Case Study One
Central Park – New York, U.S.A. – Frederick Law Olmsted & Calvert Vaux (1873)
“The desire to use landscape art to met deep human needs, coupled with his conviction that the process involved must be an unconscious one, led Olmsted to insist on a whole series of design principles that differed significantly from those of the gardeners of his day. In the broadest sense, he felt that what separated his art from that of the gardener was what he termed the “elegance of design” – the creation of a composition in which all parts were subordinated to a single, coherent effect. There was not place in his work for details that were to be viewed and admired as such. People should not, he warned think “of trees as trees, of turf, water, rocks, bridges, as things of beauty in themselves.” In his art they were “as little so as warp & woof in a brocade.”
A crucial element in securing composition was the effective organization of space. No matter how limited the area he had to design, Olmsted sought to crate a “perspective effect,” increasing the sense of space contrasting dark foreground forms with lighter, less distinct ones further away. He term scenery “simply did not apply, he said, “to any field of vision in which all that is to be seen is clear and well-defined in outline.” Accordingly, he introduced into the scenes he designed either “considerable complexity of light and shadow near the eye,” or “obscurity of detail further away.” (olmstead.org)
Each of these techniques was characteristic of one of the two styles Olmsted most of ten used in his designs. Basically, they were the Beautiful and the Picturesque – the classic modes of English landscape gardeners and theorists of the late eighteenth century. Olmsted’s purpose was not simply to use these styles for aesthetic effect and consistency. He used them to heighten certain qualities of nature in order to produce a psychological response that went beyond appreciation of the beauty of the scene.
The “Pastoral” Style
“Olmsted used the style of the Beautiful – or as he usually called it, the pastoral – to create a sense of the peacefulness of nature and to sooth and restore the spirit. The Pastoral style was the basic mode of his park designs, which he intended to serve as the setting for “unconscious or indirect recreation.” The chief purpose of a park, he taught, was “an effect on the human organism by an action of what it presents to view, which action, like that of music, is of a kind that goes back of thought, and cannot be fully given the form of words.”11 In such designs there were broad spaces of greensward, broken occasionally by groves of trees. The boundary was indistinct, due to the “obscurity of detail further away” produced by the uneven line and intricate foliage of the trees on the edge of the open space. In other parts the reflection of foliage by bodies of water introduced another element of intricacy and indistinctness. The effect was reminiscent of parks on estates that Olmsted had seen in England, and it was the image of the rich turf of that country, which he described as “green, dripping, glistening, gorgeous,” when he first saw it, that remained for him the model of the Pastoral style.”(olmstead.org)
The “Picturesque” Style
“When employed the style of the Picturesque, Olmsted introduced “complexity of light and shadow near the eye” to heighten another aspect of nature – its mystery and bounteousness. To achieve a sense of mystery, he used a variety of tints and textures of foliage that made forms indistinct and created a constantly changing play of light and shadow. At the same time, he planted profusely to secure greater richness and lushness of growth than nature would produce unaided. He planted one layer upon another, beginning with ground cover, then shrubs, then trees above them. To complete the effect he often added creepers that covered the trunks and branches of deciduous trees, keeping them green with foliage even in winter.
Part of Olmsted’s inspiration for this style was the thick hedgerows of England, but even more important was the tropical scenery he had seen in Central America. Crossing the Isthmus of Panama in 1863, he had been enthralled: “…simply in vegetation it is superb and glorious,” he exclaimed to his wife, “and makes all our model scenery very tame and Quakerish. I think it produces a very strong moral impression through an enlarged sense of the bounteousness of nature.” It was that quality of nature, and of the Creator behind it, that he sought to express and present in many of his designs thereafter.”(olmstead.org)
Case Study Two
Venustas et Utilitas – Mechtenberg, Germany – Paolo Burgi/Studio Burgi (2011)
A Research project on aesthetics of agricultural landscapes in an urban context.
“The aerial view makes it visible: arable land lies like a “Central Park in the midst of the urban fabric. The agrarian landscape becomes a recreational space, a valve for the people’s longing for leisure and adventure. While on the other hand the farmers – unintentional designers of the landscape – often work at the margin of subsistence, always being aware of how other farmers have already been given up. Agriculture has changed. In addition to the agricultural use and the need for recreational spaces, a requirement has emerged for experiencing a certain beauty of the countryside, and aesthetic agriculture; the search for an ideal landscape, in which beauty blends with the useful. But as much mere utility would lead to impoverishment of the agrarian landscape image, a mere aesthetic approach would also be a sign of questionable development. How would we judge such an aesthetic image, when we know that this beauty has been realized at the expense of the loss of the central meaning of cultural landscape, i.e. the production? Our research underlies topics of simplicity and respect for the earth, the combination of beauty and utility. The proposals and interventions we have conceived are meant as an accompaniment of the spectator to explore certain questions: what I see, is it coincidence, has it something to do with agriculture or is it a designed scenery? On the threshold between “understanding – non-understanding” his perception of the surrounding widens. “Venustas et Utilitas” is part of a research series, an experiment, that on the one hand interacts between the farmer’s experience and work and on the other hand follows a new Culture of Ethics.” (burgi.ch)
Case Study Three
Prairie Waterway/Park Place – Farmington, Minnesota, U.S.A. – Balmori Associates (1996)
“Presented two schemes for the surface water-drainage system to the Farmington town board and the developer. The first scheme, which the town board and the Sienna Development Corporation much preferred, made the waterway into a naturalistic stream. The second scheme, which we preferred, created a series of interconnected geometric ponds that cleaned an retained the water, based on the system used in cranberry bogs. The town board and developer raised objections to the gridded bog system, claiming that it seemed unnatural. Here, though this is an artificial drainage system, we again encounter the eighteenth-century Romantic landscape idea of “natural”… Yet this choice unfortunately encourages a misreading of the drainage system by its future inhabitants. It hides the reality that the drainage is the result of a deliberate and courageous choice to use land for the sake of filtering water. A new aesthetic, making such ethical choices visible and enjoyable, is needed.” (Landscape Manifesto p. 82-83)