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Entries in landscape architecture (5)


A "Renaissance Man" Writes About Landscape Design

Envisioning the Garden, Line, Distance, Form, Color, and Meaning, by Robert Mallet, Norton & Co.

This is no ordinary book on landscape and garden design. The author’s sublime, poetic writing takes this publication out of the mainstream and raises it into a class by itself. What also makes the work exceptional is that Mr. Mallet has successfully integrated several disciplines of study to create one inspiring work.

In a friendly style, reminiscent of the passionate English garden writers of the first half of the twentieth century, the author introduces the reader to the primal significance of good landscape design, with references to the physics of optics, the anatomy of the eye and brain, the psychology of perception, and the fundamentals of pure design.

Mr. Mallet’s multi-discipline approach is reflected in the book’s original French title: - Optics of the Garden; Enlarging Space and Liberating the Spirit.

An illustration from the book: Staircase with Campanula porscharskyana.The author elaborates the details of his thesis in seven chapters in which he discusses lines and punctuation, scale, distance, forms, textures and lighting, colors, other senses that have an impact on a garden, and the search for meaning in landscape design. The book concludes with a short, inspiring summary of the author’s philosophy on the subject of gardens.

An illustration from the chapter A Search for a Meaning.To illustrate the breadth of the author’s intellectual horizons, consider an excerpt from a chapter on scale.  When discussing miniature gardens in a paragraph titled “Elasticity of mental markers; bonsai gardens”, the author reports: - This representation on a smaller scale of a much larger natural world is intended to liberate us from our everyday environment and to allow us to escape into an idealized world. It can even serve as real therapy for people who are trapped inside their own mental universe.

Illustration from a discussion on distance and perspective.On each of the 143 pages, Mr. Mallet shares fine details of landscaping concepts that are sometimes overlooked by other writers. For example, he elaborates on the art of lopsidedness, illusion and staged effects, false perspectives, verticals in front of horizontals, shadows, placing jagged forms in front of ovals and rounds, nuance rather than contrast, placing cold colors in front of warm colors,  proprioception - a sixth sense that improves how we see by using sound and smell - and the emotional dimension of a garden.

Few books on the subject of landscaping touch the soul of the reader with the depth of meaning that Mr. Mallet has successfully imbued in his writing. While many of the examples, diagrams, and illustrations are drawn from large estates, the fundamentals are universal and applicable to gardens of all sizes.

Reviewed for



Oak Trees, Waterfalls, and Michael; a Park at Ground Zero 

Memorial park, with oak trees and waterfalls. Image: Manhatten Development Corp.One morning, a young man living in New York City was preparing to leave his apartment for work when he heard a radio announcement that a plane had crashed into the north tower of the World Trade Centre. From his window, he could see smoke rising from the destruction and ran up to the roof of his building for a better view. There, he saw another plane crashing into a second, south tower. Worried about the fate of his wife, who worked only a few blocks away from the crash site, Michael hopped onto his bicycle and sped to find her.

The path of the second plane about to hit the WTC, hie found his young bride safe from harm, the horror of the experience, and the agony of the desperate people milling about at the scene of destruction, affected Michael deeply. In the nights that followed, when he was unable to sleep, he would attend vigils set up around the city, where ordinary citizens would come together to share a moment of understanding.

At the time, Michael was an architect who had given up a career with a prominent architectural firm so that he might work for the New York City Housing Authority. It seems that Michael preferred designing police stations rather than office buildings. That choice halved his income and truncated his professional growth. He did not mind; He was happy.

As the son of a foreign diplomat, Michael and his family spent their lives in many different countries; there had been no place to call home. New York City, which he and his wife adopted after graduating from University, had not yet made him feel welcome. Now, the night vigils with other city dwellers gave him a strong sense of belonging.

Michael's memorial, newyorkinsiderguideWhen the dust of the 9/11 tragedy literally settled, the need for a memorial to its victims became apparent and a competition was announced. Michael wanted to participate by creating a symbol for the experience of the night vigils that had comforted him.

However, his decision to enter the competition turned out to be audacious because, as a municipal employee, he had no team or partner for professional support. Nevertheless, his submission so moved the selection committee that, in spite of his lack of back-up organization, they declared him winner from among the 5,200 entrants from 63 countries.

Waterfalls, reflecting pool and the Void, gizmoweb.orgPrior to WW2, commemorative monuments celebrated victory and glorified war. They focused on traits such as valor, fortitude, patriotism, and gratitude to fallen soldiers. However, in the post WW2 era, the expressive nature of such memorials changed.

After 1948, the void, created in the lives of those that did not perish, became the artistic focus of many public tributes. For example, the Viet Nam Memorial in Washington D.C and the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin, are stark, minimalist forms that evoke the emptiness and emotional numbness of those that survived to remember.

Close up of the waterfalls , 911memeorial.orgMichael’s monument echoes that contemporary sentiment as well. His is.....a starkly simple tribute consisting of a pair of square reflecting pools that evoke the footprints of the Twin Towers. Trees, arranged in informal clusters, clearings and groves, form the serene backdrop for the recessed pools, which are defined by a cascade of water. Ramps lead to the underground memorial space.

According to Michael, “As they descend, visitors are removed from the sights and sounds of the city and are immersed in cool darkness...

As they proceed, the sound of water falling grows louder and more daylight filters in from below....

At the bottom, they find themselves behind a curtain of water, staring out at an enormous pool, which is surrounded by a continuous ribbon of names....

The enormity of the space and the multitude of names that form this endless ribbon underscore the vast scope of the destruction".

The waterfalls symbolize a continuous sense of absence...Time moves forward but the absence is persistent...

A view from among the trees, dinainfo.comMichael’s original submission called for only a handful of trees while the surrounding public spaces were to be left barren. That stark emptiness created such an uneasy feeling among the committee members that they asked Michael to add landscaping to soften its emotional impact.

For that important project, Michael reached out to Californian landscape architect, Peter Walker, who filled the emptiness of the eight-acre memorial site with over 400, identical-looking and same-sized, White Swamp Oak trees. These were planted in an “abacus bead” alignment, i.e. orderly rows when viewed along an east-west axis but naturally randomized when seen from north to south.

"These trees have been grown with the most intensive tree growing in the history of the world by Bartlett Tree Experts who will continue to care for them for at least two additional years. Because urban growing conditions can be detrimental to some plants, each tree has a GPS system to monitor the tree's health, care and size. Staffers can follow every tree as it is planted at the memorial and keep following it to see if it develops any issues".

Bartlett Tree Experts have created a beautiful and moving video of their participation in this project. Click on the link to view at

White Swamp oak leaf, duke.eduThe oak tree is the national tree of the U.S.A, while the White Swap variety represent the five states where most 9/11 victims resided. Not only do the trees add a symbol of renewal and re- growth but also when they reach a mature height of 60 feet, their crowns will inter mesh to create a dense natural canopy over the entire plaza. Then, only the powerful, symbolic voids will receive uninterrupted light from the sky. Even though they are continuously being fed with water, these voids will always remain empty.

A close-up of the reflecting pool, coolgreenmag.comThe site, known as Ground Zero, opened to the public in September 2011. Its creator, Michael Arad, once an unconnected newcomer, but now integrated into New York City life - and once again, a practicing architect - aptly named his memorial meeting- place, Reflecting Absence.

Research sources for this post

Ground Zero Tribute, Gardens Illustrated, Issue 178, page 91

Michael Arad by Nancy A. Ruhing at

The Architects Newspaper

The Breaking of Michael Arad, by Joe Hagan, New York Magazine, May 16, 2006


The Gardens on "The High Line" and the Power of Nature.

Last week, eminent American journalist, Charlie Rose, welcomed a group of dedicated New Yorkers to his round table, for his nightly PBS televised broadcast. The interview coincided with the publication of a book celebrating New York City’s latest and second most popular tourist attraction, The High Line, a park in the sky.

thehighline.orgThe High Line was an abandoned elevated railway line that still runs through three different New York City neighborhoods. Many years ago, it carried freight trains to and from the meat-packing district, an industrial zone of Manhattan.

thehighline.orgWhen it ceased its usefulness, the rail service was abandoned. During the many years of neglect, nature moved in and, unknown to most Manhattan residents, created a ribbon-field of wild flowers that smothered the tracks and rail beds.

The original wild growth, http://www.thehighline.orgVery stiff opposition arose when there was talk of demolishing the elevation in order to rejuvenate the surrounding commercial properties. On one side were the real estate developers who wanted it gone in order to enhance the monetary value of the adjacent, deteriorated neighborhoods.

The wildflowers they discovered, http://www.thehighline.orgOn the other side was a group of a few conservationists who, having seen the awesomeness that nature and the wild flowers had visited upon the elevation, wanted the High Line preserved as a public park. In the end, the conservationists prevailed.

The new gardens, thehighline.orgOnce considered an eyesore, the High Line cut through derelict industrial slums. Now, it has been transformed into an idyllic park that seems to float, thirty feet above ground, for a distance of a mile and a half. This urban redesign has also spawned cultural centers nearby as well as several world-class architectural projects. The beauty of the adjacent new buildings and the almost magical atmosphere of the park have enriched the quality of life for urban residents of New York City.

The new gardens, thehighline.orgMost of the publicity about this park, emanating from the world of horticulture, has understandably focused upon the genius of Piet Oudolf. Unquestionably, the four-season, wildflower meadow plantings he designated for the High Line contribute significantly to its successful transformation and its popularity.

thehighline.orgHow odd that very little has been reported about the benevolent intervention of the visionary Diane Von Furstenburg and her husband, Barry Diller, whose philanthropic foundation underwrote the project for the sum of twenty five million dollars. Nor have we heard much about Amanda Burden, chair of the New York City Planning Commission, whose strategic and wise negotiations with intransigent property developers helped turn the project from an ideal dream of a few into a reality that benefits many.

thehighline.orgHowever, most of the honor must go to ordinary citizens, Joshua David and Robert Hammond, whose passion for the preservation of this natural anomaly - that each had quietly discovered on his own - was the impetus to start the project. Collectively, these four individuals unwittingly gave new meaning to the concepts of urban renewal and urban design.

thehighline.orgWho would have thought that a handful of urbane residents, in one of the most densely populated, industrialized cities in our universe, would tackle a project wedded to the power of nature? In the end, the group known as The Friends of The High Line created one of the great horticultural destinations of the world. This socially vibrant public space, fully wheel chair accessible, has already attracted over seven million visitors in less than a few years.

thehighline.orgThe photos used here to illustrate the story were taken directly from the publicity for this tourist attraction. For readers who would like to see additional images of this world wonder, The Friends of the High Line, have posted hundreds of © photos of the project on their website at: -

Readers can also learn more about an online Google virtual tour of the High Line by linking to: -



The Spiritual Gardens at The Scots Hotel

Towards the end of the 19th century, when the Ottoman Turks ruled the Middle East, the Church of Scotland sent a mission to the Holy Land under the leadership of a young doctor.

Explicitly, the goal was to improve health and sanitary conditions in the Galilee area. Implicitly, its mission was to bring Christianity to the local population.

In 1894, when it became apparent that the goal was unattainable, the young doctor converted his mission into a maternity hospital, open to all creeds.

It remained in operation, with the gratitude of the population, until the early1950’s when the nascent Israeli government introduced socialized medicine.

Following the closure of the hospital in 1953, and in a desire to find an alternative use for its property, the Church of Scotland, converted its buildings into a guesthouse for international pilgrims and visitors.

Delonix regia CaesalpiniaceaeIn 1999, the buildings’ further renovation and refurbishment resulted in the creation of a first class hotel, where the architecture maintains the spirit of the original structures. Respectful of the goals that brought the Church of Scotland to the Galilee in the first place, superb landscape architecture and garden design help make The Scots Hotel an elegant, spiritual, destination.

Jacarandum mimosifolia BignoniaceaeOn my travels through the Middle East last summer, our group chose this location upon the advice of the travel agent, who promised that we would be impressed. Indeed we were. The landscaping moved us greatly.

In the heat of August, when most of Israel is the color of sand, green vegetation is seen very rarely, except in the north, and the Galilee. While few, if any, flowers are in bloom at this time of year, some floriferous trees on the hotel’s grounds, such as Delonix regia Caesalpiniaceae and Jacarandum mimosifolia Bignoniaceae, gave us the splash of color that was sorely missing on this trip.

Our tour guide had taken us through practically every square mile of Israel and the accessible West Bank. Nowhere else did we see such horticultural beauty as was offered to our tired eyes by The Scots Hotel. The grounds surrounding its property are so magnificent that the photos above should speak for themselves.


Garden Design May Be Inspired by Works of Art, a book review for

The Artful Garden, James Van Sweden and Tom Christopher, Random House, ISBN: 978-1-4000-6389-5

The theme of this beautifully written and breathtakingly illustrated book is that great garden design may be enriched when it references and embraces creative elements that are found in the plastic and performing arts.  

Such a phenomenon is called synergy in industry and in horticulture it is metaphorically referred to as hybrid vigor. It represents a cumulative result that is superior to the sum of its parts and explains the cross fertilization that sometimes takes place between two artistic disciplines. As composers collaborate with choreographers and sculptors are inspired by painters, the resulting works are often richer and more powerful than what might have been created alone. Extending this metaphor to garden design, the authors suggest that the inspiration derived from the arts can raise a landscape to a higher level, making it more creative, and more meaningful.

According to Mr. Van Sweden, a garden may be likened to a painting because it can be described as a two dimensional depiction. It is also similar to a sculpture because it is a space through which the eye moves. There is a third dimension to a garden because it is constantly in motion due to seasonal change and rhythmic repetition. In that respect, it is similar to music and dance. However, because nature controls the pace of that change, an element of unpredictability is inherent in any garden – and that is its mystery.

In planning landscapes of any size, the reader is boldly advised not to rely upon “horticultural rules of thumb and clichés” as these produce “passionless mediocre results”. Instead of focusing on borders and beds, or paths and meadows, the authors encourage garden designers to consciously incorporate what they have observed, or experienced in other media. It is suggested that the resulting landscape design might “….resemble a tapestry woven from sky, trees, rocks, vines, flowers, grasses, and space”.

To elaborate on this perspective of landscape design, Mr. Van Sweden interviewed performance and plastic artists who garden. These include cellist Yo-Yo Ma, sculptor Grace Knowlton, textile designer Jack Lenor and painter Robert Dash. It is through their unique garden experiences and artistic mindsets, that the authors introduce the fundamentals of design that include positive and negative spaces, form and scale, as well as light and shadow. Additional design concepts discovered in the unique landscape of these artists include composition, color, symmetry, line, harmony, contrasts, rhythm and movement - aka music, foliage and texture. Finally, there is a brief discussion about creating the illusion of depth with textures and about layering a garden for mystery and excitement.

This informally written publication offers readers more than inspiration; it gives us insight into the brilliance of a landscape architect whose gardens are great works of art. James Van Sweden, along with his partner Wolfgang Oehme, was responsible for introducing his vision of the New American Landscape, an artistic and horticultural achievement that continues to receive international acclaim for more than twenty years since its conception. We are pleased that, with the assistance of Tom Christopher, Mr. Van Sweden has chosen to share with us the art - inspired creative process that makes his gardens beautiful beyond words.

Photos accompanying this review are meant to illustrate the New American Landcsape and may be found on the website of the landscape architecture firm of Oehme Van Sweden and Associates.