Gardens in the Modern Landscape: A Facsimile of the Revised 1948 Edition (Penn Studies in Landscape Architecture)

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Between 1937 and 1938, garden designer Christopher Tunnard published a series of articles in the British Architectural Review that rejected the prevailing English landscape style. Inspired by the principles of Modernist art and Japanese aesthetics, Tunnard called for a "new technique" in garden design that emphasized an integration of form and purpose. "The functional garden avoids the extremes both of the sentimental expressionism of the wild garden and the intellectual classicism of the 'formal' garden," he wrote; "it embodies rather a spirit of rationalism and through an aesthetic and practical ordering of its units provides a friendly and hospitable milieu for rest and recreation."

Tunnard's magazine pieces were republished in book form as Gardens in the Modern Landscape in 1938, and a revised second edition was issued a decade later. Taken together, these articles constituted a manifesto for the modern garden, its influence evident in the work of such figures as Lawrence Halprin, Philip Johnson, and Edward Larrabee Barnes.

Long out of print, the book is here reissued in a facsimile of the 1948 edition, accompanied by a contextualizing foreword by John Dixon Hunt. Gardens in the Modern Landscape heralded a sea change in the evolution of twentieth-century design, and it also anticipated questions of urban sprawl, historic preservation, and the dynamic between the natural and built environments. Available once more to students, practitioners, and connoisseurs, it stands as a historical document and an invitation to continued innovative thought about landscape architecture.

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About the Author:

Christopher Tunnard (1910-79) was born in Canada and lived and worked in England as a garden designer and landscape architect before emigrating to the United States. He taught in the Department of Architecture at Harvard and, shifting his focus after the Second World War, became head of the Department of City Planning at Yale. John Dixon Hunt is Professor Emeritus of Landscape Architecture at the University of Pennsylvania School of Design and author of many books, most recently A World of Gardens and The Afterlife of Gardens, the latter also available from the University of Pennsylvania Press.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Foreword to the Facsimile Edition
John Dixon Hunt

Gardens in the Modern Landscape, first published as a book in 1938 and again ten years later, is an important moment in discussions and promotions of modern gardens and landscape architecture. A foreword for this reprint requires two things: to situate the text, for those who come to it for the first time and even for those who know it (since Tunnard's writing emerges from a whole cluster of interrelated concerns); and, secondly, to assess how it survives today, both as a historical document and as an invitation to continue thinking about landscape architecture.

What is reprinted here is the second edition of 1948 (to which page references are given, unless otherwise stated). The changes made to the first are, in fact, modest. The wording of the text itself remains almost the same in both editions, though the typeface is smaller and the images are now located in slightly different places on the page (so anyone citing pagination in these editions needs to specify which is being used). What gets altered textually in the second are mainly the substitution of a new and expanded "Foreword," the addition of a section on "Modern American Gardens" and, to conclude, an essay on "The Modern Garden" by Jospeh Hudnut, Dean of Harvard's Graduate School of Design, originally published in the Bulletin of the Garden Club of America. Tunnard's original section on "The Oriental Aesthetics" is now merged with the section on "Asymmetrical Garden Planning" (and the subsection heading deleted), he expands the footnote on "Sharawadgi" and inserts a new opening paragraph at the start of "A Solution for Today" (p. 143). The Contents page of the 1948 book itemizes the different subsections of the chapters, not just their titles; "The Case for Community Gardens" in 1938 becomes simply "Community Gardens" in 1948. There is no change in the bibliography (though doubtless the wartime restrictions on paper made new publications less likely).

But image clusters are augmented, with some examples appearing in different places (the result, perhaps, of having to devise new signatures for a newly set text). The plan of a garden arrangement by Garrett Eckbo at a Farm Security Administration camp in Texas is added on p. 142 in 1948, but with no commentary on it in the text. Some extra images are brought into the 1948 edition—notably a cluster of examples on "Architect's Plants" (pp. 118-25), which replaced the planting plans for Gaulby (1938, pp. 118-22), and others at the end of the section on "Art and Ornament" that illustrate modern interpretations of traditional forms. The biggest change is the dropping of a long final section on garden decoration for Grottoes, the Garden House, Gates & Fences, Garden Seats, Sculpture, and Conservancies (though two pages on "The Grotto" survived, now coming after "Reason and Romanticism" in 1948; a few of the other images from 1938 on garden decoration are used elsewhere in 1948).

More interesting, I believe, is less the movement, such as it is, between the two editions and the juggling of image placement than the transference of Tunnard's original articles in the Architectural Review (AR), printed between October 1937 to September 1938, into a book published in late December 1938 by the Architectural Press, an in-house extension of the Review. While articles can stand alone, having a certain self-sufficiency that does not ask readers to situate them within a larger argument, once those same articles are gathered into a book (even if the texts are unaltered) they acquire and need a more consistent argument that moves between and sustains them. Illustrations, too, function differently in articles from their inclusion in books (even if the images are identical); new images and certainly the different placement of them in a fresh edition respond to a reading of the whole book, because its readers will be able to consult the entirety of images rather than just the ones attached to a single article; this again should make the whole more coherent than the individual parts as well as enlarge its concept and impact (indeed, Tunnard does move clusters of images around in the two editions, perhaps to make a better impact; but he still allows many images in the book to do their own work, accompanied by captions but with no extended commentary in his main text).

Thus the transference of articles into a book does not always make for a coherent argument. While the 1948 edition, with Tunnard's self-criticisms and retractions, new additions, and the introduction of Hudnut's essay, is clearly something of an uneasy hold-all of rich and not always pursued ideas that Tunnard does not really do much about absorbing into a new structure, this is less true of the 1938 volume. Readers coming to it, especially without any sense that it emanated from a series of discrete articles and approaching it via the minimalist Contents page (which the 1948 edition would complicate with the insertions of many, not clearly adumbrated subheadings) will see the coherence. Even a reader like myself who has, as it were, done his homework can find 1938 a more sustained argument, and it is only our knowledge of Tunnard's new career in America after 1938 and the later version of 1948 that clouds our sense of what must have been, in 1938, an eloquent plea for modern gardens.

But the overriding issue throughout Gardens in the Modern Landscape (in both 1938 and 1948) and for its subsequent reception is surely Tunnard's understanding of modernist garden making and landscape architecture and his theoretical command of that material. This is in its turn allied to the dialogue between his garden practice and his ideas, for the practical work that he did in England largely petered out after he got to America in 1938 and certainly ceased when he moved to Yale as a regional planner in 1945.

It is not easy to adjudicate his modernist stance, for a variety of good reasons. From the very beginning, he was exploring, finding his way in European modernism, and meshing what he found there with his involvement in his English practice and his theoretical ideas on English modernism. Then, too, he was trying to find a place for garden making in landscape architecture, in modernist architectural theory, which was what he largely relied on, as well as in other competing concerns, such as his strong historical interest, community planning, and new housing. What also complicates these judgments is that Tunnard wrote the AR articles and published the book in England, while maintaining a freelance role, then promptly left to pursue a career in university teaching in America. Joining Harvard's GSD in 1938, he eventually (after a spell in the Canadian armed forces—he was a Canadian by birth) moved to Yale, where he established himself as an important regional designer and writer. These stops and changes don't make for a smooth intellectual trajectory, especially when you are—as was Tunnard—both curious and inquisitive and at the same time learning how to negotiate modernism in Europe and North America during a crucial period of both modernism itself and landscape architecture.

People tended to judge Tunnard's book then (and still do nowadays) by where they locate him in his career—as a landscape architect or later as a planner—and/or the person who is writing about him—are they writing about him in England or America? The British journal Landscape Design, for example, said he had been "swamped by the American system" (whatever that was supposed to be), and as late as 1989 Jane Brown's Art and Architecture of English Gardens wrote about his work from a wholly British perspective, which given his later career in planning might seem plausible as he seemed to have lost touch with garden art. Many American landscape architects today, however, would consider his appeal to English landscape gardening of the late eighteenth century hopelessly irrelevant, and his continuing pleas for the lawn (albeit "in this country," i.e., Britain; see p. 67) offend large parts of the United States where chemicals are often used to keep grass immaculate and water is in short supply.

So we need to look at these different moments in his career as well as at its importance today. The main changes for the 1948 edition are crucial, but sit uneasily with the unchanged remainder of the 1938 text. The one and a quarter pages of the Foreword (pp. 5-6) in the first edition were short and straightforward. He argued that tradition and "experiment" are easily reconciled and that, given that the great ages of garden art were in Italy, France, and, by the eighteenth century, England, the "style for our own time . . . will not be very different from the humanized landscape tradition" of the latter. Since the nineteenth century had "debased all these traditions" to a "medley of styles," or maybe "formed the roots of the Modern movement . . . now developing," and since many eighteenth-century garden landscapes were "disappearing," the need was to create a new landscape for the twentieth century. This seemed to imply that a "style for our time" necessitated an emphasis on planning and a focus on "houses, factories, shops and places of amusement . . . the street, the park and the rationally-planned community" (1938, p. 5). He ended with the confidence that a clearer picture of what a garden is, or should be, would emerge to satisfy the "complex needs of modern society." The language is generalized, even for a Foreword: "style," a term he often used in the rest of the work, does not begin to explain how the usage of this term can appeal to "today."

The four-page 1948 Foreword is more embattled and also a little defensive. He begins by addressing the "conclusions" that have been reached in the intervening ten years, though many people have been engaged in "other occupations" (the war, but perhaps his own move to America and toward planning). He continues to insist that eighteenth-century English landscaping was right and admired its transference to North America; that its emphasis on locality, on observing "genius of place," was still necessary. He backtracks slightly on his distaste for nineteenth-century garden art, saying now that it was not all "mere essays in copyism" but productive of new forms and expressions. His attitude toward modernism has also changed as a result of "seeing more examples"—an "accumulation of acquired knowledge" certainly trumps "intuitiveness"! Citing a "manifesto" that he says he authored jointly with Jean Canneel-Claes, he now acknowledges that he would himself need to modify their original claim that past "philosophy" or landscape "origins" can be ignored (this modification thus resisting out-and-out "modernism"). He cites an American professor who wanted "less history and more modern things" in Tunnard's next book, and he rebuts it by quoting Geoffrey Scott. Hence, his renewed call for "pleasing variety" in design that allows him to insist again on Sharawadgi. Finally, he refuses to accept that architects and planners can "help to build a better society"; they "must," however (and this seems muddled), go into community planning, because, while they may shape a plan, "they should not try to dictate its final form" (my italics). He then denigrates (p. 7) the work of a host of technocrats, from anti-intellectualism to organic plantsmanship. His own skills must honor usefulness, aesthetic qualities, good materials, and the wishes of the client.

The three ideas he expounds in the pages that follow in the center of the book have to do with functionalism, empathy, and aesthetics. He discusses the first in "Towards a New Technique" (pp. 69-80), the second while exploring Japanese garden art under the rubric of asymmetrical garden planning (pp. 81-92), and the third in the section "Art and Ornament" (pp. 93-98). His emphasis upon functionalism espouses simplicity and an un-Victorian and Edwardian sparseness and insists on its fitness for the purpose envisaged and sees the obvious need to ensure that garden design responds to contemporary activities (tennis and swimming pools, not croquet lawns) as well as "traditional elements." The oriental legacy had introduced "asymetrical garden planning" into the eighteenth century, and what modern design now needs is to seize an "occult" balance—an "interplay of background and foreground, height and depth, motion and rest"—that is exemplified by the "spiritual quality in inanimate objects" that Tunnard finds in Japan; it is this "unity of the habitation within its environment" that elicits one of Tunnard's more eloquent and thoughtful meditations on how we might connect with a garden's forms.

On aesthetics, he first begins by deleting a section on beauty, presumably because he now suspects its analogy is awkward, as if bread cannot be both nourishing and pleasing and as if bread and gardens have the same function. But he continues to insist, as he did in the very first paragraph of his book, that the garden is like "an aesthetic composition" that needs to be maintained in the face of a naturalistic confusion that gardens ought to imitate nature. This confusion he attributes to the fuzzy thinking on the part of amateur English gentlemen and ladies who think of landscaping as a "hobby" (p. 11). While he agrees that it is hard to accept that the garden is a work of art and needs to be seen as a mediated activity, he proposes that the best of modern sculpture can be invoked to rethink garden ornament: both objets trouvées and the ancient stones and monoliths of ancient Britain (which can somehow be referenced in those objects). These were of especial interest to Paul Nash, who provided Tunnard with a photograph of standing stones in Cornwall and one of whose "objects" was illustrated and discussed (pp. 95 and 100). Tunnard argued that a garden designer needed to "co-operate with Nature" rather than "becoming a slave to her demands" (p. 95). The modern designer cannot be "bound by the conventional necessity for picturesque representation, and looks upon the imitation of Nature as a long-perpetuated artistic fraud" (p. 80). We may sense here a need that recalls the earliest historical objections to "Capability" Brown's work that it seemed no different from common fields and allies it with an ecological fundamentalism: landscape architecture should look like landscape architecture and be, in some way, distinguishable from what surrounds it that is not.

It would be hard to see Tunnard as a theoretician. His own education in Europe had a touch of Autolycus in A Winter's Tale, a "snapper-up of unconsidered trifles." Yet what he gathered was not unconsidered, only piecemeal. He garnered ideas on Japanese gardens from Percy S. Cane, for whom he worked between 1932 and 1935, but he may also have seen Japanese examples in his early years growing up in California. He also admired the work of the potter Bernard Leach, who had studied in Japan and returned to practice in Cornwall with a Japanese potter. He learned much when he visited Paris for a congress arranged by the Société Francaise des Architectes de Jardins, which occurred at the same time as the Exposition Internationale des Arts et Techniques dans la Vie Moderne, which also showed ga...

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