Everything Old is New Again

on July 18, 2017
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We’ve been noticing recently that in landscape, as in art, fashion and architecture, everything old is new again. Take this pair of images:

On the top is a view of the 17th c. Chateau de Villandry in the Loire Valley, once owned by Napoleon’s brother, and known for its baroque gardens. Below that is a view of Dan Kiley’s 1955 Miller Garden. Notice anything? Clearly, the great landscape architects of the French baroque understood the importance of a strong, clear idea. The modernists, in their reaction to the English landscape gardening style, have come to the same realization: it is critically important to be sparing with our gestures.

In the following pair, the Chateau de Chantilly, a 1680s landscape near Paris by Andre Le Notre, is on the top. Below it is Dan Kiley’s 1965 Milton Lee Olive Park, at Chicago’s main water filtration plant. Clearly, they are both about water—in each, one can imagine a thin layer of earth peeled away to reveal the water beneath.

Chateau_de_Chantilly_garden2

Olive Park1-Kiley

What’s critical to understand here is that Kiley, the most important early practitioner of Modernist landscape architecture, knew all about the French baroque; he wasn’t afraid to refer to the past while advocating for the future (and he was doing so when his contemporaries were not). Neither should we be afraid to “steal” ideas from whoever and wherever–everyone does that, even the very greatest of us. The issue is: are we stealing the right thing?

So… the critical questions: What is the big idea? What is the atmosphere being created and is it appropriate? Can it be built in a quality manner? Styles in landscape architecture and architecture come in and out of fashion; everyone has gallons of opinions about this style or that. But emotional resonance and quality can be felt in a place, regardless of the decade or century in which they were made. We have not reached the end of history. There is, believe it or not, great post-modern landscape architecture, for example. We are going to continue to draw from our storehouse of impressions, stealing great ideas from even discredited styles.

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