as they may be, ecologically simplified as they are, theeffect is that of being in a landscape larger than oneself and beyond the immediate comprehension or control of oneself, of many of the feelings one has in a “natu ral” landscape-oflight and space, of amplitude and generosity. Although two generations apart, both men pro duced work that responded to a partic ular moment in the economy and social structure of their society, that could not be sustained beyond their own life and career, and that was impossible to imi tate or extend. Both refer to agricul ture-whether that of pastoral herds or forest plantations, irrigation, and drainage schemes-the larger organi zation of the cosmos, and whether it is knowable or not. Both were masters of the simple detail and the subtle, com plex, large design, thereby rendering their work truly analogous to the natu ral landscape. Redundancy and profli gacy does not appear to have been a concern or issue, another natural.anal ogue. Neither ever designed or built a
Figure 6. The principal canal at Chantilly, by Andre Le Notre. Source: Laurie Olin, 1983.
composition that visually or formally imitated nature; both abstracted their forms from nature, farming, and art. Thelakes at Blenheim and Stowe, at Vaux-le-Vicomte and Versailles all were, in part, responses to an abun dance of rainfall, surface water, and poorly drained soils. Each one expand ed or drowned the work of a predeces sor with an uncanny sense of organic logic. Until one has actually seen these works, on foot with one’s own eyes, one cannot appreciate their character, achievement, or worth. Students who only know this work from slides or plans in books have no idea what they are like. In this way they also resemble natural environments of great scale, beauty, and cohesion.
All of this may be true enough and still one might ask, where did the prototypes Le Notre found in the six teenth century Italian gardens come from? In large measure they derived from the villa gardensof ancient Rome, especially as codified in the great land scape villasof the firstcentury A.D. Thesein turn seem to have been de rived from earlier eastern Mediter ranean prototypes brought by Syrian and Greek architects working in the new western centers of power and industry. If one examines these remote works and their formal repertoire, one finds a host of venerable and familiar geometric and organic shapes. Nearly every bronze age culture shows a pre dilection for compositions composed of prime geometric shapes, often elabo rated into surfaces of intricate textures oflines, whorls, and abstractions of powerful ambiguity-circles, squares, triangles, and their elaboration, recom bination, and distortion. Knowledge, power, and the religious beliefs of these peoples were often embodied in such images and diagrams.
The evolution of social authority and power was coinci dental with the development of theories of reality and technology. The elemen tary shapes found in nature and ab stracted by humans were, for many centuries, both sacred symbols and the building blocksof secular analytical methods. Today, spheres and cubes, triangles and cones are not as charged with meaning as they once were. Nev ertheless, their ancient lineage and indisputable primacy in the vocabulary of formal structures are still sources of considerable authority. In a world con sisting of small towns, irregular construction, straw roofs, and few paved streets, surrounded by farms and wilderness, overlooking broad plains, vast oceans, and dwarfed by mountains, the perfection of a sphere or cube and the order of geometric symmetries were powerful inventions of the human imagination. Today, as an urban culture, housed continuously in a world of crisp Euclidian geometries and surrounded by a surfeit of machined surfaces extending in Descartean order to the limits of the horizon, it is the biomorphic shapes of nature, the blurry, unclear, compound, and complex forms of natural processes that intrigue us with their mystery, promise, and atavistic energy. Perfec tion, regularity, and ancient geome tries, especially those of classical Greece and Rome, have been drained of their energy due to overuse and exposure. Despite recent developments in post-modern architectural endeavors they remain empty to us of their origi nal meanings. Once great abstractions of nature itself, today they only refer to former leaps of imagination. They have become too far removed from their original source and inspiration to be anything but derivative and banal to us. An echo of their former power still occurs, however, when small children take these platonic solids in their hands and stacking them one atop another construct their first imaginary worlds, miniature structures that invoke and reflect aspects of their known and imagined world.
Even the most casual examina-
Figure 7. Bursting with life, this vegetation typifies the ornament of sacred and civic architecture of classical Rome and Greece, a period which also codified numerous garden plan forms still in use. Source: Laurie Olin, 1981.
Figure 8. Central Basin of the great water organ of the Villa D’Este at Tivoli in Italy. Source: Laurie Olin, 1974.
tion of forms used in Roman garden design and ornament reveals a direct and rich tradition of natural forms and abstractions from nature as well as rep resentational images that assume the stature of figures. By figure I intend the meaning as defined by Alan Colqu houn who has differentiated the words form and figure approximately thus: form applies to “a configuration with natural meaning or none at all” where natural meaning signifies meaning without the overlay of an intervening interpretive scheme of a culture; figure applies to a “configuration whose meaning is given by culture.”3 This distinction implies that the synthetic invention of a figure organizes ideas and thus is both expresssive and didac tic. There are therefore two traditions, the formal and the figurative which are almost never totally separated, indeed often inextricable. Each one, from time to time, seems to have more or less importance or dominance in a work and its intentions and success. Much of twentieth century art could be said to have been interested to varying degrees with abstract formalism and its possibilities (or limits). Recently, considerable interest in a renascent fig ural exploration has been evident in all of the arts, including architecture and landscape design. The three examples of so called “post-modern” landscape experimentation with which I began are part of this renewed interest in the “figural” aspect of the landscape medium.
Landscapes and Meaning
The subject of meaning in human expressions of all sorts is a daunting one with an enormous liter ature. It is the province of numerous philosophers of widely opposed views (Husserl and Wittgenstein, for in stance, or Kant and Hegel, Plato and Popper). Husserl seems useful as a starting point in thismatter. In his first logical investigation he says, “each expression not merely says something, but says it of something; it not only has a meaning, but refers to certain objects.
… But the object never coincides with the meaning.”4 Immediately we are confronted with a thicket of words, def initions, and problems. Suffice it to say, we are interested in non-verbal expressions, those oflandscape design and what they can mean. As Nelson Goodman put it in his stimulating dis cussion of style in J#iys of World-Making, “‘Architecture, non-objective painting and music have no subject. Their style cannot be a matter of how they say something, for they do not literally say anything; they do other things, they mean in otherways.”5
Despite the frequent useof the analogy oflanguage and linguistic structures and operations (my own use of the concept “vocabulary of forms” above, for example), landscapes are not verbal constructions. They can express certain things, can possess symbols and refer to ideas, events, and objects extrinsic to their own elements and locus, and in certain circumstances can be didactic and/or highly poetic. How they do this is not well understood.
That they do is. Recent issues of various art history journals or the publica tionsof papers delivered at Dumbarton Oaks symposia are rich with examples of sympathetic and recondite readings of the meanings, iconography, and imagery contained in various land scapes, from classical antiquity to the modern era, both in the west and east. Particularly well-known examples are those of sixteenth century Italy and Japan (Villa Lante, Villa D’Este, Ryoanji, Katsura, etc.).6
The fundamental questions con cerning meaning in landscape design are probably the following:
Whal sort of meanings can a landscape conviry or hold?
How do they convey or embody these meanings?
Whal, if airy, correlaiion or rela tionship is there between the intention of the designer of a landscape re: devices intended for meaning and the subsequent interpretaiion, reception and understanding of this orother meanings by a viewer, user, or recipient of the landscape?
Concerning the first two of these questions-there seem to be two kinds of meaningor large categories that landscapes possess (in Alan Colqu houn’s terms all of these are figural to more or less degree). The first kind is a “natural” or “evolutionary” meaning given to a landscape in the past or recent times. (I regret using the word “natural” but have no better term at hand as I hope will become clear.) Gen erally, these relate to aspects of the landscape as a setting for society and have been developed as a reflection or expression of hopes and fears for sur vival and social perpetuation. These often relate to particular placesor fea tures that are (or have been) sources of sustenance and danger, safety, and
play, of stimulus and rest. The second category are those that I shall refer to as synthetic or “invented” meanings. These encompass most of the works of landscape design and represent our art. Often, however, these works refer to aspects or examples of the former non-designed, although culturally freighted, group oflandscapes and their meanings. I don’t mean to imply in thisdistinction that I think that those in the first category are not prod uctsof human activity and imagina tion. It is,after all, people who project ideas upon nature, who create values, systems, and structures of thought, not the other way around. Whatever mean ing occurs in any landscape, natural or otherwise, is only that which has been created by society. This we have seen when cultures are in conflict, so trag ically demonstrated when European invaders desecrated the sacred lands of the native American peoples. In the mining of metals in the Black Hills of South Dakota one can see how invisible these powerful and elaborate meanings can be to those not of that society and its beliefs.
Archetypal settingsdeveloped in one culture and place after another have contributed to the repertoire of forms and meanings used as founda tions or structural elements of subse quent synthetic, designed landscapes. These include landscapes of work, mysticism and worship, dwelling (both individually and as group settings), authority, pleasure, and death. Work settings have included pastoral and arable farms as well as piazzas, streets, and roads. Patterns and structures of simplicity and elaboration associated with agriculture have a powerful reso nance in this category. Religious and mystical settings are frequently cen tered around unusual and dramatic landforms, large or prominent features that dominate regions, or sources of water and secret or inaccessible sites. Group settings related to dwelling and community haveoften included the piazza or forum-type of enclave, clear ings, commons, and partially bounded spaces. These become transformed into places invested with authority when combined with approaches, avenues, frontality for presentation, and distor tions in scale. Places most associated with pleasure have been those that approximate or have inspired gardens or areas of floral and natural beauty and delight-grottos, pools, cascades and streams, bizarre and stimulating formation of rocks, landforms, plants, and water. Consistently these land scapes have induced feelings of fascina tion, awe, fear, contemplation, amuse ment, and delight-in short, visual and sensory interest and stimulations of all sorts.
Among the oldest and incontestably most meaningful landscapes are those that I would term “sacred” land scapes, those associated with spiritual values and especially those of the origin myths of ancient peoples: Ise and Itsukushima in Japan; Delos and Delphi, or Mt. Ida and Olympus in Greece; Clitumnus, Cumae, and Aver nus in Italy; Yosemite and Shasta in California; etc. Other sites have be come special becauseof events that have transpired there or persons who have been associated with them.
Battlefields and the scenes of nat uralor human disasters are one exam ple. These range from the ruins of ancient imperial pleasure grounds (Hadrian’s Villa, Tivoli) through bucolic farms turned battlefield (Get tysburg, Pa.), to sites not remarkable in themselves such as Walden Pond, which come to be shrines for those who have embraced a set of ideas associated with the place. In this last case ideas associated with freedom of the indi vidual, contact with nature and its processes, self-reliance and traditions of civil disobedience and transcenden tal literature in America and England are all conjured up to the initiated by thisscruffy glacial pond and its setting. Nothing of the sort is possible, though, for those unfamiliar with the writings of Thoreau.
In many cases the meaning assigned to these sites was not origi nally intended or anticipated. In oth ers, particularly those dedicated to godsor believed to be the ancestral home of a people, it has been imposed or in some way intended toward the site, invested and cultivated through human action and designation. A recent example of such intentions with success (of sorts) has been the creation of the National Park System of the United States. Consider Yosemite, Niagara Falls, Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon, and the great peaks of the Thelvest which were originally the sacred sites of American Indians and have become so to us who, in the hun dreds of thousands, annually make our pilgrimages to them. Other countries which have followed our lead do so with recreation and ecological values in mind, but probably not with the quasi religious motives of those involved in the creation of our parks, especially the great western preserves that initiated the system.John Muir, Frederick Law Olmsted, and others involved in their creation shared a transcendentalist point of view and an urge to establish natural sanctuaries (sanctuary in the full sense of its meaning) for the consid eration and reverence of nature and the American landscape in its most origi nal, wild, and dramatic state. This was in part a reaction to the rapid urban-
Figure 9. Yosemite Valley, California, oneof America’s sacred landscapes, looking east from the original trail into the valley. Source: Laurie Olin, 1987.
ization and industrialization of the country and partly an urge to forge a creation myth for the re-birth of the nation after the horror of the recent civil war that had very nearly destroyed the nation. The strength and beauty perceived in these landscapes, their scale, and character was seen to be uniquely American and un-European; their association with Indian peoples as sacred or treasured sites also contrib uted to their being chosen. They were a balm and a stimulus. They were pure and innocent of human order. Protect ing them from exploitation became a cause for intellectuals, liberals, and upper-class members of the ruling establishment. Yosemite came first; other sites were added later: Niagara Falls, the Grand Canyon, Glacier, etc. This history is well-known but rarely considered. These landscapes still have a number of meanings that can be read and articulated by some (but not ail) members of our society and represent what I have referred to awkwardly as “natural” or “evolutionary” meaning in landscapes, whether of human construction or not.
Now let us turn to those land scapes that are constructed and for which we might consider meaning to be invested or synthetic as a part or prod uct of our art. Themethods of injecting meaning into a designed landscape range from creating tableaus with rec ognizable creatures and figures to abstract references implied by the structure or arrangement of non-repre sentational elements totally unrelated to those to which the design refers. The content or “meaning” of many of the most famous landscape designs of the past often was established through the use of works of sculpture and architec ture that already carried associations with or recognizable references to par ticular ideas and other works of art, literature, landscape, or society. The iconographic program of the Villa Lante or the Villa Aldobrandini with their classical figures and fountains expressing neo-Platonic concepts, and suggesting or recalling passages from Ovid’s metamorphosis and classical mythology while referring to the patron, his family, and works are famil iar to today’s student oflandscape history. The study of iconography in Renaissance art and architecture established by Panofsky and Wittkower has introduced the theory that a work can contain at least three levels of con tent:
1. The subject of the work that which is present or constructed
(Denoted), i.e., it is a park, a garden, or a piazza, just as a paintingpresents a subject, say a bowl of apples or a Roman soldier with arrows sticking into him.
2. The reference of the work to things not present but invoked (Con noted); a range of mountains that one cares for, the martyrdom of a saint, a time or moment that has passed, etc. The things that are connoted can be numerous, all at once; there can be multiple layers of reference within any particular image or composition, and often times the higher the art, the more such connotations there are.
3. Amood or feeling about these two previous things which is developed through expression or style. A garden, like a painting, can be somber or gay, witty or matter-of-fact.
This is an issue that produces considerable confusion and·hostility, for this aspect of design is the one that has the most to do with mat tersof change in taste and fashion, although the previous one is more closely related to the recent change in attempts to reinvigorate the boundaries of the field of landscape architecture.
Goodman and Danto disagree in some respects concerning the effective ness of meaning that can be intended. Some of the meanings that landscape designers of the classical tradition have carried include thoughts about duty and love for family and country (Stowe, Stourhead, Rousham), or have combined attitudes toward classical learning and the dutiesof the Christian church (Villas Lante and D’Este), or have explored themes of passion and love, of mental disorder and analogous forces in nature(Villas Farnesina and Bomarzo). Themes such as metamor phosis and transfiguration recur frequently, as do those of a heroover coming a variety of obstacles, whether historic in neo-Platonic Christian over lays upon pagan tales as in the choice between virtuesof Hercules in the Pan theon at Stourhead, England or contemporary themes such as the Cal vinist rocky path to the Temple of Wisdom and Piety (Apollo), also at Stourhead. The tradition of depicting and pointingout through the use of recognizable and symbolicelements, combined with the emotive and con notative device of naming things or places to insure the desired association or “reading” oflandscape compositions continued from the renaissance until near the end of the nineteenth century. Consider an example. At the end of a long and stately mall of elms in Central Park-the principal geometric figure within the entire park-at aplace where the most important pedestrian promenade intersects the principal car riage drive, at an overlook to a carefully contrived Jake with a “natu ral” backdrop of a skillfully re-forested hillside (now known as the “ramble”), the designers placed a remarkable fountain, piazza, stairway, and boat landing. The entire ensemble is pre
(Figure 11). To the public today the name is not particularly emotive, but to the Christian, Bible-reading popula tion of the years after the Civil War, the reference was a particularly mean ingfuJ one. Bethesda was the name of a basin in ancientJerusalem that had five entryways. Its waters were consid ered to possess healing powers, and many who were ill, crippled, or in physical or mental distress came to bathe in it. The ApostleJohn related Oohn 5:2) that oneof Christ’s miracles took placeon this spot on a Sabbath, wherein a man who was too crippled to enter the basin on hisown and had not been assisted by anyone lay languish ing beside it. Christ told him to pick up hisquilt and walk, whereupon he was able to do so. The result, of course, was to getJesus in further trouble with the authorities for attending the sick on a holy day and for giving vent to the peo ple’s excitability, stirring up their expectations by thisaction. The repre sentation of a source of cleansing, healing, and recovery was both person ally (to Olmsted) and publicly an emotional and welcome message to be understood and appreciated at the time by the citizenry regardless of class-not necessarily regardless of faith, of course. Additionally, parks were seen by Olmsted as performing a cleansing or purifying role within cities, an asso ciation of great lineage. Alberti and the ancients all have asserted the relative importance of nature as a therapeutic device. The central symbol of Central Park, therefore, is one of healing and purification.
This sort of representational and symbolic narrative was not, however, to continue much longer in landscape design-at least in the most advanced design-in fact, not even in Olmsted’s own work. Just as in the work of Capa bility Brown there is a rapid evolution sided over by a graceful angel, created in Rome by Emma Stebbins. The name given to this place is Bethesda Fountain
Figure 10. One of the ritual clearings within the Sacred Grove oflse,Japan. It serves as an ancient site of worship within a cryptomeria forest on the Shima peninsula.
Source:·Laurie Olin, 1985.
Figure 11. Emma Stebbin’s Angel at Bethesda Terrace in Central Park, with the Ramble visible across the lake. Source:Tripp Sanders, 1980.
toward a more pure formal abstraction utilizinglandscape structures to con note landscape imagery. This can be observed as early as Prospect Park and becomes more noticeable after Olmsted’s separation from Calvert Vaux and the team of designers and
craftsmen associated with the New York practice who exemplify many of the aesthetic propositions of Ruskin and Pugin. I refer to the more transcenden tal and abstract tendencies of Olmsted which are revealed in his proposals for Mount Royal in Montreal, Quebec, the Fenway and Muddy River designs for Boston, and the quasi-southern marsh landscape he proposed for the south lake shore of Chicago which became such an inspiration forJensJensen.
Let us consider some of the imag ery of Prospect Park and its formal structure. Although much has been added and destroyed in this park to blur the original meaning and intent, I believe it can still be read and under stood. Unlike Central Park, Prospect Park is not a patchwork quilt of objects and entertainments stitched together in a rectangular setting or frame-epi sodic and jumbled. Instead, it has a purposeful and plastic structure derived from the landform (Calvert
Vaux the genius here) which has been developed with onlya few major fea tures and themes, eachof which was then furnished to the degree appropri ate to its use and purpose, with a care ful eye to mood and thematic unity.
The principal parts are the long meadow and woodland belts that define it; the broad Jake and its shore; and a tumbled rocky set of ravines, ledges, and highlands which both sepa rate and connect these first two. Within this wilder and more “natural” portion stands an enormous, crude, and puz zling structure. It is a bridge carrying a pedestrian trail over a stream and bridal path, unlike anything produced by the Olmsted consortium up until then. Its rude form should not be mis taken for accident, poverty, or lack of sophistication, for nearby stands the music terrace, a feature analogous to Bethesda terrace, replete with elabo rately conceived and carved walls, piers, and sculpture with ornament derived from native American flora and geology similar to that at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., and Central Park. This sophisticated place with busts of composers such as Bee thoven faces west, out across the water of the lake, to receive the full reflection of the late afternoon and setting sun.
Returning to the comparatively paleolithic structure of Boulder Bridge, we are faced with a problem of mean ing and intention. What are we to make of it? Crude things go with wild places? In a way, yes, but much more than that. Earlier in Central Park, the same office had produced one elegant and delicate bridge after another with detailsof resplendent and enthusiastic character, bursting with life and refer ences to nature and its processes, espe cially vegetation, with floral motifs, rosettes, entwined branches, and so on. The relationship to Morris and Ruskin, to the roots of art nouveau is every were evident. But in th.is park all of the bridges are different in mood or expression from those of Central Park, as are alJ of the landforms. Larger, simpler, more robust, several of the bridges are made of heavy industrial members, evocative of railways, ships, boilers, and the new heroic machines of the day. They are, however, touched with a few grace notesof a particular sort of ornament-the sort one associ ates with Frank Furness and Louis Sullivan, of singular floral motifs, often only in one place, and low down near the pressure point, the contact area between the engineered object and the earth.
The machine devoted to human and social purpose is portrayed as an outgrowth of man and as a creature of nature. Earlier there had been a few hints, as in the partial step cut into a rock ledge at The Ramble, of an attitude of man in nature as co-worker, making minimal gestures, and of nature completing the art. Later Olmsted even wrote in his Montreal report: When an artist puts a stick in the ground, and nature in time makes it a tree, art and nature are not seen apart in the result. the highest
art consists, under such circum stances, [in] making the least practicable disturbance of nature; the highest refinement in a refined abstinence of effort; in the least work, the most simple and the least fussy and pottering. 7
In my view, Prospect Park is a meditation on post-Civil War America. It presents Olmsted’s renewed inspira tion drawn from the scenery of the far west and his emotional transcenden talism-the grandeur and roughness of the landscape on the one hand and yearnings for peace and prosperity, for agriculture and industry to serve the needsof the nation and to produce graceful, livable cities on the other.
Boulder bridge does not stand for any one thing. It is a contributing element to a larger fabric, a mysteriously geo logical and non-cultural detail, ambig uous and heavy, the metamorphosis of boulders into the semblance of a bridge. In thisfashion his later work can be seen as poetic and emblematic in much the same way as those of Brown and Repton were. Unlike Kent and Hoare, or other earlier connois seur-designers whose work presented its meaning through a series of tab leaux of silent assemblages of pavil ions, inscriptions, evocative sculpture, and titles, Olmsted moved to a more abstract and sophisticated presenta tion. This is partly because the ideas to be presented made reference to other landscapes and to their meaning for society, not to stories about godsor patrons, and had more to do with gen eral concepts of the medium, the expression of physical properties, and the manipulation of them as part of the presentation (the denotation) and as an embodiment in these works of the for mal ideas that were contained within the earlier and more anecdotal nar rative landscapes. In thisdevelopment, he had retraced the evolution of the strategy of presentation and analogous content of theJapanese stroll gardens (which he never saw).
Rhetoric and Metaphor in Landscape Design
Regarding expression, one must address “rhetoric” and “metaphor” in landscape design. If works of design can be considered to refer to things that are not present and can do so while establishing a particular mood or feel ing, then those devices that are used to suggest, persuade, or lead an audjence to the desired conclusion are what has been called rhetoric. A rhetorical ques tion is used to make a statement not by stating it, but rather by leading the lis tener to complete the thought, to reach what might at the time or situation cre ated by the author of the rhetorical question appear to be the obviousor “natural” conclusion. Aristotle, who understood such things as well as any one ever will, believed that rhetoric consisted of those effects that seek to arouse certain attitudes toward what ever is being presented (he was mostly referring to verbal structures). In his view rhetoricians must have a sufficient understanding of human sensibility and emotion so that they can charac terize an action or an object sufficiently to induce the desired response in their audience, i.e., anger, sympathy, dis tress, patriotism, etc. “It is not enough for a rhetorician to demonstrate that a certain feelingought to be felt, or that
Figure 12. This mysteriously lithic structure, Boulder Bridge, spans the great ravineof Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, partof Olmsted’s post Civil War essay in the development of an American landscape idiom. Source: Laurie Olin, 1978.
Figure 13. Floral detail in iron of Bridge No. 24 overa bridle trail in Central Park, representa tiveof the influences of William Morris, OwenJones, and Ruskin. Source: Laurie Olin, 1981.
Figure 14. Basin, Bloedell Conservancy, Bainbridge Island, Washington, by Richard Haag. Source: LaurieOlin, 1983.
his audience would be justified to feel it and perhaps unjustified not to feel it: he is only worth his salt if he gets them to have that emotion and does not just tell you what you should be feeling.”8 The devices and strategies that design ers use to manipulate a setting and its furnishings to produce responses are many and normally involve a remark able amount of craft and learning. As in every other art a certain amount of feelingand instinct for the medium and its devices are necessary. To this, one must then add a level of performance ability before one can begin to manipu late or discuss style, expression, and meaning. Consider the phenomenon of rhetoric in the art of building design.
Many critics, historians, and philoso phers have commented upon the “verticality” of Gothic cathedrals, and the fact that thisexpression of the idea of verticality, this property that has been invested into the inert materials through the manipulation of form, structure, and detail, gives these build ings a property that isnot possessed by other buildings. Furthermore, in some ways this “vertical” characteristic which we read in these buildings is linked to metaphors for soaring, rising up from and leaving the earth in some manner similar to ideas held by the people of the religion that built them and that were associated with the pro gress of the human soul after death as well as the assumption of the resur rected Christ and his mother into Heaven, which was poetically consid ered to be away from the earth, up above the clouds in the sky or heavens.
The piety and yearning for release from life on oarth was embod ied in these structures through numer ous strategies of design related to the suppression of architectural motifs that normally connote mass or weight, and which emphasized verticality over hori zontality through distortion, stretched proportions, segmenting of structural masses into what appear to be bundles of tall thin elements, etc. That the arrangement of parts and their artic ulation and shape can change more than a building’s appearance is an established theory of architectural practice and analysis of our time. Alan Colquhoun, Kenneth Frampton, Anthony Vidler, Robert Venturi, Peter Eisenman, and Jorge Silvetti have writ ten eloquently and at considerable length about the rhetoric and devices of twentieth-century architecture and its predecessors. Very little has been writ ten about the rhetorical devices em ployed in landscape architecture, especially by its greatest practitioners. Hazelhurst and Woodbridge are among the few who have tried. Even
Figure 15. Pond, Bloedell Conservacy, Bainbridge Island, Washington, by Richard Haag. Source: Laurie Olin, J983.
less has been written about such mat ters in contemporary practice. The entire effort is clouded by the natureof the medium. The fact that natural materials, some of them alive, are fre quently used to represent aspects of nature and landscape (i.e., the referent and referee may be made of the same substance) greatly complicates matters. This is especially so when one turns to the most powerful rhetorical device metaphor.
The most common and per suasive poetic device used in all fields of art is the metaphor; indeed, meta phor seems to be almost synonymous with art. Metaphor is commonly de scribed as a figure of speech in which a nameor descriptive term is transferred to some object to which it is not prop erly applicable. There must, therefore, be an untrue equation. It is the describing or presentation of one thing in terms of another. It is not literally true at all, but there is a discovered truth or insight that does in some way make sense and gives us a new under standing of the world or some aspect of it, whether small or large, funny or tragic. The old cliches that use a river as a metaphor for time or life are exam ples; Shakespeare’s phrase “all the world’s a stage” is another; or Kenneth Koch’s student who in error penned the masterpiece, “a swan of bees.” Arthur
C. Danto in The Transfigurationof the Commonplace describes at great length the mechanisms of metaphor and its centrality to the creation, meaning, and understanding of all art. It would be foolish to attempt either a synopsis or to paraphrase this remarkable essay. I refer readers to it.9 In his view one thingessential to the workings of meta phor is a phenomenon of incomplete ness and correlation upon which the audience must react for the metaphor to work. In important ways this is related to and partially derived from the “rhet oric” employed by the artist/designer. It is also conditioned by the education, experience, and attitudes of the audience. Therefore, as education, experience and beliefs change, meta phors can die, lose their potency, become cliches or stale figures of speech, design or art.
It isalso through the evolution of society and education, knowledge and values, especially as stimulated by his torians, critics, and artists, that dead or lost metaphors can be revived. It seems, therefore, that there is a guar anteed tension between the natureof art (its processes for renewal, evolu tionary transformation, and the potency of its metaphors) and the accessibility or immediacy of its mean ings in a changing society. This process has intensified in recent decades. As Clement Greenberg has commented, “modernization” in art has largely con sisted of discarding expendable con ventions.10 As long as conventions sur vive and can be identified, they will be attacked. This will continue until the resultant work begins to deny its own essence or can no longer be understood to be art in the form or medium as pre viously intended. In the view of many people, painting and music have come to a halt, for now, in terms of formal invention and revision and can only retrace various aspects, nooks, and crannies of their historical corpus appearing to have reached the limits of their recognizability and validity. The same cannot yet be said for the archi tecture oflandscapes and buildings.
Often the most “advanced” artists do not set out to be revolutionary or advanced, but rather to be good. The “advance” comes from an emula tion of those qualities that they admire in previous work. As a rule, having digested the major art from the preced ing period or periods, the young artjst or designer usually looks for alternative ones in order to break away from over powering precedents. In landscape design it would appear that a moment has arrived where many practitioners and students are looking for alter natives to conventions that are per ceived to be empty and used up. Some (as I have remarked earlier) have turned to the conventions of art. This, however, is to place oneself in a second ary or derivative relationship to the fundamental source of form and imag ery in the field, i.e., the world of nature, natural processes, and the cul tural landscapes of the past, whether sacred, agricultural, or ornamental.
Several of America’s most origi nal and powerful landscape designers of the twentieth century appear to have drawn upon these primary sources.
Richard Haag, A. E. Bye, and Law rence Halprin have all produced direct fresh abstractions of natural phe nomena. Thomas Church and Dan Kiley have done the same with particu lar landscapes and gardensof the past. All of these individuals have under stood the need to abstract and distill formal essences without imitating or building miniature encapsulated ver sions of the source of their inspiration. Their work represents the first truly fresh development (both stylistically and formally) since the late eighteenth century.
Ed Bye has produced some of the most abstract work, for instance the Soros garden in Southampton on Long Island which looks neither like a paint ing, nor a garden, nor a natural landscape. It is truly a composition that could only exist in the landscape mernum. It is pared down and yet deeply sensual. Its subject matter is the earth and its surface is delineated by light, the texture of plants and water in all of its forms-mist, water, and snow.
Haag, too, has plumbed the depthsof our urban and rural psyches, maneuvering the City of Seattle into leaving the monstrous heart of a gas refinery as a colossal memento-mori in the center of a park on Lake Union.
Despite a citizenry that wanted to build a pseudo-sylvan realm, Haag sub verted the plan into an archaeological playground of genuine meaning and poetry. This park now exists and may come to be a fine one, in a conventional sense, in terms of its verdure and facili ties. But it also has a sculpture many times more powerful than all the site artists in America could make, one which speaks to us about our past in ways that only the broken aqueducts and fallen columns of ruined temples can. There is no foolishness, no senti ment, no false note. There is also no other urban park quite like it.
Elsewhere, in the woods of Seat tle’s Brunbridge Island on Prentice Bloedell’s estate, Haag quietly labored for over fifteen yearson another highly personal and startlingly fresh series of landscape studies (Figures 14 and 15). Linked to each other and to the place, they constitute an extended essay on the making of landscape compositions. Most are produced by a strategy of subtracting from the second-growth forest. Several examine traditional devicesof the Orient-moss gardens and miniature abstractions that dwarf the adjacent larger landscape, the stroll sequence of views; or western conven tions-the reflecting ponds, hedges, and geometrics of the Renaissance, the invented naturalism of the eighteenth century (in this case a natural-seeming pond created to attract blackbirds for the pleasure to be had in their song), and so on. I know of no other person who could so cunningly create a garden room in the forest presided over by a haunting collection of moss-covered stumps, that stand as gaunt reminders of the primeval forest that once stood there on what is now the estate of one of America’s wealthiest timber barons.
Haag’s work, like that of an old Zen monk (which he often resembles), confounds us with its apparent direct ness and deep subtleties. Like Sung dynasty scrolls or an old koan, it seems to grow directly from experience and the forces of nature. The artist has somehow stepped back out of the pic ture. It seems simple, yet contradic tory. What had been a swimming pool and terrace havedisappeared. In their place a great mound of white marble chips has appeared, next to a hole in the ground-also of the white stone chips. This act of quiet displacement sits within a green sea of grass. The terrace itself has been sawed up into bits, some of which remain drifting about in this lawn. Like fragments of a shattered planet they move away from the center of the space and appear to orbit the haunting white pyramid. This in turn isencircled by planted mounds which, in their color and texture, appear like distant mountains. Beyond these, the light filters through clearings and deep vistas that Haag arranged far off into thewoods of Agate Point. This composition demonstrates a mastery which grows out of a lifetime of devel oping abstract representations. Haag’s Bloedell designs are among the most powerful works of thiscentury in their exploration of the relation of gardens to nature. It is only to be lamented that the University of Washington has recently destroyed and mutilated sev eral portionsof his unfinished masterpiece.
Almost as the alter ego to this quiet work executed in media rus, stands the exuberant and equally inspired work of Halprin which burst forth in the heart of numerous American cities in the 1960s and 1970s, most notably in Portland and Seattle. Long after trus one man theater-workshop, circus, and human dynamo is gone, the work will remain, the best of which is superior to all of its imitations around the world. It is no surprise to those who know of the many yearsof residences (e.g., Macln tyre in California) and suburban shopping centers (e.g., North Park, Dallas) which Halprin cranked out, that his work is genuinely intended for the pleasure and use of people. His cel ebrated fountains (several of which derive a considerable amount of their character from the sensibility and intel ligence of Angela Danadjieva who worked on them under his direction) are both an extension of the European Baroque public fountain tradition and a departure from it, conditioned by their American context. Halprin, him self, has been quite articulate about the sources of form and imagery in this work: the high sierras and their glaci ated valleys, boulders, torrents, and meadows; the carved cliffs and head lands of the Pacific coast from California to the Northwest; the over whelming human creations and devastation of granite quarries; and a couple of the great Italian fountains, especially the central passage of the water organ of the Villa D’Este at Tivoli. The Portland Auditorium Fore court Fountain and the one built over a freeway in Seattle are not pastichesof this source material, however, but deeply organic and plastic creations.
Echoes of the sources of their inspira tion reverberate through the massing and even the shape and batter of the monoliths, plinths, and buttress shapes over and down which the water cas cades. Nowhere does this work really imitate or literally represent, or even look like its antecedents, either natural or cultural. Halprin, like Bye, Haag, and Kiley, adamantly rejects the pos sibility that one can or should imitate nature. One should be inspired by it, emulate its logic, generosity, processes, and forms, but eschew attempts or desires to copy it; all of them have said this in their words and affirmed it in their work.
The largest and most radical break from the past in our time has been our attitude toward composi tion-the conventions of order. Tradi tionally, in European art there has been
a strong tendency to bring diverse ele ments of any work into a balanced composition, replete with harmony, and symmetry (often in several dimen sions), to complete a whole which reaches a degreeof resolution and finality. This can bedone with exuber ance and considerable movement and formal complexity as in the great Baroque works, or with a calm, quiet, restraint of form and shape approaching near stasis as in certain neo classical gardens and buildings. In a statement admired and quoted by F. L. Olmsted, the French landscape archi tect Edward Andre notes: “The first law of a work of art, either on canvas or on the earth, is to bea whole.”11 Although that probably is still true enough, the criteria of what is an acceptable whole is probably very dif ferent today than in his time. Twen tieth century art has opened new pos sibilities which have become part of our mental equipment, significantly alter ing our visual sensibilities. Cubism, for instance, introduced the now com monplace idea that multiple points of view can exist within a single work of visual art and that apparent conflicts between them do not need to be re solved. Collage has introduced further study of the relationship between rep resentation and illusion and between that of the fragment or part to the whole, while utilizing a combination of mass produced images and handmade or preindustrial craft gestures as raw materials for representation.
The results have been the recombination of shattered or dislocated fragments into something other than that of their ori gin. This use of real rather than rendered material, when translated into the useof ready-made industrial items or the useof things that are meant to be absent yet referred to, but are in fact present, has a direct bearing upon landscape architecture. This ironic position when taken toward the tradition of representation and the sur plusof images in our society has only begun to filter into the field. Fletcher Steele, Gabriel Guvrekian, and Gar rett Eckbo certainly have broken some ground here, but only recently have Walker, Schwartz, Hargreaves, Van Valkenberg, Weintraub, and a new generation, especially on the West Coast, begun to mine this rich vein of ideas. Fragmentation, dislocation, dis placement, and djstortion have all become acceptable strategies for design manipulation of tradjtional material and imagery, and are central in efforts currently underway as the field renews itself. The schools are full of students experimenting with these strategies, and we will probably be awash in work, much of it not very good, that attempts to put it into practice. Nevertheless, it is probably for the best. Inevitably this will lead some back to a re-examination of the plant palette, landform, and nat ural process. The forms available to cast this material intocompositions, however, may partake of the new struc tures revealed through the telescope and microscope ranging from those of recombinant DNA to the most archaic obstructions of the Bronze Age and tomorrow’s computer technology.
The subject matter or meanings that I believe are beingdealt with in the most thoughtful landscape designs today-beyond the programmatic and instrumental-are the following:
1. Ideas of order.
2. Ideasof nature jncluding a cri tique of past views as provoked by knowledge of ecology.
3. Ideas about the arrangement of cities and thereby society and its desires(as well as needs).
4. Ideas about the medium as an expressive one (the landscape as medium) revealing something about our methods and its processes.
5. Considerationsabout the his tory of art and landscape design, and the history of places-their archaeology.
In these, the design expression is often a critique of past designs and landscapes. Many of the best works of the moment are inquiries into the valid ity of past expressions and their extension into the present, as well as being new and healthy creations of their own. One need only think of Richard Haag’s Gasworks Park and Bloedell Conservancy Gardens in Seattle to real ize the valjdity of this statement. In works like these one sees that the sensual properties of the medium are undiminished, that it continues to carry an expression ofour ideas about nature and our place in the scheme of things.
Finally we see the power of fresh abstractions and how futile are the attempts to replicate nature-in frag ment or toto-as adesign method or a goal.
If this article hadn’t become so long I would have liked to present some of the recent work of our firm to demonstrate particular aspects of how we have attempted to introduce some of this intoour practice. Another article, particularly dealing with recent works, seems to be more appropriate and will beforthcoming.
1. The author first heard Fuller say this in a pub liclecture at Columbia University in the spring of 1965. The concept pervades much of Fuller’s work and writing. University of Notre Dame Press, 1977, p. 18.
5. Nelson Goodman, 1978, J#zysofWorldmaking. Cambridge, Mass.: Hackett Publishing Com· pany, 1978, p. 23.
6. SeeDavid Coffin, ed., The Italian Gardm,
Washington, D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks, J972,
Nature,” in S. B. Suuon, Civilizing American Cit• ies: Cambridge, Mass.: MlT Press, 1971, pp. 204-206.
8. Danto, op. cit., p. 169.
9. Ibid., pp. 163-208.
JO. Clement Greenberg, “American Type Paint
2. Anhur Danto, ‘fra11sformotionof the Com·
especially Elisabeth MacDougall, “Ars Hor
in Art and Culture. Boston: Beacon Press,
monplace. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1981, pp. l-32.
3. Alan Colquhon, “Form and Figure,” Opposi tions 12. Cambridge, Mass.: MlTPress, pp. 29-37.
4. Edmund Husserl, Logical/nvestigationstrans lated byJ. N. Findlay. New York: Humanities Press, I970, p. 267. See alsoJ. N. Mohanty,
“Husserl’s Theory of Meaning,” in Frederick Elliston and Peter McCormick, eds., Husserl Expositions and Appraisals. South Bend, Ind.: Unitulorum: Sixteenth Cenrury Garden Iconography and Literary Theory in Italy,” pp. 37-59; orCoffin’.s own srudy of the Villa Lante, The Villa in the Life of Renaissance Rome, Princeton, NewJersey: Princeton University Press, pp.
347-351. There are numerous books that discuss Japanese gardens. One of the best remains Masao Hayakawa, Tht Gar/Un Art efjapan, New York: Weatherhilltfokyo: Heibonsha, 1973.
7. Frederick Law Olmsted, “Montreal: A Moun· tain Top Park and Some Though1s on Art and I961, pp. 208-229. This remarkable essay explores the notion that American Abstract Expressionistsmanaged 10 make explicit matters that were left implicit in previous European painting and viceversa.
11. Quoted in David Bellman, “Frederick Law Olmsted and a Plan for MountRoyal Park,” Mount Royal, Montreal, Supplt1TU!111 # 1, Canadian Art Remu,Ottawa, Canada, 19n, p.537 (catalogue accompanying exhibition of thesame nameat the Musee McCord, McGill University, Montreal).