Obscure the Human Act

Landscapes often contain and are subject to natural processes that change the designer’s original plan. There are also landscape designers who intentionally seek to obscure the human act of design. These concerns deepened with the development of modern landscape architecture in the twentieth century. Borrowing many of its tenets from modern architecture, which distrusted allusion and stressed honesty of expression and truth of materials, modern landscape architects considered how their work could be a true evocation of modern times. This thinking is evident in the writing by one of its earliest proponents, Christopher Tunnard. For Tunnard, gardens and landscapes that appeared to be the act of natural processes were not only old fashioned, but also deceiving. In his appraisal of the work of Swedish Garden Architects at the First International Congress of Garden Architects in Paris in 1937, he chided this Association for clinging to a romantic conception of nature when they suggested that planting should ‘give the impression that they have grown there spontaneously’. Tunnard cautioned, ‘the imitation of nature is a long perpetuated fraud’.

Susan Herrington, An ontology of landscape design (2013)

also see: Messy Ecosystems


ASP Landscape Architects, VolketswilGriespark (2009)


Meaning Depends

Meaning depends on all the receptors, whether they are users, sponsors, critics or theorists. This angle is not examined very deeply in the literature because investigating the response of all these ‘beings’ is highly complicated. It demands a deep understanding of the development of the socio-economic setting, the identification of all those who give meaning to the place and for whom it has meaning, and the renunciation of beliefs such as the existence of a single truth to be attained and a universal mental structure. It also demands that we question, as Potteiger and Purinton do, the narrative’s capacity to respond to the programming and forces us to believe in the possibility of giving meaning and still giving comfort, as Herrington says. As these authors suggest, using narrative to lend meaning to a garden involves the users and critics as much as it involves the designers.

Meaning as an approach to landscape architecture is criticised and questioned by the very people who expound it. According to Barnett, the search for meaning does not change the reality of the spaces themselves, while Treib asks whether it is possible to discuss meaning without defining it, and whether the reality, after all, is that the designers simply suggest meaning and it is up to the users to find it.

Nicole Valois, Josiane Paradis, Place Émilie-Gamelin in Montréal – landscape narrative, meaning and the uses of public space (2010)

Imma Jansana + Robert de Paauw, Barcelona Turo de la Rovira Belvedere (2011)




Edward Burtynsky, Los Angeles (2003)


When landscapes are designed to look as if they are naturally created it entitles them to be inevitable, beyond our control. This is when landscpes function like an ideology-they naturalize cultural acts. For some geographers and historians landscapes do not simply signify or symbolize power relations, they are powerful agents in the practice of power.

Susan Herrington, On Landscapes (2009)

Clarence Stein and Henry Wright + Marjorie Sewell Cautley, Radburn (1929)