Gardens in the Modern Landscape

Accompanied by an introduction by John Dixon Hunt, this facsimile fully reproduces the 1948 edition of Gardens in the Modern Landscape, a manifesto for the modern garden that deeply influenced twentieth century landscape design.

Gardens in the Modern Landscape
A Facsimile of the Revised 1948 Edition

Christopher Tunnard. With a new foreword by John Dixon Hunt

Jun 2014 | 208 pages | Paper $34.95
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Table of Contents

Foreword to the facsimile edition, by John Dixon Huntvii
Gardens in the Modern Landscape (1948 edition)

Excerpt [uncorrected, not for citation]

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emerges from a whole cluster of interrelated concerns); and, secondly, to assess how it survives today, both as a historical document and as an invitation to continue thinking about landscape architecture.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 garden designs by André and Paul Vera. In Paris he encountered Achille Duchêne, the "re-inventor" of classical seventeenth-century French gardens for the present day; the Swedish Sven A. Hermelin, "who espoused functionalism and free planning"; the Belgian Jean Canneel-Claes, one of whose designs was featured in 1938 (pp. 64-65) and again in 1948 (p. 65); and other designers such as Gabriel Guevrekian. He maybe borrowed a term like "architectural plants" from the Swiss M. Correvon's coinage of plants as "forms architecturales," and introduced a set of a dozen images of such plants to support this. In England he was well connected with and worked for architects such as Raymond McGrath, Serge Chermayeff, A. J. Powell, and Oliver Hill. He probably derived most stimulation from his membership in MARS (Modern Architectural Research Group), which argued for housing and a functional social agenda; MARS was the British arm of the Congrès Internationaux d'Architecture Moderne (CIAM). But he also knew artists such as Henry Moore, Ben Nicholson, John Piper, Barbara Hepworth, Naum Gabo, and especially Paul Nash, whose garden he and Frank Clark designed. Nash's well-mannered surrealism may also have attracted him: in Tunnard's design for Bentley Wood, a noticeable feature is the open screen at the end of the patio, through whose ten rectangular openings we see the parkland beyond (published as the frontispiece in 1938 but in 1948 on p. 68). This is a familiar and repeated device in Paul Nash's paintings, such as Landscape from a Dream (1936-38), another Landscape from a Dream (1936-38), and Month of March (1929). He also liked and used draughtsmen such as Gordon Cullen—his own graphic skills were not very good—whose lines and almost cartoon-like skill gave his projects a recognizable modernist effect. This graphic style, sharp and abstract like that of other earlier modernist designers in France such as Jean-Claude Nicolas Forestier, Pierre-Emile Legrain, and the Vera brothers, did suggest a much less traditional way of representing garden art, and it is curious how with all those designers we are more used to seeing their graphic rather than their finished work.

Tunnard's own designs, both built and drawn (by others), suggest his strong desire to find a modernist "style," if not always a modernist function. But "style" seems an awkward term, too often used in architectural writing when talking of a particular period or designer in ways that detract from its cultural content. Interestingly, he drops from the 1948 edition examples of different "styles" of garden elements, such as chairs and benches (1938, pp. 166-82), that implied too superficially that style was what determined a modern garden. He himself pillories it by citing Le Corbusier (p. 71)—"The styles are a lie"—who goes on to argue that in any epoch, "style" is what can be understood to unify and animate what is built. Landscape (as well as buildings) should not be labeled with this or that style but should address "site, enclosure, and materials" as a complex and intertwined whole. The permanence of any "architectural [sc. landscape] topic results from its essential correspondence with a recurring and fundamental human condition." These conditions may change, but they will recur, and their recurrence necessities that we reexamine contemporary sites by envisaging how they are enclosed, how they respond to current demands and expectations, and how they utilize available materials. All that involves an adequate and exciting "correspondence" between new experience and long-standing practice: this allows, as Tunnard wrote in the 1938 Foreword, that tradition and experiment be reconciled. And Holmes Perkins annotated his copy of Tunnard's 1938 edition with two phrases: "all gardens = adaptations of past interventions" and "no tabula rasa." Tunnard himself, too, assures his readers (p. 67) that "a new garden technique . . . need not necessarily reject the traditional elements of the garden plan." Now this, despite Tunnard's reliance upon the term "style," is what he attends to more often than not when he looks to that triad of materials, site, and enclosure. He sees the need to relate gardens to the site and especially its house, and he notes how little idea of the "whole design" (p. 18) is visible in "villa gardens" today (p. 24). But he also envisages gardens that have both finite and permeable boundaries, and he explores on several occasions how gardens situate their spaces within larger landscapes. He notes the "necessity" of using new materials from plant importation and hybridization and their methods of application (p. 62), yet (somewhat ambiguously) sees "the rise of scientific horticulture [as] the partial eclipse of garden planning" (63), not least in an ecological refusal to use natural materials in unusual ways.

One problem with the modern(ist) garden is that the forms of garden elements are still hugely atavistic (as Tunnard himself makes clear); garden plants willfully continue to behave as plants (however artists drew them). He much disliked arts and craft gardens, because he and perhaps Frank Clark, who collaborated with him on several planting designs, found Gertrude Jekyll's reliance on impressionist planting dated; yet he was less able or certain how to utilize plant materials within sites that he could treat with more modern forms, and he withdrew from the second edition his planting plans for the areas around the new house at Gaulby (1938, pp. 119-22), perhaps because he found them too traditional and "conventional." Any attempts to reformulate a garden's planting still tended to founder on the divergent and ambivalent directions of materials and their representation when compared to the materials of architecture.

When the architect Serge Chermayeff, who designed the wonderful modern De La Ware Pavilion at Bexhill-on-Sea in Sussex, came to build his own, again strikingly modern house at Bentley Wood, near Halland, he got Tunnard to design the garden. This featured an austere southern patio, with an eastern wall of slightly sculptured thin concrete and buttresses to hold it up, a simple pool against the wall, a statue by Henry Moore on a plinth, and a view beyond into a much cleared woodland with open grassland. It was photographed with modern deckchairs, not the usual transatlantiques. These gestures, with Moore's Recumbent Figure, Nash's "dream" through the viewing frame, the concrete materials, unusual chairs, and a patio where a path stretches toward the view through the screen, all allow a convincingly modern garden to cohabit with the box-like building behind.

He worked on others gardens and projects, some of which were illustrated for him by Gordon Cullen (pp. 72-76). Nicely idiosyncratic, these include a weekend house at Cobham, Surrey, with swimming pool and architectural planting, and Tunnard's own place at St Ann's Hill (somewhat similar to the patio at Bentley Wood and featuring the sculpture by Willi Soukop), with a distant view of Halland (all these designs featured lawns). And they all suggest either a very minimalist landscape—with pavers set in the grass at Cobham and St Ann's Hill—or cubist flower beds and vegetable gardens, and all but one show people using them; the landscapes are represented to suggest the relationship of the modern building to Tunnard's landscape designs. These images of private gardens have an uncanny resemblance to some of the drawings that Lawrence Halprin would make for his private clients, mainly in California during the 1940s and 1950s.

For the house Land's End, in Gaulby, Leicester (designed by Raymond McGrath), Tunnard, as well as Frank Clark, drew and redrew plans during the late 1930s, though the final authorship of the landscape is either debated or (inevitably) the result of the melding of various contributions. What seem to be in Tunnard's hand is again the open and irregular lawn surrounded by a series of gardens, some of which were set in rectangles in the manner of Guevrekian's Villa Noialles; perimeter walks that edged the site (in both format and the use of color to lengthen perspectives, those walks were a distinct eighteenth-century reference); a shelter or pavilion in the Japanese style overlooking a pond; and the sight of adjacent pinewoods drawn into the more manicured garden.

Where Tunnard's interests really seemed to develop, in the years immediately before he left for the United States in 1938, was in thinking about how to save and develop the eighteenth-century estate of Claremont and in the ideas that he devised for minimal housing plots. The Claremont proposals are set out in his text (pp. 149ff), but the housing projects are not. The latter were featured both in Architecture Review 85 (1939), which suggested ways to design a "standard" and suburban garden plot, and in the exhibition devised with Clark for the Institute of Landscape Architects, as reported in an autumn issue of Landscape and Garden (1938). Tunnard's proposal for small suburban plots and how the garden elements might be varied or developed were a less intricate version of the same ideas that Garrett Eckbo was producing at Harvard's GSD in 1937 and 1938. When he added plans and photographs of "Modern American Gardens" in the 1948 edition (pp. 167-74)—noting that it was "too soon to discern any distinct stylistic innovations"—he had clearly extended his English work through contacts with Eckbo and American practice.

In America he continued to design, providing gardens for two houses designed by Holmes Perkins. He worked on gardens around Cambridge for Carl Koch, a Harvard architecture alumnus, and also for a private garden in Rhode Island and gardens for the premises and museum of the New London Country Historical Society in Connecticut. He proposed designs for the sculpture garden at the Musuem of Modern Art (this was not implemented), but along with three young architects, won third prize in the competition for the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial (won by Eero Saarinen). He also collaborated on the journal Task, issued by the GSD at Harvard, for which he wrote articles on regional planning in 1941, on the reprecussions of the war on "British" planning in the third issue, on Robert Moses and Portland, Oregon (issue 5), and, by then at Yale in 1948, on "Is architecture an art?"

The afterlife of Gardens in the Modern Landscape concerns not only its historical origins—how it featured and functioned within the modernism of the 1930s—but also how we today still might find it useful. Originally, it had mixed reviews. Some were skeptical about its "modern" emphasis and felt that it would soon become a "period piece," while others found it thoughtful and provocative. The rich, but also eclectic, ideas that Tunnard espoused and wrestled with may yield an agenda of topics today, especially when landscape architecture seems to be trying, not always successfully, to invent a new image and function for itself that "landscape urbanism" or "ecological urbanism" has sought. Back in 1958, twenty years after the 1938 edition, Ian Mcharg wrote to Tunnard asking for suggestions as to what book he would recommend to be "most indicative of the path towards the design of open space to 20th century society"; there was nothing, then or now, that leapt to mind.

The historical importance of Gardens in the Modern Landscape is that it was one of the few books to confront the role of garden making in international modernism. Tunnard was both far ahead of his time (and may still be, though only by being paradoxically retarditaire. That his book did not fully succeed in making or establishing that role was the result partly of the confusion and complexity of ideas with which Tunnard was wrestling and partly because landscape architecture has never found that task easy; it continues to argue its way awkwardly into the mainstreams of modern thinking, not least because it is self-confessedly atavistic, especially in garden designs, which continue to flourish even when landscape architects value ambitious endeavors in the public sphere over the making of private gardens that tend to be more traditional. The garden exhibition he designed with Frank Clark in 1939 was, as he explained in a catalog entry, about how "in one way or another landscape architects play a part in every form of out-of-door planning and fulfill a function that is as vital to the community as that of their collaborators, the architect and the engineer." He rooted for modernism (perhaps not realizing that there were multiple modernisms) and then renounced it; but modernism as he found it in architecture was not easily or necessarily apt for landscape architecture, yet his eye for good work such as Amsterdam's Bos Park still locates him firmly in the vanguard. The original dust jacket of the 1938 edition makes this emblematically clear

However, Tunnard's book also makes clear what must still be deemed central to the field. It was often witty and ironic (see pp. 14 or 49, for instance), and this sits uneasily with the solemn professionalism today. And he used his rhetorical skills to plead for the expansion of the garden into a larger landscape that these days includes not only the items that Tunnard identified—housing estates, factories, urban parkland, recreational sites—but also derelict factories and steel mills and unwanted industrial riverscapes. And that means we should welcome his insistence on cross-disciplinary collaboration between design and planning (essentially recapitulating his own career). He valued also preservation, and came to do so even more after this book was published, and preservation stimulates creative rethinking ("creative urbanism" as it has been called). Then there is the need to marry function with beauty, for despite his nervousness about that b-word, no landscape architect that I know wants to design ugly places, and there are fresh ways of registering beauty in austere and empathic minimalism—beauty is still the elephant in the room for many landscape architects (and it rarely, if at all, occurs as part of their professional training). In addition, Tunnard was always committed to history, not as an anthology of styles and mechanical forms to be copied but as an arsenal of ideas. He may have traveled with the "difficult baggage of history and horticulture," but landscape architects still need to know their plants, while an emphasis on landscape and urban history as a resource and stimulus stops designers from reinventing the wheel without knowing it.