Paradise Gardens

A visitor to Kesh in 1403 wrote: ‘The whole of this mosque with its chapels is very finely wrought in blue and gold, and you enter it through a great courtyard planted with trees round a water tank. Here daily by the special order of Timur the meat of twenty sheep is cooked and distributed in alms’. In madrasahs (theological colleges), courts for teaching and prayer are designed and used as religious gardens. In urban open spaces, courts and fountains were used, like paradise gardens, for rest and contemplation. Fountains in mosque courts were used for ceremonial ablutions. In later centuries the planning of mosques became geometrically integrated with the maidan, a public space. Shah Abbas (1587–1628) made Isfahan into a capital city with an intricate complex of gardens which Khansari rightly compare with the urban structure of Versailles and Washington, DC. Its development continued in the eighteenth century, with the Madrasah-ye Chahar Bagh. The Central Avenue, known as the Chahar Bagh is now a depressingly busy traffic artery.

Tom Turner, Garden History (2005)

Isfahan’s Naqsh-e Yahán Square (1619)


Beautiful, Sublime and Picturesque

Initial capitals have been used in the account of Knight, Price and Repton for the words Beautiful, Sublime and Picturesque, to mark their use as part of a specialised aesthetic vocabulary. As explained by Edmund Burke, ‘Beautiful’ meant smooth, flowing, like the body of a beautiful woman. ‘Sublime’ meant wild and frightening, like a rough sea or the views that might be obtained while crossing the Alps on a rocky track in a horsedrawn coach. ‘Picturesque’ was an intermediate term, introduced after Burke, to describe a scene with elements of the Beautiful and the Sublime. Without its initial capital, ‘Picturesque’ means ‘like a picture’. In what is called the landscape style in this book, Picturesque gardens have a sequential transition from a Beautiful foreground, through a Picturesque middle ground to a Sublime background. Composing gardens like paintings integrated the design ideas of the eighteenth century to create a landscape design concept of significant grandeur and exceptionally wide application.

The landscape style is the chief support for the claim that British designers made a unique contribution to western culture during the eighteenth century. In his 1955 Reith Lectures Nikolaus Pevsner used the term ‘English picturesque theory’ for what he described as an ‘English national planning theory’. Pevsner stated that it ‘lies hidden in the writings of the improvers from Pope to Uvedale Price, and Payne Knight’ and that it gave English town planners ‘something of great value to offer to other nations’. He then asked whether the same can be said ‘of painting, of sculpture, and of architecture proper’. His answer was that Henry Moore and other sculptors had ‘given England a position in European sculpture such as she has never before held’, but that English painting and architecture of the period were of markedly lower quality.

Tom Turner, Garden History (2005)

Humphry Repton, Woburn Abbey Gardens (1805)


Three Parts

A typical American suburban home is made up of three parts: house, backyard, and front lawn. An imaginary line runs through the middle, to one side of which is nature and community, to the other side splendor and society. Kitchen, located at the back of the house, caters to bodily needs. But it is also a center of communal warmth. Guests linger here, children run in and out, begging for a taste of the pie. Kitchen spills over into backyard, especially in summer. Family members, friends, and neighbors gather around the barbecue grill to chat, eat, and, after eating, perhaps sing. There pervades an air of good fellowship and informality. How can it be otherwise when one’s fingers are gooey with barbecue sauce? Further out is the vegetable garden. No flowers grow there-at least, nothing fanciful. The politics on this side of the home is communal and egalitarian, its ideal one of organic wholeness and wholesomeness, of human contentment nurtured by intimate contact with people, growing things, soil and earth.
To the other side-the front side-of my imaginary line are the more
formal spaces of living. Residents dress up to perform their roles. Everyone’s social standing is more on display. Young children are excluded, or made to behave like adults. Low-status people (salesman, maid, and plumber) penetrate the line when their work requires it, by way of the back door. A lawn with parterres of flowers spreads before the house, its size a measure of the family’s wealth and power. Life and its settings bespeak discipline, and discipline is indicative of a pretension to higher states of being. The body is disciplined by its encasement in glamorous but uncomfortable clothes. External nature is disciplined: weather is left to rage outside the house, while inside warmth rises from heat ducts, and smart conversation flows over a polished table. The lawn and its flower beds are geometrically arranged, a piece of regimented nature to be seen rather than used. From the upper floor’s front window, the owner of the house commands a view-one that extends beyond his own lawn to other people’s lawns.
The word “landscape” applies to the home from three points of view.

Yi-Fu Tuan, Foreword to Kenneth R. Olwig’s Landscape Nature and the Body Politic (2002)

Thomas Dolliver Church, El Novillero Donell Garden (1948)




The best place to visit Holland is Japan. Holland Village, in the outskirts of Nagasaki is a condensed scaled down version of the real thing. Or may be it is the other way round and Holland Village in Japan is actually the original that makes its European counterpart nothing more than an oversized, inflated and (quite literally) watered down version lacking the purity and essence of its prototype. (…)

The notion of the actual creation of land is the essence of Dutch Landscape architecture. Whilst in the Anglo Saxon world Landscape is first an foremost a visual representation and a mental construct wrapped into a wet blanket of subjectivity, for the Dutch landscape is about the phisical and rational manipulation of an objectified reality. The Dutch Landscape is an efficient livework unit while the British landscape architects can design gardens and cannot design landscapes while exactly the opposite holds true for their Dutch colleagues.

Dirk Sijmons, Architectura + Natura. = Landscape (1998)

jp-ngs-hollandvillage-b img_2393 amsterdam_2Nagasaki-Holland-Village

Holland Village, Nagasaki (1983)


Industrial Sublime

At Gas Works Park, the industrial works and the waste burial mound were transfigured through site design into aesthetic objects. This was achieved, first, through masking their presence with a thick, green wall separating the parking lot from the park, and then through juxtaposing silhouetted towers in the foreground with the city in the distant background. These objects were made heroic by their isolation and lack of functional context. They evoked the technological sublime awe of our ability both to control nature, space, and time through technology and to create magnificent forms clearly expressive of that control.

Elizabeth K. Meyer, Seized by Sublime Sentiments (1998)

Richard Haag, Gas Works Park (1972)

FIND IT on the map


In The Earth, the Temple, and the Gods, Vincent Scully explains the symbolic relations between sacred classic Greek architecture and the natural setting:

Not only were certain landscapes indeed regarded by the Greeks as holy and as expressive of specific gods, or rather as embodiments of their presence, but also that the temples and the subsidiary buildings of their sanctuaries were so formed in themselves and so placed in relation to the landscape and to each other as to enhance, develop, complement, and sometimes even to contradict, the basic meaning that was felt in the land.

The symbolic significance of each religious sanctuary differed from place to place, according to the specific relations between the attributes of each god and the symbolic aspects of the topography. Thus the relations between landscape and architecture were fully reciprocal in both meaning and form: the gods existed as determinate, localized entities, and the site-specihc articulation of nature and artifice were central to the theological experience. But these relations obtained in the classic Greek era, before the retreat of the gods, before the final, ironic, ontotheological, neoclassic dissimulation of God. In the classic epoch, the gods were everywhere manifested in a profoundly symbolic landscape. In the neoclassic epoch, as Pascal recounts, God surpasses the very limits of the imagination, as well as the topography of the surrounding world, resulting in the total disproportion of man. For Pascal, the visible world is but a speck within a nature that is “an infinite sphere whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere. The ubiquity of infinity, the omnipresence of God in geometric symbolization, renders all theological personification and all symbolic landscapes obsolete.
Allen S. Weiss, Unnatural Horizons. Paradox and Contradiction in Landscape Architecture (1998)

Dieter Kienast + Gunther Vogt, Fürstenwald Cementery (1996)




The focus of this paper has been deliberately narrow; it has examined Geoffrey Jellicoe’s ideas far more closely than it has examined the body of his design work. Many would judge Jellicoe to be an outstanding designer, but my contention is simply that being an outstanding designer does not make him an outstanding philosopher. I am willing to concede that it is rather harsh to judge theories presented in talks and articles written over a lifetime as if they were rigorously argued in a journal of philosophical aestehtics. Nevertheless, it should be said that Jellicoe’s ideas are seriously flawed. In particular he is wrong to make the communication of subconscious contents a necessary condition for creating works of art. Nor can such communication be regarded as supplying a sufficient condition.

Jellicoe’s ideas are wrong, but they are not pernicious. They are unlikely to cause any harm in the world, and have served him well enough in his own art. Seen as a personal philosophy rather than a general theory in philosophical aesthetics, they have value. It is naive to expect great artists, whether they be composers, poets or landscape architects, to be profound or consistent thinkers.

Second, though Jellicoe’s theories do not make complete sense, and in some respects are plainly wrong, he is surely right to maintain that landscape architecture can produce works of art. My purpose in this paper has not been to evaluate Jellicoe’s landscape designs, butI would notdisagree with the view that many ofhis own designs would count asart.

Third, we will never find a single criterion against which to judge those things that aspire to be works of art, and we are mistaken to look for one. It will probably benefit landscape architecture if at least some of its products are considered to merit the appellation “work of art”. To this extent its status is more than an academic question. There is not, however, one right or guaranteed way of producing such work. Some will see that as a problem, others as a liberation. Which schemes are works of art, which are not, and which lie on the borderline, will always remain matters of judgement and debate.

Ian Thompson, Can a Landscape be a Work of Art?: an examination of Sir Geoffrey Jellicoe’s theory of aesthetics (1995)

Sir Geoffrey Allan Jellicoe, Sutton Place Gardens (1983)


Messy Ecosystems

Ecological quality tends to look messy, and this poses problems for those who imagine and construct new landscapes to enhance ecological quality. What is good may not look good, and what looks good may not be good. The distinction between function and appearance may distress idealists who regard presentation as dissembling, but it is intrinsic to the concept of design, in which each landscape is recognized as one of any number of possible designs for a particular place. Landscape architects may consult the genius of the place, but they do not expect the genius of the place to design it.

However, even designers may become strangely submissive in the face of nature’s genius, sharing in a common popular delusion that nature will speak for itself——-if only human beings will quit interrupting. A belief that nature needs no presentation and that presentation is essentially sinister in its intent leaves ecosystems highly susceptible to misunderstanding. Decades ago, Lowenthal and Prince (1965) instructed that people “see their terrain through preferred and accustomed spectacles.” As much as our affection for the cultural concept of nature would lead us to believe otherwise, people do not know how to see ecological quality directly. We know how to see ecological quality only through our cultural lenses, and through those lenses, it may or may not look like nature. Nature has come to be identified with pictorial conventions of the picturesque, a cultural, not ecological concept. More significantly, picturesque conventions have become so integral to landscape perception that we no longer are able to accept their origin in culture. Picturesque conventions seem so intrinsic to nature that they are mistaken for ecological quality.

The difference between the scientific concept of ecology and the cultural concept of nature, the difference between function and appearance, demonstrates that applied landscape ecology is essentially a design problem. It is not a straightforward problem of attending to scientific knowledge of ecosystem relationships or an artistic problem of expressing ecological function, but a public landscape problem of addressing cultural expectations that only tangentially relate to ecological function or high art. It requires the translation of ecological patterns into cultural language. It requires placing unfamiliar and frequently undesirable forms inside familiar, attractive packages. It requires designing orderly frames for messy ecosystems.

Joan Iverson Nassauer, Messy ecosystems, orderly frames (1995)

also see: Obscure the Human Act

Gilles Clément, Matisse Park (1990-1997)


Derborence Island, an inaccessible concrete structure set in the middle of Lille’s Parc Henri Matisse, is an intriguing example of recent landscape design. The park, which was completed in 1995 as part of the vast Euralille development, was designed by the French landscape architect Gilles Clément. The idea for the park is derived from several sources, including the aesthetic characteristics of uncultivated ground, the symbolic reconstruction of a fragment of primary forest and the enhancement of urban biodiversity. It is suggested that Clément’s novel synthesis of nature and culture is significantly different from prevailing discourses of landscape design and is best interpreted as a form of site-specific art. Clément’s project reveals tensions between the aesthetic and scientific significance of so-called ‘waste spaces’ in contemporary cities and the widening scope of utilitarian approaches to landscape design.

Matthew Gandy, Entropy by design: Gilles Clément, Parc Henri Matisse and the Limits to Avant-garde Urbanism (2012)


If you could make a film of the European landscape that covered the millennia of history, compressed into a convenient half-hour for the comfort of the public, it would show the following story: first, a cold steppe, populated by large ruminant animals migrating northwards in spring and southwards in autumn and followed by the beasts of prey, including humans, that hunted them. Then, an ever denser forest, inhabited by no-longer-nomadic peoples living and working in clearings kept open by the use of stone tools and fire. Then, a basically familiar scene of fields of edible grains, and pastures of edible animals, with occasional forests surviving as sources of newsprint. And if you could project your movie camera into the immediate future, you would see a continent-sized Disneyland full of people working very short weeks because of automation, and trying desperately to amuse themselves so as not to die of boredom. The question is: Who will be the Disney of the future? He or she might, I suggest, be a molecular biologist.

All the organisms of the Earth are coloured. We all secrete dyes in our skins and these dyes have important functions, supporting not only the individual (protective colouration) but also the species (sexual signals). We are now beginning to understand the chemical and physiological processes of these secretions and to be able to formulate the laws that govern them. Molecular
biologists may soon be handling skin color more or less as painters handle oils and acrylics. Then the internal dyes of animal and vegetable biology may acquire a crucial new use: they may help the human species to survive its boredom by filling the future-as-Disneyland with multicolored fauna and flora. (…) 

The Disney of the future should be able to programme such effects at will. He or she may perhaps compose an enormous color symphony, evolving spontaneously through endless variations (mutations), in which the colour of every living organism will complement the colors of every other organism and be mirrored by them. A gigantic living work of art, of a wealth and beauty as yet unimaginable, is definitely possible.

Today’s environmentalists and ecologists, who stubbornly continue to call themselves ‘green’, will object that a landscape transformed into a Disneyland, a work of art, will no longer be ‘natural’. But consider: when they planted fields, they accelerated the artifice. The future’s Disneyland will simply continue it. And anyway, why can’t art inform nature? When we ask why dogs can’t be blue with red spots, we’re really asking about art’s role in the immediate future, which is menaced not only by explosions both nuclear and demographic, but equally by the explosions of boredom.

Vilém Flusser, Curie’s Children (1988)

Robert Skitek + RS, Jaworznickie Planty Water Playground (2018)




The older I grow and the longer I look at landscapes and seek to understand them, the more convinced I am that their beauty is not simply an aspect but their very essence and  that beauty derives from the human presence. For far too long we have told ourselves that the beauty of a landscape was the expression of some transcendent law: the conformity to certain universal esthetic principles or the conformity to certain biological or ecological laws. But this is true only of formal or planned political landscapes. The beauty that we see in the vernacular landscape is the image of our common humanity: hard work, stubborn hope, and mutual forbearance striving to be love. I believe that a landscape which makes these qualities manifest is one that can be called beautiful.

John Brinckerhoff Jackson, Discovering the Vernacular Landscape (1984)

AGA Estudio Creativo et alt, Wawa Pukllaycoparaque Workshop (2013)