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)

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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)

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Tyrannical

Turner notes that the word “landscape” has itself undergone a shift in meaning. In the seventeenth century it was a painter’s term. derived from the Dutch, which referred to a picture which depicted inland scenery (as opposed to seascapes, portraits, etc.) The scenery depicted was usually of ideal, or idealised places. The eighteenth-century “landscape gardeners” took their inspiration from painting particularly the works of Poussin, Salvator Rosa and Claude Lorrain, but sought to realise these ideal Landscapes throught the tangible manipulation of earth, water and vegetation. Things started to go wrong, as far as the meaning of “landscape Archiecture” was concerned, when a secord sense of the word “landscape”, which Turner calls the Geographer’s Sense, gained ascendancy over the original meaning. In this sense “landscape” has come to mean “a tract of land with its distinguishing characteristics and features, esp. considered as a product of modifying or shaping processes and agents (usually natural)”.

As Turner sees it, the problem with “landscape architect”, if “landscape” is used in the Geografer’s Sense, is that it implies God-like powers to rise mountains, to direct the course of rivers, to control the climate and to dictate the pattern of human seattlement” This aspiration to omnipotence is, he says, “as preposterous as it is sacrilegous as it is tyrannical”.

Ian Thompson, Ecology, Community and Delight (1999)

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Chris Reed + Stoss; Huangpu Riverfront (2012)

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