Published  02/03/2005

Book review: Landscape Design and the Experience of Motion

Landscape Design and the Experience of Motion

Michel Conan (ed). Dumbarton Oaks Colloquium on the History of Landscape Architecture. Washington DC: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, 2003
ISBN 0884022935

This important publication, edited by the director of Dumbarton Oaks, Michel Conan, fills a vital gap in the literature of garden and landscape design, and is surely an essential for all landscape and garden libraries. The series of papers, from the 24th Colloquium, is now edited together, ranging from case studies of particular examples, such as the Roman Water Garden (Sperlonga and Tivoli), by Ann Kuttner, to a new study of Stourhead by Michael Charlesworth. This deals with aspects of 'Movement, Inter-subjectivity and Mercantile Morality'. The eminent John Dixon Hunt explores questions of 'Towards a Poetics of Movement in the Garden'. Stephen Bann examines the explorations of the renowned French landscapist, Bernard Lassus, and Michel Conan himself examines 'Landscape Metaphors and the Metamorphosis of Time'.

In his introduction to the book, Conan examines the reality that 'motion' in a garden is made up of 'moments of stillness', comprising 'one position and then a new one, and so on, indefinitely'. All this becomes crystallised in memories of such instants, which are then prompted and released again on the return visit, with perhaps a differing perception as a result. So, the defining moments of picturesque travel itself come as a result of a deconstruction 'into moments of stillness'. Conan urges us, in the wake of Kevin Lynch, to pursue an examination of theoretical concerns here, as opposed to methodological aspects. This is an important redirection, well overdue in landscape practice.

Conan points out how much attention to the experience of motion rules out the picturesque aesthetic, still dominant in landscape design. At the heart of such new approaches to landscape design come the designs of Bernard Lassus in France, and Patricia Johanson in the United States. The first part of this volume, 'Beyond the Picturesque', is a valuable introduction to such new developments. The next four chapters, which form part two, entitled 'Modalities of Movement in a Garden and Their Representation', focus on behavioural aspects of motion in the designed landscape, and demonstrate ways in which culture impinges as much on behaviour itself as on the experience of motion. Examples are quoted from Rome, post-Byzantine societies, mediaeval Japan, and post-industrial revolutionary Europe. The final three chapters on 'Culture and Meaning' show how landscape design can offer definitive experiences of motion that encroach significantly on broader cultural life.

Returning to the subject of 'Modalities of Movement', there is a highly original summary by John Dixon Hunt on movement in gardens and designed landscapes: he breaks this down into 'the procession or ritual, the stroll and the ramble'. The likelihood of finding points of interest en route predicates the conjunction of 'moments of stillness', as Conan himself suggests. In such a compilation, based upon papers delivered at the conference, it can be seen how a skilful editor can weave together the several strands of individual thinking and speculation, and following discussion and appropriate revision, deliver for publication a consummate work that advances landscape theory significantly beyond the morass into which it had lapsed in previous decades. Conan must be congratulated, and encouraged to continue such compilations.

Michael Spens

Click on the pictures below to enlarge

studio international logo

Copyright © 1893–2024 Studio International Foundation.

The title Studio International is the property of the Studio International Foundation and, together with the content, are bound by copyright. All rights reserved.

twitter facebook instagram

Studio International is published by:
the Studio International Foundation, PO Box 1545,
New York, NY 10021-0043, USA