Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Arts and Crafts: A Battle of Styles

The 19th century saw the emergence of a wave of new design styles in not only the garden design realm, but in furniture design, architecture and painting. Let us first take a few steps back to the Victorian era where new technologies paved the way for the industrial revolution and mass production. The  “era of  stuff” in which people were obsessed with conspicuous consumption began to fade out of style. In opposition to this style of living arose the arts and crafts movement, which emphasized beauty and artisanship over mass production and profit. In the context of garden design there were essentially two sides to the arts and crafts movement. One side of the debate argued that the architect was the one responsible for the design of the house and since the garden is a natural offshoot of the house, it fell under the jurisdiction of the architect. To be expected of course came the argument from the gardeners who believed that the gardener had access to special knowledge that was essential if the garden was to take its proper form, thus design of the garden should fall under the head gardener.

But what was it that architects and gardeners were designing? The previous century saw the existence of two major garden design styles: landscape design and Victorian gardens. The arts and crafts movement incorporated small bits of the previous movements, for example, arts and crafts gardens are not as formalized as Victorian gardens, but not as wild as landscape parks. They incorporate aesthetically pleasing color schemes using bright flowers, create separate garden ‘rooms’ where yew hedges or colorful vines separate our different compartments of the garden. Many arts and crafts gardens have formalized aspects: parterres and geometrical design. Even within the movement differences of design style still remained. The variations of style within the arts and crafts movement generally derives from the career of the designer, that is, whether they were an architect or a gardener. 

Sir Reginald Blomfield and John Dando Sedding were two of the most prominent architectural garden designers during the mid 19th century. Sir Blomfield was born in 1838 and attended Exeter College where he received a degree in classics. He soon discovered architecture and was inspired by the renaissance (something to be expected from his interest in classics). Renaissance design was characterized by a continuation of the house into the garden. That is, the two were fundamentally connected and even intertwined. John Sedding was another leading architect of the arts and crafts movement. He developed a love for gothic design and thus strict borders and crisp lines. Sedding pushed the boundaries of garden design because of his despise for anything that looked too contrived or man-made. In this sense he differed from Blomfield who rejected the Kentian landscape design. However both men were guided by their architectural perspective which lent a certain structure to the garden. They both used rigid lines and formal designs to format their garden. These designs differ from previous baroque or rococo formality in their use of asymmetrical design, bedding, flower usage and size of the garden. 

William Robinson makes up a very different perspective on garden design. Unlike Blomfield and Sedding, Robinson was not an architect, he was a gardener. His garden background paved the way for an internal division in the arts and crafts movement. Instead of the hard lined, geometric architectural movement, Robinson and other gardeners of the time experimented with the actually plants themselves. Masters of botany and horticulture these men and women focused on color theory, but emphasized nature more than the actual design of the garden. In fact, Robinson took a note from the landscape design book and used informal growing patterns and liked to use plants that would survive for multiple years without having to be replanted. Although the same emphasis was put on artisanship and design, the gardener perspective took a more naturalistic approach and the architectural approach took a more design driven, geometrical approach. 

The eventual outcome of this internal dispute was actually a compromise. Gertrude Jekyll and Edwin Lutyens combine the intricacies of architecture and gardening. When Edwin Lutyens was just 22 he was hired by Ms. Jekyll as the architect who was to design her new home at Munstead Wood. During this time the two developed a friendship that turned into a successful professional partnership. Gertrude Jekyll was a skilled gardener who revolutionized color theory and successful flower borders. The combination of a skilled architect in Lutyens and an experimental gardener in Jekyll led to a successful career and settled the debate of the arts and crafts movement. 

Image 1: http://st.houzz.com/fimgs/cad1de090e04e987_2904-w660-h462-b0-p0--traditional-landscape.jpg
Image 2: http://media-cache-ec0.pinimg.com/236x/d3/fb/3b/d3fb3b219aba4c3e5e76d86f1f70be28.jpg
Image 3: http://i.telegraph.co.uk/multimedia/archive/00435/gravetye_435395n.jpg
Image 4: http://www.garden-design-it-yourself.com/images/hestercombe_great_plat_1.jpg

Monday, April 21, 2014

Urban Greenspace

The introduction of landscape design and garden parks as a relevant style in the 18th century kickstarted a new design trend that continues today: urban green space. Fueled by new intellectual, philosophical, ideological and scientific ideas, landscape design broke free onto the design stage and relieved itself of the formalized, geometrical characteristics of baroque era gardens. Instead of formal parterres, terraces and ornamental flower beds, the intention of landscape design was to capture and enhance the beauty of pure nature. While everything was intentionally arranged and built, these landscapes mimicked nature. They represented many of the same things that previous baroque era gardens represented, however, they did it in a new inventive way. They displayed power through sheer size not grandeur, control through subtle, yet intentional placement not rigid, geometrical patterns, etc, etc. Further, landscape gardens were purposed towards similar baroque objectives: study, relaxation, escape, displays of power and wealth and entertainment.

Landscapes slowly transformed into recreational parks, which shifted the focus of the park from individualism to a sort of communalism. Urban parks are still an escape, still a place to study or relax, but they bring the community together in a different way than the aristocratically dominated landscape parks of the 18th and 19th century. Parks today can be used for everything from exercise to sleep, study to procrastination even self-reflection to huge parties. The urban greenspaces we examined however, each had their own idiosyncrasies that made them special. 

The Palm House and surrounding gardens: The Palm House of Copenhagen is a large glass building built into a landscape park that spans an area of about 10 hectares. Even without the Palm House itself the park is incredible. Imagine entering from the busy street only to find a large central lake with small streams and rivers flowing in from the surrounding area. To the left there is a long area of grass that is bordered by a rock and succulent garden. The the right there is a large hill with pine and evergreens that form a shaded wood. This park is not only used for otium and relaxation, it is used for research and cultivation. 

The last place we visited on our trip around the green spaces of Copenhagen was Kastellet. This urban green space differed the most from any of the other parks we visited that day. Not only was it an urban greenspace but it is the base for Denmark’s secret service. Shaped like a five sided star, Kastellet is mainly used as a running or walking park, but the surrounding canals and small surrounding greenspaces makes the park more inclusive. The paths are raised above the fort like natural walls. Perhaps the best way to describe the difference between the parks is to say the botanical gardens is the park to bring your family for a picnic, Kastellet is the place to go running if you are training to be a green beret, or more appropriately if you are more motivated than me to go running.
Aside from the obvious benefits of urban greenspace: quite, peaceful escapes, nice scenery, and increased property values, urban greenspace has scientifically proven beneficial results. According to a study done by the National Recreation and Parks Association a $10 increase in per capita park investment “was associated with a third of a day more per week of vigorous exercise by girls. State spending on parks and recreation was also associated with more days of strength-building exercise for both sexes.” If an increase in the availability or spending on parks leads to better health, it is no wonder many governments now consider parks as an active part of the healthcare system. Parks can bring about a decrease in total healthcare costs, which means money is freed up to either reinvest in parks creating an even healthier society or in the context of Denmark an increased investment in parks could help make the welfare state more sustainable. 

Regardless of the use of parks, they positively benefit those affected, and the greater availability of urban greenspace the greater the number of people positively affected. 

Image citations: 
Image 1: http://www.apmollerfonde.dk/media/38592/2011-09-28_kastellet_luftfoto.jpg
Image 2: http://www.landgoedvollenhoven.nl/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/bloemberg-1.jpg
Image 3:
Image 4: http://botanik.snm.ku.dk/english/Ombhm/Havens_historie/fjerdehave/fjerde-have-plan.jpg

Friday, April 4, 2014

For the three most influential designers and innovators of in the18th century English Landscape Movement - Charles Bridgeman, William Kent & ‘Capability’ Brown - write a brief paragraph to describe the style - form, layout, content, purpose - of their landscapes.

The formalized, geometrical, baroque gardens of the 17th century were swept away with the introduction of landscape design in the 18th century. Landscape design first took root in England. It quickly gained popularity by virtue of it’s historical context. Firstly, there was a staunch anti-French sentiment in England and thus a rejection of the baroque; secondly, England during the 18th century was progressing into the early stages of the enlightenment and industrial revolution. These significant socio-political/socio-economic movements ushered in an era of new (some may say radical) philosophy, improvements in technology, political reforms and democracy; and finally, the new neoclassical artistic movement. Each of the above contributed to a new sense of individualism, nature, art and philosophy, which subsequently moves us away from formalized gardens and brings us to the introduction of landscape design. This blog post will mostly focus on Stowe, a large country estate in Bukinghamshire, England. The gardens of Stowe are interesting to examine precisely because of the fact that they were worked on by the three most influential landscape designers of the 18th century. The evolution of landscape design runs parallel to the renovations of Stowe, worked on by all three of the designers. 

When, in 1715, Sir Richard Codham began to think about expanding his country estate of Stowe he first hired Charles Bridgeman as the landscape designer. Bridgeman acts as a transitionary designer for both Stowe and the greater landscape movement as a whole. He was one of the first landscape designers of the time and he was the first to renovate Stowe with Codham in the landscape style. His style very much reflects the transitionary role he played at Stowe. Remnants of the formal baroque style of the past do exist in Bridgeman’s designs. He included parterres, straight and geometrically arranged paths and avenues, and even geometric water features. However these formal features were offset by the landscape they were a part of. Bridgeman liked to include garden buildings, amphitheaters made of grass, informal ponds and lakes and key vantage points throughout the garden that helped frame intentionally designed views (unfortunately the gardens of Stowe were redesigned several times, so very few pictures are available to help visualize Bridgemon’s original landscape). One particular innovation stands out among Bridgemon’s contributions to landscape design, that is, the ha-ha. The ha-ha or borrowed landscape replaces the wall or shrubbery that forms the perimeter of the garden with a ditch or small moat that slopes downward into a wall that separates the property from surrounding landscape. This creates a sense of extension, hence the phrase borrowed landscape. Without impediments to sight, the garden looks much more grand when it blends in with the natural environment. 
William Kent was hired after the death of Bridgeman to continue designing the garden. Kent refurbished the grounds at Stowe after Bridgemon’s original design. He further removed the formalized aspects of the gardens: straight paths, symmetrical axis, and fountains were replaced with sinuous paths, snaking rivers and larger, less formal lakes. Although Kent was notoriously unreliable and drunk, but he had key themes which show up explicitly in his garden designs. First of all Kent strove to create an idealized, sculpted nature that would portray a certain mood, a sense experience of sorts. Further, he used classical statues, buildings and ancient myths to create an allegorical story that parallels the assent or decent through the garden. For instance, Kent, in his communication with Cobham designed two distinct sections to the garden of Stowe. One section represents the difficult path to virtue and it is filled with features that allude to greatness, worthiness etc. The Temple of Ancient Virtue and the Temple of British Worthiness are just two examples of the kinds of allegory Kent was fond of. The other half of the garden was dedicated to the opposite path: the pleasurable path of vice. In this section Kent uses imagery like the temple of venus and the spurting obelisk to portray the hardships of love and more importantly the misery of lust. 
The last of these three influential landscape designers is Lancelot “Capability” Brown.  Brown worked as the head gardener for Stowe partly during the Kent’s tenure at Stowe. Brown dismissed most of Kent’s allegorical features and focused more on the natural landscape. For him, England was the inspiration, much less so Ancient Rome or Greece. Instead, Brown played with the topography of the land, sculpting and reshaping areas to accomplish a desired aesthetic look. He had an extremely subtle touch, using shadows from  groves of trees or even a small manmade overlook to evoke a sense of naturalism. Nature was improved upon by use of nature as opposed to embellished by statues and allegory. See for instance the picture below of Blendheim. This landscape, although it does feature a bridge and a castle, looks very natural and uses subtle techniques like the framing of the castle in a field surrounded by trees to create the desired effect. 

These three designers used their revolutionary new ideas to shape the landscape garden at Stowe and further shaped the progress and evolution of landscape design.

Picture Sources: