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The New Space of the Garden

Modern architecture suggested that space was the most important aspect of landscape or architectural design. As Eckbo later wrote in Landscape for Living , when we purchase a lot, we are actually buying a block of space—why be concerned with only the design of its surface [figure 12]? Spatial design is achieved through both inert and


vegetal materials, and seen in this light, the quests of architecture and landscape are actually congruent. That one discipline produced roofed space and the other spaces open to the sky, to Eckbo was no viable reason for this artificial division. In truth, both professions shared a common goal: a landscape for living, if landscape be taken in much broader terms to include people and their relationship to the land.[36]

Eckbo shared this interest in space with the architects of his generation and with his landscape classmates as well. James Rose would become one of modern landscape architecture's most polemical writers during the 1940s, beginning to publish almost as soon as he left school. In the 1938 article "Freedom in the Garden," for example, Rose, like Eckbo, noted the affinity between landscape design and sculpture. What distinguished the two, however, was the focus on space: "In reality, [landscape design] is outdoor sculpture, not to be looked at as an object, but designed to surround us in a pleasant sense of space relations."[37] Using illustrations of drawings by Picasso, houses by Mies van der Rohe, and sculpture by Naum Gabo—paired with images of his own projects—Rose sought parallels in the arts to propel developments in landscape architecture.

In The International Style , Henry-Russell Hitchcock and Philip Johnson advanced a concern for space over mass as a defining characteristic of modern architecture. Like Frank Lloyd Wright's citing of Taoism and in particular Lao Tzu in "the reality of the vessel is the space within," the formation of space and the use of space by human beings became central issues in Eckbo's work.[38] His appreciation of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe's 1929 German Pavilion in Barcelona was obvious in his writings and in his designs, in particular the use of the overlapping rather than intersecting corner. And in projects ranging from suburban backyards to expansive housing estates, plant materials and constructed planes were first and foremost addressed to defining space. The forms by which space was delimited followed closely thereafter.

But what of the particular vocabulary that would form the modern landscape? To appear contemporary one might investigate the most free of aesthetic investigations: painting and sculpture. In an early article, "Sculpture & Landscape Design," published just as he was com-

"Your Block of Air." Carlos Diniz,
delineator. [ from Garrett Eckbo ,
The Art of Home Landscaping]


pleting graduate studies, Eckbo stressed the intrinsic connection between architecture, landscape, and the plastic arts. Although emphasizing the essential unity of the arts, he cautioned that "landscape design concerns itself with provision for the outdoors activities of man."

Architecture [like sculpture] . . . works with three-dimensional volumes, but their arrangement is governed by human activities which they must shelter. . . . Yet sculpture is also analogous to landscape design, for the handling of ground masses can be carried out with a truly sculptural sense of forms in relation. In fact, landscape design may be considered more analogous to sculpture, since its forms are moulded and carved and grouped, whereas those in architecture are constructed.[39]

Alfred Barr, founding director of the Museum of Modern Art, had analyzed the development of abstraction in painting and sculpture and distinguished between "pure-abstraction" and "near-abstraction": "Pure-abstractions are those in which the artist makes a composition of abstract elements such as geometrical or amorphous shapes. Near-abstractions are compositions in which the artist, starting with natural forms, transforms them into abstract or nearly abstract forms."[40] This dichotomy opened a conceptual application of the contemporary plastic arts to landscape design, suggesting to designers their role as the designers of habitable near-abstractions.

Pierre-Émile Legrain. Tachard garden.
La Celle-Saint-Cloud, France, circa 1924.
Sketch by Garrett Eckbo from a photo.
[Courtesy Garrett Eckbo ]

Barr included architecture, film, furniture, graphic, and theater design in his exhibition "Cubism and Abstract Art," but landscape architecture was notably absent, as it had been from the Bauhaus.[41] Yet even in this century, garden designers—often architects or interior designers rather than landscape architects—had explored the links between the aesthetic zeitgeist and outdoor space. Most obvious was the "cubistic" idiom of Gabriel Guevrekian's Garden of Water and Light at the 1925 Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes in Paris, and his walled garden for the Villa Noailles in Hyères executed three years later. The landscape profession was introduced to the French work through publications—all in French and virtually linguistically inaccessible to the young Americans, with the notable exception of Fletcher Steele's 1930 "New Pioneering in Garden Design." Eckbo was so impressed with a view of Pierre-Émile


Jones garden. Site plan. Ontario, late 1940s(?). Ink on tracing paper.
[Documents Collection ]


Garrett Eckbo and James Rose on a student excursion, 1937.
[Courtesy Arline Eckbo ]

Legrain's Tachard garden in La Celle-Saint-Cloud, he overlaid the photo to produce his own sketch for further study [figure 13].

It blew my mind because of that little sawtooth edge, which you probably think is kind of silly, but it made me think about what a path is for. A straight path with straight sides is a linear movement through space, designed to get you from here to there as quickly as possible. It's like a street or highway. But if you break the edge like that, you say that there's something along the side that maybe you should stay and look at. It was a form that came out of modern art .[42]

While the zigzag path rarely maximized its effect on movement in the Eckbo garden, it became one of the landscape architect's favored design motifs. And the influence of the banked earthen planes—in pattern, if not actual form—of Guevrekian's Garden of Water and Light and Legrain's Tachard garden are most obvious in Eckbo's studies for the segmented patterning of the Jones garden (Ontario, undated, probably late 1940s) [figure 14; see plate IV].

As a graduate student, Eckbo was well aware of developments in the arts, and the bibliographies of his articles and books balance readings in the arts with sociology, soil conservation, and planning. In "Sculpture & Garden Design," which appeared in the Magazine of Art in 1938, his setting for a modern sculpture reworked the spiral row of trees that enclosed the plaza of his Freeform Park project. But here the motif had been adapted for purely aesthetic ends. Intended to terminate the allée of a large garden, the design's "ramped earth


Garrett Eckbo and Dan Kiley at the beach. Cape Cod, 1938.
[Courtesy Arline Eckbo ]

planes meet at a low mound, from which rises a piece of modern sculpture whose smooth forms blend readily with the earth forms." Archipenko's Hero became the central feature of the design, an image appropriated from Alfred H. Barr's Cubism and Abstract Art first published in 1936.[43] This borrowing was no doubt intended to add a gloss of modernity to the design's vegetal elements. In any event, the article's publication offered Eckbo a national arena in which to broadcast his views—certainly among the earliest exposures of modern landscape to the American public.

Eckbo was not alone in his quest for a modern landscape architecture. His Harvard classmates included James Rose and Dan Kiley, and the trio would come to play a pivotal role in twentieth-century American landscape architecture [figures 15, 16].[44] Given their callow youth and radical ideas, it is startling that the band found a forum for their writings so early on, and that they chose to attack global problems and theories rather than small-scale garden design issues alone. In 1939–40, they jointly published a series of articles that laid out an approach to design based on a three-part division of the earth into primeval (i.e., wilderness), rural, and urban landscapes. Citing Lewis Mumford in the essay on design in the primeval landscape, they asserted that it is impossible to design responsibly in any of the three arenas without considering—and affecting—the remaining two. In closing, they stressed that "the design principles underlying the planning of the urban, rural and primeval environments are identical: use of the best available means to provide for specific needs of the specific inhabitants; this results in specific forms."[45]


James C. Rose, Bibby estate. Kingston, New York.
Student project at Harvard University, 1938.
from James C. Rose, "New Freedom in Garden Design" ]

Pablo Picasso. Figure , 1910.
from James C. Rose, "New Freedom in
Garden Design"


Perhaps not surprisingly, it was the architecture journals that gave space to Rose and Eckbo for their writings. In "Freedom in the Garden" Rose argued for a landscape design that was spatially based, which he illustrated with modern architecture, painting, and sculpture as well as his own projects. The images were used rhetorically. A plan of his 1938 Harvard school project for the Bibby estate in Kingston, New York, was paired with Figure , a drawing by Pablo Picasso [figures 17, 18]. Other examples were drawn from the work of Theo van Doesburg, Mies van der Rohe, and Naum Gabo. In projects undertaken as a graduate student, Rose clearly demonstrated his comprehension of modernist architecture, as he applied its notions of spatial fluidity to the garden. In 1940 he wrote that "we are already accustomed to a freer type of space organization—living/dining rooms with groups arranged for conversation, study, and play. . . . We have yet to develop the house and landscape unit on the same basis rather than just the house with the garden attached."[46]

Although a socially reinvigorated landscape architecture adapted its aesthetic vocabulary from contemporary plastic arts, underlying both was the spirit of the times—and a belief in progress and most of all the positive rational power of science. Science and the promise of technology in realizing the democratic ideal were frequent themes in both Rose's and Eckbo's writings. Gropius had written that the new architecture derived not from the personal aesthetic tics of a handful of designers but "simply the inevitable logical product of the intellectual, social and technical conditions of our age."[47]

Vaguely defined and open to a variety of interpretations, the positive impact of technology ran as a common thread in publications by various authors on landscape design. Tunnard wrote about science in 1938, restricting his purview to the development of hybrid species and the improvement of the soil:

Just as the design of the locomotive, the aeroplane, and, for that matter, the modern house, is being changed by scientific invention, in a similar way, science will transform the garden of the future. The latter must necessarily be influenced by new materials and their methods of application—for example, by plant importation and hybridization, and the amelioration of soil and weather conditions .[48]


Rose pushed the matter further but diverted the topic of discussion in his 1939 article "Why Not Try Science?" He bemoaned the fact that landscape thinking lagged so far behind developments in architecture, hampered by the employ of traditional building materials and plant varieties. Science was not an abstract idea, he claimed, but instead directed the landscape architect's working method. More specifically—and surprisingly—a scientific use of plants meant avoiding plants used in masses: "It is only by the isolation of specimens that plants can be controlled scientifically, developed to the ultimate of their potential characteristics, and used with elastic tensility. It is the method employed in all scientific investigation in horticulture—and in the study of building materials." In fact, if science has anything to demonstrate, wrote Rose, "it has proved that so-called 'natural' conditions are not necessarily the best conditions for development." Having dismissed the emulation of nature as impossible, Rose made absolutely no apologies for his view:

It is perfectly possible to use plants with the same knowledge and efficiency with which we use lumber, brick, steel, or concrete in building. And when we apply the science of growth to our landscape design standards, so that we can determine accurately the form characteristics and definitely establish the growth rates for individual plants under given conditions, we will be able to use plants with the same expediency as the factory-made, modular unit in building .[49]

The influence of modern architecture on Rose's thinking appears to have been decisive, no doubt inculcated by his training under Gropius. Curiously, Rose offered no more than broad notions of landscapes appropriate to contemporary living; he rarely spoke of the specific use or user group for these landscapes. His concern fell almost completely on spatial and formal ideas, with few specific notions of people, modern thinking—or science.

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