“100 Years, 100 Landscape Designs” by John Hill calls attention to one hundred landscape designs, one per year, from 1917 to 2017. Hill and his publisher, Prestel, team up to construct a book that is enthralling – in visual and text form. The book itself is a beautiful compilation of photography from one hundred selected landscapes, while Hill’s text gives the reader an introduction into the historical importance and beauty of each site.
Hill defines landscape design as more than plant-focused “landscape” design, but rather the design of functional, outdoor space. The landscapes he selected are more than traditional parks and gardens: land art and sculpture parks, plazas and promenades, campuses and communities, cemeteries and memorials, and amphitheaters and pools. Traditionally, parks are the focal point of landscape design, whereas land art and sculpture parks are viewed as art infrastructure. Plazas and promenades lack the traditional greenery most associated with landscape. In the United States, cemeteries and memorials are often not classified by the everyday user as landscapes or parks, as they do not always feel ‘useable’ in the sense of a picnic, stroll, or recreational gathering space. By emphasizing more than stereotypical parks and gardens, Hill broadens the understanding of what a great landscape can be.
“100 Years, 100 Landscape Designs” is a great primer for anyone: the landscape architect in training, the professional landscape architect or those in an allied discipline, and even those completely outside of the profession(s). This book is not a definitive guide, nor will it give a reader a complete understanding, but it will introduce the audience to intriguing projects and broader concepts within landscape design.
The story behind each year is what pulls the reader into the text. The photos, already beautiful in and of themselves, do not always do the park justice. A perfect example is Villandry (1918); the estate garden in Touraine, France was purchased by a doctor/medical researcher and his wife, an heiress, in disrepair and reconstructed using the few clues the couple had to revitalize the garden to its original beauty. The stunning, ornamental gardens took on a variety of geometric shapes and plantings to cover the 12-hectare (29.6 acres) site.
On the smallest scale, Paley Park (1967), the most condensed, urban example in “100 Years, 100 Landscape Designs” balances a small footprint with certain elements used in good public space design: ample seating, water, and greenery. The pocket park, designed by Zion and Breen, is an urban oasis in the concrete jungle. Paley Park is a must-see in New York as an urban explorer; it falls so far from the parks many non-New Yorkers imagine, such as Central Park, Prospect Park, or Brooklyn Bridge Park. Instead of a playground, grass, and trees, there are many tables and seating opportunities, a large water feature, and enclosure. Perhaps enclosure is the most shocking of all: who imagines a ‘park’ or landscape to be closed? The parks previously mentioned in contrast to Paley Park would be described as open. Yet, Paley Park is understood by the majority of its users (nearby workers) as anything but an enclosure; Paley Park is mostly understood as a refuge from the ‘city’ or workplace. To gain a deeper understanding, view the video below and read "The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces" by William Whyte, who heavily documented the space. Opening a few years after Paley Park, Dan Kiley’s Oakland Museum of California (1969) established bringing vegetation to roofs to merge the built and natural worlds - almost literally. Kiley attempted to soften the brutal concrete of the museum while using plants native to the Oakland region. Lawrence Halprin also could be seen blending brutal concrete with the softness of nature in Freeway Park (1976) in Seattle.
A subcategory of the book could be the protection of the natural world through landscape design. Hill briefly mentions, in the closing of his introduction, the direction he sees landscape design heading (and thriving). While a few sites selected highlight the attempts at preservation of the natural habitat earlier than most may believe, Thijsse’s Hof (Thijsse’s Court, 1925) is a great example that takes the idea of preservation a step further: conservation entwined with education. J.P Thijsse imagined all towns would have one park, if not more, that would be open to teaching students about the natural world. Landschaftspark Duisburg-Nord (2001), Qinhuangdao Red Ribbon Park (2008), and Madrid Rio (2011) all represent the continued trend through the 100 years of thinking about adapting human societies and urban settings for the protection of the natural world. “Halprin’s approach, which looked back deeply in time and forward across future generations, privileged nature over buildings, remained with the slogan “live lightly on the land: continually throughout his proposed landscape design for The Sea Ranch in 1965. The Sea Ranch is one of the few landscape designs of a residential category, yet it is the biggest landscape in the book. The community is a very well planned and detailed take on preservation within a development. Whether you fully support the idea and attempt or not, The Sea Ranch did something millions of American bedroom communities skipped over: working with the landscape. Lawrence Halprin, a well-known landscape architect of modernist landscapes, ‘designed’ The Sea Ranch to reflect “living lightly on the land.” The preservationist mindset is not especially common in landscape architecture or residential architecture.
While Hill does well at selecting a fair share of completely natural and seemingly nature, Amsterdamse Bos (1937) represents the creation of ‘nature.’ Translating to Amsterdam Forest, this park is the largest in “100 Years, 100 Landscape Designs” at 970-hectares (2,396 acres). Amsterdamse Bos is a modern construction of an ideal: bringing the rural, natural environment to the urban, man-made environment. The creation of nature is evident if studied, however, most users will not be able to fully comprehend the human-designed landscape as it has been embedded for decades; the designed forest feels almost like a relic kept tucked away and protected while the city bloomed around it. Amsterdamse Bos is still one of the city's most popular parks. Like Paley Park, mentioned above, Amsterdam Bos is a refuge in an urban setting, although of a totally different respect; Amsterdam Bos offers a dense, green forest with large swathes of grass and pathways for users, whereas Paley offers an escape into the outdoors.
One of the most visually appealing gardens in “100 Years, 100 Landscape Designs” is the Nærum Allotment Gardens (The Round Gardens, 1948) in Denmark. Allotment gardens can be considered a type of community garden, however, they are not for commercial purposes – solely individual or family gardening uses. Many, if not all but Nærum, are gridded and designed for function, not form. Carl Theodor Sørensen used Renaissance and German writings to abstract the typically-gridded form into a grid of oval gardens. Sørensen also left guidelines for each oval to follow, as a guide not “directive,” yet the visual appeal comes from most plots following the same aesthetics and space in between the ovals staying a common grass groundcover. Not quite a garden, but part of a larger garden, the Moses Bridge (2010) by RO&AD Architecten in the Netherlands is visually appealing as well as important circulatory infrastructure for access to Fort de Roovere in Halsteren. The bridge is sunken and walled to allow water to appear to flow up to a visitor’s chest level.
Time is a reoccurring aspect in “100 Years, 100 Landscape Designs.” Especially when contrasted to “100 Years, 100 Buildings,” Hill has embraced the vast differences between the design of the landscape versus built structural forms. Giardino di Ninfa (1922) exemplified the process of a landscape changing over time; the Caetani family added to the garden within each generation for many years until it became the 20-acre garden and wildlife refuge. The site, today, is a beautiful intersection of small garden design (over many decades) and a final overarching take on bringing it all together for a publically accessible garden. The Storm King Art Center (1960) is also an example of change over time, or potentially labeled as development and growth; the large site set in New Windsor, New York grew over time, in size and program, yet still largely remains a sculpture garden people come from all around to visit. Tuinen Mien Ruys (Garden of Mien Ruys, 1924) started as a small home garden, a practice studio for Mien Ruys, before she became notable within the Netherlands and beyond. The experimentation on a small scale eventually led to the confidence to create large gardens with immense detail and thought.
The most surprising choice (personally) was the Observatorielunden (1934) in Stockholm, Sweden: a rather bland, simple designed public space. The park borders the Stadsbiblioteket (city library) in the Vasastaden neighborhood, a very central location, directly over the Rȧdmansgatan metro station. Observatorielunden is two rather flat sites separated by a very tall bluff which was formed thousands of years ago from the melting waters of past glaciers. Like Hill covers in “100 Years, 100 Landscape Designs,” the well-known architect Erik Gunnar Asplund designed the public space. The story doesn’t hold much intrigue, and the park design was fairly simple: frame the library with the rocky bluff (to disturb the bluff as little as possible) while also connecting the outdoor space directly to the library. While the view from the top is nice, it doesn’t register that the top of the Observatorielunden and the small plaza to the east are one park; the disconnect is further clarified with a McDonald’s to the adjacent north of the willows and pool of calm water. Asplund did create a visual, artificial stream running down the bluff to the reflective pool, however, after visiting the site many times, this was never apparent nor understood by me. Observatorielunden seems more like pieces of many ideas taped together without much thought. Stadsbiblioteket is more appealing than Observatorielunden, in my opinion. With so many other parks and public spaces to choose from internationally or even solely in beautiful Stockholm, why Observatorielunden?
Perhaps the only thing lacking in “100 Years, 100 Landscape Designs” is more variety geographically. Hill implicitly states the ‘Western’ bias, mentioning 80% of the projects come from the United States and Europe in the introduction (40/40). Lacking is a loose term, however: how does one only choose one project from each year? In short, it cannot be done. It would be impossible to include all noteworthy projects, which leads the reader to be thankful for the ‘Timeline’ at the end of the book; the timeline gives important events (landscape related) for each year, as well as potential ‘runners-up.’
From a methodological sense, Hill doesn’t quite clarify his selection methodology sans mentioning a few criteria. Unless the reader researches the author, there is little specific information on why each project was chosen. Taking “100 Years, 100 Landscape Designs” for what it is: a compilation of beautiful and useful projects that span a century of constants and change. As mentioned above, Hill outlines his selection criteria and defines landscape design in the book’s introduction. There is no reference to the actual selection of each project other than the authors love for the project. Prior to diving into both the selection and the definition, Hill very succinctly states his interest “veers” more to the modern side of design, especially noted in his previous book “100 Years, 100 Buildings,” but also this book shows a wider range of projects - traditional to modern and all in between. While it would be more confirming to know why each project was selected, the history and stories attached to each project suffice.
As a student studying landscape architecture and urban planning, but also a designer and writer, this book is a crash course of a few intriguing precedents. Landscape design is tricky wording, but also sufficient for this book. While I follow more in tune with landscape architecture, landscape design is a merging of landscape architecture and garden design. Landscape design is very broad, yet the inclusion of both gardens and mostly public space made this book very appealing to learn about a broad variety of landscape designs. Truthfully, there could be two books - more complex, greater-than-the-plants landscapes and traditional to modern gardens. I hesitate, but I also firmly believe so much is left out when the two ‘typologies’ are combined. While I hesitate with the terminology of landscape design, I look with awe at almost, if not all, 100 projects Hill showcases.
Which projects piques your interest the most? Why? Do you know a landscape that is missing from this book? Which of these projects makes you most excited about the future of landscape design? Share your thoughts and your stories in the comments area below.
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