Mathematical Ideas


Gilles Clément, Garden in movement

For there is in mankind an unfortunate propensity to make themselves, their views, and their works, the measure of excellence in everything whatsoever. Therefore, having observed that their dwellings were most commodious and firm when they were thrown into regular figures, with parts answerable to each other; they transferred these ideas to their gardens; they turned their trees into pillars, pyramids, and obelisks; they formed their hedges into so many green walls, and fashioned their walks into squares, triangles, and other mathematical figures, with exactness and symmetry; and they thought, if they were not imitating, they were at least improving nature, and teaching her to know her business. But nature has at last escaped from their discipline and their fetters; and our gardens, if nothing else, declare we begin to feel that mathematical ideas are not the true measures of beauty.

Edmund Burke, A Philosophical Enquiry into the Sublime and the Beautiful (1757)

The building of a definition of the intrinsic beauty of nature and landscape beyond the shaping tendencies of its architecture is not just a very contemporary issue as we can see in Joan Iverson Nassauer’s text, but it also a long-term philosophical construct.