The Divide Between Architecture and Landscape Architecture: Part I

The Western Tradition of Landscape Architecture:

Bosco Verticale, Milan.  A prime example of  disjointed relationaship between Architecture and landscape elements.

Bosco Verticale, Milan. A prime example of disjointed relationaship between Architecture and landscape elements.

Recently, I came across Yale Professor and architect Joel Sander’s book, Ground Work. In it he discusses the divide between the architecture and landscape architecture. According to Sanders, “at least since the late nineteenth century, architecture and landscape architecture have been professionally segregated… more often than not, landscape architects are hired to ‘decorate’ freestanding buildings designed by architects.” Sanders traces back this schism to deep-seated Western polarity: the opposition between humans and nature.

However, I found that this schism between humans and nature, or in other words between architecture and landscape architecture, is not rooted in some deep-seated Western Polarity between Humans and nature, rather in the climate and geographical context of Western Europe. The western tradition of gardening grew out of western landscape, which is cold and wet, and always had an abundance of water and greenery; there was a need to control and separate nature from human residence. Also in western cultures, woods were a place to fear where spirits lived, and were to be avoided. For example, this can be seen in children’s stories like Little Red Riding Hood and Hansel and Gretel, or the common phrase about someone who is seriously ill, that he is not out of woods yet.

In contrast, if you look at another, and much older, tradition of gardening or landscape architecture emerging out of ancient Persia, you will see this same schism between nature and man does not exist; perhaps because in arid environments, greenery and water both were scarce and needed to be protected and nurtured. In equatorial regions where the climate was mild or semi-arid, rivers like Nile and Tigris were life givers and considered sacred.  The forests and trees were revered, like in the legend of Buddha finding enlightenment under a Bodhi tree.  Perhaps this climatic explanation is why you see a separation between architecture and landscape architecture in the western tradition, and a much better integration of the two in the eastern tradition.

With the help of two posts, I will show how two different traditions in landscape architecture grew out of their two different landscapes, one from West and the other from East.

Heidelberg Castle (1410), Germany

Heidelberg Castle (1410), Germany

Western and Northern Europe generally have wet and cold climates with an abundance of water and greenery. In this cold and damp environment, there was little need to bring water and plants inside the house.  Instead, there was a need to tame the unruly nature outside the walls of one’s home.  I believe this resulted in a tradition of landscape architecture where nature was organized and controlled.  

Villa D'Este (1572),  Rome

Villa D’Este (1572), Rome

Villa D’Este is one of the most beautiful Late Renaissance Italian garden.  In this example, nature was brought to order, the gardens were laid out in terraces, and water was brilliantly incorporated into the landscape.  

Gardens of Versailles (1672), France

Gardens of Versailles (1672), France

The Gardens of Versailles, outside of Paris France, may be some of the most beautiful gardens you will see anywhere in the world. The famous landscape architect Andre Le Notre designed them in French Formal style, and imposed a more rigid symmetry and order than the Italians did in Villa D”Este.

Central Park (1873), New York City

Central Park (1873), New York City

Moving across the pond to New York City. Central Park was designed in English Naturalistic Style, which was a reaction to the French Formal Style of gardening.  English generally eschewed symmetry and tried to recreate nature as they saw it.  Central Park is completely man-made park, designed as a “natural” looking park, yet still a very controlled space.

Topiary and Maze from English Gardens

Topiary and Maze from English Gardens

Topiaries and mazes are also common features in English gardens. These are another set of examples of nature being molded into rational forms in the western landscaping tradition.

High Line, Before and After, NY City (Arch Daily)

High Line, Before and After, NY City (Arch Daily)

The High Line  is a contemporary example of this tradition.  In the before picture nature had taken hold of the elevated rail tracks, and after redesign, nature was contained and controlled by landscape architects.

Farnsworth House (1951), Chicago

Farnsworth House (1951), Chicago

Mies van der Rohe was perhaps the best-known architect who bridged the divide between architecture and landscape. In 1929, he built the Barcelona Pavilion in Spain, and 20 years later he built the Farnsworth House outside of Chicago. Mies, used plate-glass windows in both cases to diminish the separation between indoor and outdoor spaces, while at the same time he left the nature out doors untrammeled.

Mies said, “Nature, too, shall live its own life. We must beware not to disrupt it with the color of our houses and interior fittings. Yet we should attempt to bring nature, houses, and human beings together into a higher unity. If you view nature through the glass walls of the Farnsworth House, it gains a more profound significance than if viewed from outside. That way more is said about nature–it becomes a part of a larger whole.”

In the next and final part II, I will discuss the eastern tradition of landscape architecture and how it was better integrated into architecture.

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19 Comments on “The Divide Between Architecture and Landscape Architecture: Part I”

  1. Ronald Woudstra May 2, 2013 at 5:14 am #

    Very good post, I really enjoyed reading your analysis of how the western culture has given rise to such a strict separation between the man-made environment and the natural environment. Looking forward to reading about the more wholistic eastern design traditions in your next article!


    • Syed S. Ahmed May 2, 2013 at 9:56 am #

      Thanks Ron. I appreciate your comment.



  2. Mimi Hart August 10, 2013 at 12:38 pm #

    Very thought-provoking, enlightening post. So often the elemental explanations elude us (can’t see the forest for the trees, another Western idiom), so thanks for this. On to the next post.


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