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Ambassador for the art of landscape

review

Geoffrey Jellicoe Edited by Sheila Harvey. ldt Monographs No 1, 1998. 176pp. £24 (Available from 01737 225374)

Geoffrey Jellicoe was an Architectural Association-trained architect, who became the most eloquent ambassador for landscape architecture. Into a profession desperately short of heroes, Jellicoe injected an inspiring vigour and generosity - even in his mid-nineties receiving a stream of student visitors at his Highpoint eyrie.

His career had its fair share of bumpy moments. The architectural practice Jellicoe, Ballantyne & Coleridge was largely sustained in the early 1960s by the building of Plymouth Town Hall and civic square. Jellicoe was no businessman, but the office which Hal Moggridge joined at this time struggled on until 1973. Moggridge's entertaining account of life at 12 Gower Street provides a corrective to the notion of Jellicoe's career as a charmed progress from his youthful study of Italian Renaissance gardens to the grand old man of the landscape.

Jellicoe's working method was to throw out ideas and then, with remarkable lack of ego or artistic temperament, hand them over to the young designers in the office. Thus Moggridge (with Ove Arup and Partners) was left to grapple with two of Pilkington's Glass Age development projects: Crystal 61 (a vertical exhibition centre) and the Crystal Span, resurrected at the recent 'Living Bridges' exhibition. Moggridge also gives due credit to Susan Jellicoe, who balanced her husband's darting espousal of the conceptual with her 'mighty intellect and a passion for quality of detail', and was his co-author for their great enterprise The Landscape of Man.

Jellicoe's was a searching mind and eye, always moving onwards. He would, in Moggridge's words, 'identify the essence of a problem before passing on to something new, while others worked out the implications'. Rick Rowbottom's memories of working on Sutton Place emphasise the ease with which Jellicoe would relinquish control; site implementation, strangely, did not much concern him. That was most eloquently proved in more than one of his obituaries in which the Moody Gardens, Galveston were described in detail. So bound up was he in the ideas and the drawings, the fact that not a clod of earth had been dug in Texas hardly concerned him.

His actual landscapes, such as the 50-year plan for the cement works at Hope in Derbyshire (which he easily outlived), the water garden above Harvey's department store in Guildford, earth-modelling for corporate clients (as early as 1959), and allusory and conceptual private gardens, such as his masterpiece at Shute and the incomplete Sutton Place, were all new departures. Latterly he discovered the delights of the rapidograph, adding crisp fluency to his distinctive style, and he emerged with increasing confidence from the long shadow of his brilliant draughtsman collaborator on Italian Gardens of the Renaissance, Jack Shepherd.

Jellicoe's passion for contemporary British art came late, encouraged by Freddie Gibberd. His walls were covered with works by Nicholson, Sutherland, Moore and Paul Nash. This was 'lived in' art; the relationship between Jellicoe and his collection was intimate, his ideas on the subconscious (intuitive as well as Jungian) forged the links between his work and his visual references. Essays on Jellicoe and modern art, and his interest in Jung, consider these connections, linked to the themes of allegory and analogy that occupied him increasingly. The translation of these ideas into landscape design is sometimes awkward in the telling ('the intellect spoils such things,' said Jellicoe) but at the Kennedy Memorial at Runnymede, the clarity and meshing of intent and result is masterful. There, site + metaphor = memory.

Sir Peter Shepheard, in his preface, identifies the Jellicoe magic. Quoting William James, he reminds us: 'Culture lives with sympathies and admiration and not by dislikes and disdains.' Jellicoe's positive approach could verge on the naive; he always offered encouragement, even to the direst student project. In a profession without 'stars', he sweetly twinkled.

Kathryn Moore's essay, concluding this collection, takes a thoughtful look at the Jellicoe legacy; she quotes his writings (from 1960 onwards) about, as he put it, 'things which lie beyond technical accomplishment and indicate unknown depths for exploration'. Jellicoe was a risk-taker; he unashamedly saw landscape design as an art form, responsive to the currents and subcurrents of modern thought, and he was very aware of the dulling effect of orthodoxies, the trap of the stereotypical. Not all his conceptual metaphors succeeded, but it was the energy with which he continually mounted challenges in his work and in his adopted profession that was so remarkable. This elegant monograph, thoughtfully edited, bears witness to that.

Gillian Darley is former director of the Landscape Foundation (founder, Sir Geoffrey Jellicoe)

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