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Kobe Macco and Lisa Troiano have won the Evariste-Mertens-Price 2016
with their office as the federation of swiss landscape architects
BSLA recently announced

We are so proud of our former students and wish them all the best
for the project in of the Grünfels-Area in Rapperswil and
with their office in LINEA landscape I architecture in Zurich.

 

mehr / plus » at BSLA

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Thomas Jefferson, landscape architect. Part IV: Washington

East Capitol Street, Washington.

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By now we know that the 45th president of the US is not somebody who is going to spend a whole lot of attention to the relation between state and landscape. Still, there remains much to learn from the landscape architect/president. The development of the nation’s capital shows how the versatility of landscape—unlike the firmness of architecture—allows for a unification of conflicting political ideals.

For 26 years of his life, Jefferson’s energies were devoted to promoting and perfecting the new capital. Repugnant as the evils of city life were to him, he must have made a great concession in his anti-urban philosophy to devote so much time to creating the national capital. During the summer of 1790—while George Washington was the first president—two issues paralysed Congress: the future location of the nation’s capital and the question of how America’s finances and debts should be handled, “two of the most irritating questions,” as Jefferson remarked. With great effort, spending years of careful politics, he managed to broker a deal combining the two, by exchanging the south’s acceptance to pay for a larger part of the debts, for a favourable location of the new capital: on the Potomac River along the Maryland and Virginia border, far away from the commercial and urban centres, and thus expressing the vision of the United States as an agrarian republic.

At that time, professional city planning had not yet emerged from the art of architecture and science of military engineering which had for centuries been responsible for the design of European cities. The city of Washington was the first attempt to plan a national capital for a democratic form of government on a site deliberately picked for that purpose. The design of the city was to express the government and its (lack of) power. Thus, Jefferson, as a Republican, wanted it to be unobtrusive, while the Federalist President Washington envisioned a grand an imposing city.

The sketch Thomas Jefferson made for Washington.

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Jefferson’s first memorandum about the future capital stated that it should be laid out on a rectangular grid that would grow organically over time, spreading out from its centre. The city should be a city of gardens, interspersed with squares for public walks. He laid out the programme, specified as “a territory not exceeding 10. miles square to be located by metes and bounds. […] I should propose [the streets] to be at right angles & that no street be narrower than 100. feet, with foot-ways of 15. feet where a street is long & level.” Obviously, his conception of the future city was based on the conventional gridiron plan with which he was familiar. He wrote down precise rules and regulations, foreseeing almost every problem that would be encountered.

The L’Enfant plan of Washington DC, 1791.

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By contrast, the magnificent city that Washington and his chosen designer Charles L’Enfant dreamed up, would proclaim a mighty, dominant central government. The scheme that L’Enfant submitted, a radial plan superimposing the grid that Jefferson had proposed, was no other than André Le Nôtre’s design for the gardens of Versailles. However, a year later L’Enfant was fired, because of his stubborn refusal to submit to the authority of the commissioners, and Jefferson was left with the responsibility to complete the already accepted plan. With L’Enfant’s plan being so enormous that the city grew in small clusters around the important buildings instead of around a single centre, Jefferson’s improvement was to work on roads to link these separate areas.

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Even before the first houses had been built, Jefferson had suggested lining the avenues and streets with trees—after all, a house could always be erected quicker than a tree would grow to maturity. Regarding tree-felling as “a crime little short of murder,” he also told the commissioners that people were not allowed to cut existing trees that he thought to keep for ornamental purposes for the city. But with no means to enforce this, by the time he became president, most trees were lost.

While Jefferson failed to stop Washington’s and L’Enfant’s grand plans, he managed to infuse them with his own ideals. Because of the capital’s remote location and the continuous lack of funds, for many years it wasn’t a bustling metropolis but remained a rural town, reflecting both the federalist ideals in its grand plan, and the republican ones in its atmosphere of a “very agreeable country residence … free from the noise, the heat, the stench & the bustle of a close built town.”

Pennsylvania Avenue, the grandest street in town…

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sources

Nichols, F.D. and Griswold, R.E. (1978) “The City of Washington” in: Thomas Jefferson, Landscape Architect. pp. 38-75.

Wulf, A. (2011) “City of Magnificent Intentions,” in: Founding Gardeners. The Revolutionary Generation, Nature, and the Shaping of the American Nation. pp. 124-153.

 

Rudi van Etteger
Date: 10 November 2016

Time: 11:00 – 12:30
Location: Aula, building 362, Gen. Foulkesweg 1, Wageningen

Dissertation title:

Beyond the Visible. Prolegomenon to an aesthetics of designed landscapes

Group: Wageningen University, Landscape Architecture
Promotor: Prof.dr.ir. A. van den Brink and prof.dr. H.G.J. Gremmen
Co-promotor: Dr. R.C.H.M. van Gerwen

Abstract:

In this thesis the appropriate aesthetic evaluation of designed landscapes is explored. The lack of a specific theory for the appropriate appreciation of designed landscapes in environmental aesthetics has made it possible for landscape architects and critics to belief that landscapes are scenic entities. Actual design criticism as offered in the Landscape Architecture Europe books is shown to be based on the inconsistent belief that aesthetic experiences of works of landscape architecture are mostly visual. To explore what an appropriate appreciation should be based in, the ontology and phenomenology first of the particular designed landscape of Walcheren and consequently designed landscapes in general are explored. The exploration has provided important cues for the aesthetic evaluation of designed landscapes which form an evaluative framework for the appropriate appreciation of designed landscapes. A discussion is provided on the importance of such an appropriate appreciation for different audiences.

Extra information on:

http://www.sense.nl/graduations/upcoming/10871732/Rudi-van-Etteger

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A landscape architect for president. How about it? In the first part of this feuilleton this idea turned out to be not as far-fetched as it sounds…. All first American presidents were gardeners/farmers, using their own garden to experiment with and express their ideas on what the future America should be, with Thomas Jefferson as their champion. In part III  we will see how Thomas Jefferson’s close-knitted relationship between gardening, garden design, landscape architecture and politics becomes manifest when he translated the experiments with his own garden Monticello to the University of Virginia, materialising his democratic ideals.

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Jefferson had been involved in every detail of the university, from its foundation to the design of the buildings and gardens. He envisioned a new kind of university, where students and faculty could interact, live and learn all together, and dedicated to educating in practical affairs and public service rather than in more academic professions. It was the first non-sectarian university in the United States, revolutionary for its time in terms of its curriculum, educational methodology and physical form. Both programmatically – the combination of classrooms and living quarters – and spatially – the spreading of the academic buildings into the landscape as a unified, harmonious interrelation – the composition of the university displayed a new way of thinking.

The university, which opened in 1825, is designed around a lawn, terraced down in order to deal with the hilly topography of Charlottesville and flanked on each side by a formal alley of trees, with at the end the library – inspired by the Pantheon in Rome – as the majestic centre-point. The lawn’s edges are defined by a series of educational pavilions with student housing between them, connected by a continuous colonnade. The lawn is the formal garden and main public space of the campus, in opposition to the more private rear gardens of the pavilions.

Its precedents can be found in the quadrangles of the English university towns Oxford and Cambridge. However, unlike the air of exclusiveness of its European predecessors, the American lawn, opening up to the unbounded landscape, reflected both domesticity and community, in an amalgam of an ideal of romantic pastoralism and democratic communalism. It promoted a community ideal, and the critical conception that a place can create community.

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For further reading: Therese O’Malley, “The Lawn in Early American Landscape and Garden Design,” in The American Lawn, ed. George Teyssot (New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 1999).