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BOOK REVIEW

BOOK REVIEW

Fieldwork. Landscape Architecture Europe Edited by the Landscape Architecture Europe Foundation (LAE). Birkhäuser, 2006. 253pp. £43.90

Intended to be the first in a series of yearbooks illustrating the best of European landscape architecture, this large-format book features projects drawn from 11 countries, including two from the UK. After an open call for entries the projects were selected by a jury, and quality rather than international even-handedness was clearly the prime criterion for inclusion - of the 43, 11 are in Germany and seven in the Netherlands.

The book begins with seven short essays which, while disparate in subject and scope, share a concern with establishing the distinctiveness of the European approach to landscape. This rests ultimately, argues Lisa Diedrich, on the fact that we are always adding new layers to past human actions, 'working in the fields and with the fields'.

This is manifestly true, but when you turn to the projects it is less clear if it genuinely results in distinctively European approaches, not least because some of the most obvious debts appear transatlantic - to Minimalism and Land Art in particular. And even where 'fields' are evident - as, for example, in the accomplished Landschaftspark Riem in Munich - they seem to be motivated as much by lateModern design tactics as by a search for traces of past land uses.

The cultural case could - and someday should - be argued, but a yearbook is hardly the place to do it.

What it does offer, however, is impressive and diverse, ranging in scope from small temporary installations to regional strategies such as that for 'Holland's Green Heart' - an ecological planning strategy for 180,000ha of land ringed by the major Dutch cities.

Such projects do not make for startling imagery but, by building on the centuries-old Dutch tradition of crafting utilitarian landscapes, it feels more rooted than many eye-catching designs, and is the scale at which good landscape architects ought to be working.

Compilations are difficult to summarise, so I will suggest this one's scope by reference to three projects that linger in my memory. First, the New Gardens in the Dyck Field, near Düsseldorf, by Stephan Lenzen, a framework for a garden festival that in spring resembles a fragment of Nolli's Plan of Rome, with the fabric formed by blocks of 2m-high miscanthus grass. When this is harvested for use as biomass energy or insulation, the theme gardens suddenly step forward, like actors on a stage.

Second, Eduardo Arroyo's Plaza del Desierto in the Basque town of Barakaldo.

Its enigmatic plan resembles a pixellated image laid over the topography, and the strategy is both nostalgically Modern - a neutral grid invaded by seemingly random events - and thoroughly contemporary in its determination to embody cultural memories. The site has been home to farming, shipyards and steel factories, and materials from these different pasts are used, so to speak, to 'colour' the numerous pixels, creating an inviting but determinedly indeterminate framework for inhabitation.

Finally, two hospital gardens at Umeå in Sweden, by Monika Gora. Placed near the end of the book, they are a welcome relief from the cleverness and effort of so much that has gone before.

The 'design' is disarmingly simple, consisting of a meadow of native grasses and flowers that flows right up to the buildings in a manner of which Capability Brown would surely approve. A black granite sculpture, resembling an abstract sofa, was replicated in GRP and lit from within, its progeny scattered at right angles to the contours to ride the topography like skiers - welcome signs of life, especially in winter at a latitude where it is dark by three in the afternoon.

Richard Weston is professor of architecture at Cardiff University

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