Modern Garden Design: Innovation since 1900 By Janet Waymark. Thames & Hudson, 2003. 256pp. £24.95
Janet Waymark, who teaches garden history at Birkbeck, has set herself quite a task in chronicling 20th-century landscape, from Jekyll and Lutyens to Kathryn Gustafson, from the Arts and Crafts in England to the positions in which contemporary (mainly US) landscape architects find themselves today.
There is a bit about landscape designers who flourished in the second half of the 19th century and into the 20th, such as Englishman William Robinson and Californian Kate Olivia Sessions, and the work of slightly later practitioners such as the Germans Willy Lange and Karl Foerster. It is good to see this international spread right at the beginning because it is far too easy for landscape, with it underlying emphasis on sitespecificity and consulting the genius loci, to get parochial.
Then there is the Modern Movement. Waymark must know an architect who has told her that Modernism is definitely out. It's a bit like saying Third Dynasty Egyptian or Perpendicular Gothic are out. Whatever, Waymark is clearly uneasy about the period, and then you see why, because although this section has some introductory Art Nouveau planting (including Gaudí's Parc Guell), there are photos of gardens by people like Lurcat, Mallet Stevens and the like, which are, to put it nicely, absurd. That, happily, we know so little about these attempts to do First Machine Age landscape is a testimony to the assiduity of Modernist architectural commentators in tippexing them out of the canon. There is a bit about the Villa Savoye, although its landscape was largely sweeping lawn.
One of the problems with surveys such as this is the imperative to cover everything, and you sense this with the inclusion of two allegedly Art Deco gardens in New Zealand.
Come on. The houses in question are a bit Art Deco, but the 'garden' in each is a bit of grass and some planting against the house - just like every suburban non-garden.
And then there's the chapter on the garden city. I have always wondered why landscape historians think this has any place in their compass. Although Waymark rehearses the usual stuff about New Earswick, Letchworth, Hampstead Garden Suburb and Ebenezer Howard's Three Magnets, you can't help thinking that the garden city is really all about housing estate layout, with a bit of planting in the gaps.
There is a solid section on Burle Marx, Barragán, Thomas Church, Eckbo, Kiley, Noguchi, and the little known James C Rose.
Back in the UK there are Sylvia Crowe and Geoffrey Jellicoe, followed by some Scandinavians, including Sørensen and Sven Hermelin.
And then appears a section called 'The Death of Modernism?', which includes a baffling two-page encomium on Leon Krier. It is here that you start to worry about two things.
Firstly, there is not a great deal about landscape theory. As Simon Swaffield's Theory in Landscape Architecture shows (AJ 3.4.03), a significant body is accumulating.Without it, landscape design is just people bunging in plants here and there and going 'aaah'.
The second worry is the people not included. It is easy for snide reviewers to pontificate about the odd 'serious omission' but Waymark cannot be ignorant of this quite large list. The ignored include: Kevin Lynch, Ian McHarg, Nan Fairbrother, Marc Treib, Donald Appleyard, George Hargreaves, the SWA Group and Peter Walker, although, politically correctly (and correctly, too), Martha Schwartz is mentioned. The list goes on. But then you discover the last couple of pages are devoted to Charles Jencks' two gardens in Scotland, where 'the great magician-architect-astrologer weaves his interpretation of the emerging history of the cosmos.' Crikey.
Waymark has some really irritating habits.One is giving, quite unnecessarily, the full name of artists - Antoni Gaudí y Cornet, Pieter Cornelius Mondrian. And there are odd sloppinesses: Le Corbusier's scheme for Pessac was actually built and, as everybody has been pointing out for decades, Corb wrote 'the house is a machine for living', not 'living in', which has a quite different meaning. And it may be that Gaudí's Parc Guell has something Masonic about it, but I can't remember a hint of this in Gijs van Hensbergen's recent exhaustive biography. Mind you, the holy blokes at the Vatican now considering the canonisation of this unpleasant, weird person might not want to know about Gaudí the Mason.
Sutherland Lyall is a freelance journalist Toby Paterson's recent exhibition at Glasgow's CCA was much admired by Henry McKeown in AJ 22.5.03: 'I was unprepared for the quality of architectural illustration and spatial complexity, 'he wrote. Now the CCA has published a record of that exhibition, along with illustrations of Paterson's earlier works - which all allude to Modernist architecture - and three brief essays.The book is available from the CCA for £12 (0141 332 7521). Pictured right is an installation view from the show with Paterson's Full-Size Maquette for a Sculpture Titled New Facade.