The Architecture of Landscape, 1940–1960

Posted on January 20th, 2010 by Charles Boot

Marc Treib (ed.), The Architecture of Landscape, 1940–1960 (Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2002), 328 pp., 272 illus. in black-and-white, £39.00, US$59.95 (hbk), ISBN 0812236238

The graphic exuberance of a modernist hardedged resort landscape in Surfers’ Paradise, Queensland, Australia, by architect Karl Langer, shown on the cover of The Architecture of Landscape, encapsulates one direction that landscape architecture followed in the midtwentieth century. War and its aftermath created political, social and environmental situations that prompted a variety of responses in the design and planning of landscape, some of which are explored in this collection of essays edited by landscape historian Marc Treib. Each of the ten chapters deals with a different country, apart from two papers on specific aspects of American landscape. The book moves from Old World to New, north to south, west to east, and is almost as wide ranging in the type of landscapes it addresses and the variety of authorial approaches it includes as it is in geographical scope. Nonetheless, there is enough common ground to allow conversations between individual contributions to emerge while diversity keeps the discussion lively.

One of the preoccupations pervading the collection is the awareness that landscape’s present is rooted in a past that can be profoundly problematic, particularly in the shadow of war. Gert Gröning shows how German landscape architects such as Heinrich Friedrich Wiepking, who enjoyed success under Nazism, had difficulty adjusting to a new ideological climate. In the cases of France and Belgium, where the interwar period had been highly experimental, innovation gave way to a conservative treatment of landscape with existential stability sought in models from the past; the result, as Dorothée Imbert laments, could be competent but was usually unadventurous. A pressing issue in Britain, as discussed by Alan Powers, was often how to save the past in the face of unfettered development. By contrast, in the chapter on Sweden by Thorbjörn Andersson, the exercise was one of renewal; the past had little to offer the modernizing present.

With regard to Australia, Philip Goad observes that the bush, or some under-designed evocation of it, could be regarded as an unshackled setting for modernist buildings, especially houses. In this case it would seem that the past alluded to was a kind of non-past that ignored indigenous culture and landscape. Rossana Vaccarino shows how the fusion of inspiration from modern art with a conscious use of both indigenous culture and vegetation in public and private landscape design, exemplified in the work of Burle Marx, helped create a form of expression whereby Brazil could differentiate itself from its Colonial past and the seductive cultural imperialism of America.

Some narrative about the vicissitudes and development of the landscape architecture profession infused many of the papers. The stories are often told through the work of individual practitioners, but frequently it was the synthesis of individuals and the organizations they worked for that provided the platform for development of the profession. The institutionalization of landscape architecture and its recognition by other professions was also critical in this regard. Britain conformed to this trend; Australia was behind. The lack of professional affiliation meant that in Australia many people working in what we now understand as the discipline of landscape architecture were isolated from their peers; development of the field was consequently hampered.

In the breadth of issues addressed, the book complements Treib’s Modern Landscape Architecture: A Critical Review (London: MIT Press, 1993), which focused more closely on the impact of modernism on the design of landscape. The Architecture of Landscape is from the ‘Penn Studies in Landscape Architecture’ series and, typical of the series, it is elegantly produced and contains numerous black-and-white photographs and drawings aptly chosen. Scholarly and accessible, this work is a strong contribution to the history of the designed, and planned, landscape, the landscape professions and its antecedents during the mid-twentieth century. The collection should interest practitioners as well as historians. The past is not always a foreign country; many of the preoccupations and values of the not-sodistant past, and even some of its landscapes, are still around.

Philippa McMahon
Faculty of Architecture, Building and Planning, University of Melbourne, VIC 3010, Australia

33:2 (Winter 2005)

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