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Modern gardens are usually characterized by streamlined, sleek and cultured styles. In most cases, the main goal of modern landscape architecture is to create gardens that have organized and controlled appearances that also increases the value of property besides creating spectacular views. But looking at the history of gardens, they have more uses beyond beauty and remarkable views. Some gardens are used for medical, treatment and/or healing purposes, relaxation, meeting points and productivity increase (Anderson, 2011) (Franklin, 2012); (Gray & Birrell, 2014) (Lau, et al., 2014). Therefore gardens have been very essential components of buildings from the early days (Detweiler, et al., 2012). Regardless of the intended use, modern gardens comprise of common architectural features/elements that give them outstanding views. These elements must work collectively in harmony so as to achieve the intended purpose. This essay analyzes two design landscapes: Donnell Garden, Sonoma, California, USA designed by Thomas Church, and Residence Own House & Garden, Ridgewood, New Jersey, USA designed by James C. Rose. The aspects discussed are: cultural context, design psychology, formal qualities and stylistic attributes.
Donnell Garden is one of the masterpieces that were designed by Thomas Church, a renowned landscape architect, with the help of George Rockrise and Lawrence Halprin. Thomas Church was a pioneer of American modern landscape architecture and managed to establish a style referred to as “California Garden”, after getting inspiration from the U.S.’s West Coast (Jere, 1993) (Treib, 2003). They designed the garden for Dewey and Jean Donnell family in Sonoma, California, USA. Up to date, Donnell Garden is still a modernist icon in American landscaping industry. The garden was completed in 1948 and it is on the hillside overlooking San Francisco Bay’s northern extensions. Figure 1 below shows the aerial view of Donnell Garden.
Donnell Garden is a landscape garden with great importance for American landscape history, in cultural context. The garden was created after World War II and the Great Depression, the period when American landscape significantly revitalized. Thomas used art to express various elements of modernism in the garden with less attention to the surrounding physical setting. He designed the line of the edge of the kidney-shaped pool to resonate the patterns of waterways meandering across the nearby valley that was being overlooked by the terrace. Additionally, the pavers’ colours, plantings and rocks’ groupings reflect the form and colour of the extensive landscape and its features where Donnell Garden is located (Beattie, 2015). The garden was in the cattle ranch of family, which they used for picnicking. Church included rare, abstracted forms that made Donnell Garden very famous. His aim was to give the garden a modern look that provided the family with a cool place to relax, play, swim, barbeque, garden and entertain. He wanted the garden to complement the booming economy and rapidly growing population of California. When designing the garden, Church responded to particular site and client characteristics and at the same time explored new architectural styles and forms. In general, Donnell Garden was designed with a modernism attitude and that is why it has spectacular views, such as the unique pool and chairs around it.
The main design philosophy that Church applied when designing Donnell Garden was abstract modernism. Church was among the pioneers of abstract modernism in North American landscape architecture and he used this philosophy to design a spectacular garden and express himself in it. His design philosophy was influenced by historical events and his personal ideas and experience. The unique design of Donnell Garden was based on four principles: unity (compatibility between the garden and the house), function (the relationship between the garden and the specific needs of the client), simplicity (in terms of layout of the site, aesthetic and economic) and scale (aimed at creating pleasant relation between various management of the garden) (Church, 1995). Church’s idea was to create a garden that may be looked at from different viewpoints. On this basis, he created a garden that did not have a beginning or an end. The garden was designed in consideration of the usage requirements and nature of site (Treib, 2005). The whole idea of the garden was based on “California Garden” that aims at creating a modern garden that makes outdoor life more thrilling. He also included the living habits of local people and the environment of California. For instance, the garden has several trees that are complementary to the surrounding landscape (as shown in Figure 2 below) and the amorphous pool that was very unusual. Another philosophy he used was dividing the garden into separate “rooms”. For example, the garden has separate places for entrance yard, lawn, swimming pool, free space probably for basking in the sun, large platform, dining area, etc. Therefore Church designed Donnell Garden with an aim of making it unique and integrating the principles of unity, function, simplicity and scale. He wanted to go beyond the traditional norms of flowers in the gardens by introducing new elements and perspectives.
Formal qualities of Donnell Garden are reflected in aspects such as topography, vegetation, source of water, climate of the area, material and geomorphology. Donnell Garden is located in Sonoma, California, USA. The coordinates of the garden are 38.1830° N, 122.4521° W and the basic geomorphology in the area is sandstone. Topography of location of Donnell Garden is Sonoma County Coast. The general climate of the area is Mediterranean. This climate is warm and temperate – generally mild and fairly dry with little rain throughout the year. But the rain usually increases during winter. The average annual rainfall in the area is 747.5 mm. There is always plenty of sun throughout the year with very minimal chances of snow. Average minimum temperature is 11 °C while the maximum temperature is 23.2 °C. The hottest and coldest months are July and December respectively. According to Koppen-Geiger climate classification, the climate of Sonoma is Csc (Climate-Data.Org, (n.d.)). The sources of water for Donnell Garden are local reservoirs and streams, and other water projects by federal and state governments. Indigenous vegetation is predominant in the area with few exotic species. The common indigenous vegetation are Cornus nuttalli and Myrica californica.
Different areas of the garden are made of different materials. The lawn is made of green and well maintained natural grass that gives a natural look and feel, as shown in Figure 3 below. The pavement ground of part of the large platform is concealed with redwood or wood of the U.S. fir. The floating deck is designed using checkerboard of wooden boards aimed at preserving existing trees and also creating more living space outdoors. The remaining part of the floor, which is the largest, is made of concrete. The pattern of the floor is grid and it creates a large space for the family and their friends to carry out different activities in the garden including, barbecue, playing and entertainment. The connection of the garden’s contour is by curved and jagged lines. The kidney-shaped pool and sculpture’s smooth curves are similar to the S-shaped line of the distant San Francisco bay. The canopy’s frame conveys the impression of the skyline and wilderness of the bay in the garden. This is because Donnell Garden is located on a raised ground that gives it a spectacular view overlooking the countryside. There is also the vegetation and trees surrounding the garden
These are basically features that make each garden standout from the others. Donnell Garden represents “California Garden” style. The garden’s central part has a kidney-shaped swimming pool. The pool’s location and unique design makes it the focal visual point and center of recreational activities since most people in California preferred outdoor pools. The layout of the swimming pool also provides two segments for different functions. One section of the swimming pool is longer and deeper, with a springboard, as shown on Figure 4 below. This is mainly designed for adult’s swimming. The other section of the swimming pool is shallower and more secure. This is mainly designed for children. The swimming pool also has one spectacular feature – smooth curved Adaline Kent sculpture. The sculpture is located at the center of the swimming pool (as shown in Figure 5 below) and it serves different functions. The first function is to separate the two sections of the swimming pool – the deeper and shallower areas. The sculpture also has a hole at its base, sizeable enough to draw children through it. The sculpture also acts as a small island in the pool where people can rest. The sculpture’s soft curves also repeated echoed other elements of the landscape such as curves of rivers and mountains thus complementing the garden and surrounding site. The design of this swimming pool was so unique and spectacular that it became California’s epitome of outdoor lifestyle (Trufelman, 2017). Therefore the design of Donnell Garden accommodated the needs of the family and the characteristics of the surrounding landscape.
Another stylish attribute of Donnell Garden is the amorphous transition between different areas of the garden. Even though the garden was divided into separate “rooms”, transition from one room to another was formless. This showed inclination of Church towards Spanish renaissance art. But this was not just limited to transition between rooms in the garden but it was also extended to transition between the garden and the house i.e. outdoor and indoor living (Tunnard, 2014).
Residence Own House & Garden is a landscape iconic located in Ridgewood, New Jersey, USA. The garden was designed by James Rose for his own residence. This was the building where James Rose lived with his family. The garden is very significant in American history of modern landscape architecture as it shows the origin of modernism in landscape architecture. James Rose was a famous inventor of modernism in landscape architecture and he demonstrated his design in this garden. James Rose started his activism for modernism in landscape architecture while still in school. When studying in Harvard, he teamed up with his classmates Dan Kiley and Garrett Eckbo to rebel against conventional landscape designs and theories. He declined to follow the official style of Beaux-Arts architecture for seeing the landscapes as modern buildings’ pastoral setting. This led to his expulsion from Harvard. The three colleagues then started social action for modernism in landscape architecture. As a result of this, they wrote several articles explaining their landscape design philosophy and ideas (Cardasis, 1995).
Residence Own Home & Garden represents the genesis of modern landscape design in Northern America. Designed by one of the pioneers of modernism in landscape architecture, the garden has a strong cultural context. According to James Rose, gardens were part of homes that were supposed to be places where home owners and their friends could relax and have fun at no extra cost. In other words, James Rose wanted landscape architects in USA to move out of the norm and start thinking out of the box when designing gardens. To him, conventional landscape design styles were boring and wasteful. James Rose used several artistic elements when designing his private garden after Second World War. This private garden later made him famous not only in North America but all over the world. His design style was largely influenced by Renaissance movement, which advocated for modern landscape designing. During this period, pioneers of modern landscape architecture relied on three fundamental design principles. The first was to create garden accounting that were innovative with some intellectual forms. The second was to create an amorphous relationship between the indoor and outdoor environments of the building by applying a unified design style. The third was to balance between garden use and surrounding landscape. The push for these three design principles became dominant in architecture history between 1938 and 1941.
Colour is one of the key elements that James Rose used in his private garden, as shown in Figure 6 below. He believed that combining different colours could give the garden different perspectives. Nevertheless, he made sure that the colors integrated with the surrounding landscape. To the north end of the house was James Rose’s studio, in the center was his mother’s house and to the south was his sister’s small guesthouse. He called the house a tiny village. Each interior of the house opened to a common area covered with trellis and paved with grass panels and flagstones. He also used rope panels and moveable bamboo screens to provide privacy for each area, as shown in Figure 7 below. He used this materials because he was against resource wastage and supported recycling and reuse of materials (Cardasis, 2017). According to James Rose, having a spectacular garden did not necessarily mean spending too much to build and construct it. On this garden, he used recycled materials such as salvaged wood, old doors and railroad ties. His garden was planted with vines and ferns, resonating the structural character of wooden architecture. This was a strong statement of not disregarding traditional architecture that had been used in America for many years but instead being more creative about it. He gave all the recycled materials he used to create the garden new aesthetic and functional uses. Therefore James Rose focused on mimicking the rapid changes that happened in nature and people’s lifestyle without having negative environmental nor economic impacts. He believed that creativity, innovation and simplicity were the key tools to modern landscape architecture (Cardasis, 1994).
Abstract modernism was the basic design philosophy that James Rose applied when designing his private garden. He designed this garden when USA was going through transformation. This was post World War II period and a lot of changes were happening in the country, including population, lifestyle, economic activities and nature. As a landscape architect, James Rose saw the need for changes in landscape design styles. He wanted to create gardens that matched the needs of people and surroundings. Living with his mother and sister, James Rose understood the need for privacy, not for protection against mischievous acts but giving people the freedom to choose what to do when in outdoor. This is quite different from Donnell Garden by Thomas Church where the garden did not seem to have a beginning or an end. James Rose created privacy for each segment of the garden especially at the openings of the interiors. The work of James Rose was also influenced by Japanese design through seamless integration of outdoor and indoor rooms. This is a crucial trademark of modern design as landscape architects aim at creating outdoor spaces that complement indoor spaces. James Rose applied this very principle, which is linked to Japanese design, to his private garden.
Another principle that James Rose applied was integration of the garden with the surrounding. There are many natural, native trees in the garden. This makes the garden to be properly integrated in the surrounding landscape. The trees are tall and green to give the garden a more natural look and feel. Another very interesting aspect of these trees is that they are also part of the garden structure. Some trees are seen to be penetrating inside the building and probably have a function to perform. This is very unique and thought-provoking even to today’s landscape architects.
Recyclability and reuse is another element that James Rose introduced in his private garden. A significant percentage of materials used in the garden were natural and recycled. He used old doors, railroad ties, salvaged wood, grass panels, flagstones, rope panels and bamboo screens, as shown in Figure 8 below. These are materials that were locally available and therefore cost less. This is a very crucial idea even in modern landscape architecture considering the growing concerns of global climate change. Recycling and reuse of materials and use of locally available materials are some of the practices that are being encouraged so as to reduce environmental impacts. So James Rose started the idea of modernism in landscape architecture with an aim of creating distinctive, functional and resource efficient gardens.
Reflection of formal qualities of Residence Own House & Garden is done by considering aspects such as topography, vegetation, source of water, climate of the area, material and geomorphology of the location of the garden. It is important to analyze these aspects and evaluate their relationship with or influence on design of the garden. Residence Own House and Garden is located in Ridgewood, New Jersey, USA. The coordinates of Residence Own House & Garden are 40° 58’ 46’’ N, 074° 07’ 00’’ W and the basic geomorphology in the area is sand shale rock extensions combined with sandstone. The topography where Residence Own House & Garden is located is western Pennsylvania across Delaware River and Delaware southwest across Delaware Bay. The climatic zone of the area is hardiness zone and hot-summer humid continental climate. According to Koppen-Geiger climate classification, the climate of Ridgewood is Cfa (Humid Subtropical Climate). This climate is warm and temperate. The rainfall is plenty even during the driest month. The average annual rainfall in the area is 1248.1 mm. Average minimum temperature is 5.6 °C while the maximum temperature is 16.9 °C. The hottest and coldest months are July and January respectively. The main source of water in the area is long island sound. Indigenous vegetation is predominant in the area, including oak in northern forests and Pine Barrens in pine forests.
The topography, climate, geomorphology, material, water source and vegetation of Ridgewood, New Jersey are very favorable for the ideas of Residence Own House & Garden. Having an idea of creating exceptional gardens using locally available and recycled materials, James Rose has plenty of choices. Wood is the predominant material that James Rose used. Almost every section of the garden has a wooden element, including the benches, as shown in Figure 9 below. This is probably because the climate favored plant growth and therefore use of locally available materials was a good and cost-effective idea. Bamboos, grass panels and flagstones are the other natural materials used. The veins and ferns planted in the garden shows the area’s favorable climatic conditions that are characterized by evenly distributed rainfall.
Residence Own House & Garden has many stylistic attributes. The design philosophy of James Rose is to design a functional and modern garden with natural or locally available materials. James Rose was born in 1913 and dies in 1991. However, his philosophy is needed now and in the future than never before. Building sector contributes a significant amount of global carbon emissions and James Rose’s philosophy is among the encouraged strategies of reversing the current situation. Maybe James Rose saw what many were not seeing after World War II and that is why he rooted for his design philosophy. A great conservationist indeed. Most of the outdoor trellis in the garden were constructed around existing trees – the best way to integrate a garden on a site without cutting down trees or demolishing other structures.
The garden is very colorful through integration of natural trees and materials. Besides providing a place for relaxation and family activities, it also provides a place for work. It has common areas that are enclosed with trellis, grass panels and bamboo screens to protect the occupants from unnecessary disturbances. The wooden architecture’s structural character is also complemented with vines and ferns throughout. The predominance of recycled materials also show James Rose’s attitude towards material conservation.
Residence Own House & Garden has a central fountain sculpture at the centre of the garden, as shown in Figure 10 below. This is the most symbolic and representative design element of modern landscape architecture. Besides being a symbol of modern landscape architecture, the fountain also creates a cool, fresh and relaxing environment in the garden all year round.
Donnell Garden by Thomas Church and Residence Own House & Garden by James Rose are two gardens that were designed by pioneers of modernism in landscape architecture. These two gardens did not just capture the attention of people in United States of America but they were and are still great works in the history of modern landscape architecture. The two gardens are similar and unique in equal measures. Both landscape architects wanted to create masterpieces that could represent their design philosophies of modern landscape architecture, and they truly did it successfully. Each of the gardens has a unique design philosophies, formal qualities and stylish attributes. For example, Donnell Garden has a central kidney-shaped swimming pool with smooth curved Adaline Kent sculpture while Residence Own House & Garden has central fountain sculpture as their symbolic and representative elements of modern landscape architecture. James Rose also focused on avoiding wastage of resources by using recycled, natural and locally available marketing. These two gardens are indeed a representation of the genesis of modern landscape architecture that should be emulated by stakeholders in landscape architecture field.
Anderson, B., 2011. An exploration of the potential benefits of healing gardens on veterans with PTSD, Logan, Utah: Utah State University.
Beattie, J., 2015. Gardens at the frontier: new management perspectives on garden history and designed landscapes. Studies in the History of Gardens & Designed Landscapes , pp. 1-4.
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Available at: https://en.climate-data.org/location/125175/
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