Illustrated History of Landscape Design

I wish I had had this book when I was (a) studying world history in high school, (b) studying architectural history in college, (c) lecturing on the history of landscape design, or (d) leading tours of the great gardens of England and the Continent. Life would have been simpler, had the book been around then.

The authors are both landscape architects and educators, at UC Berkeley and UC Davis, respectively. Chip has had a life-long fascination with illustration, from cartoons and comics, to graphic novels, to drawing as a means of recording his travels. His earlier book, Garden and Climate (McGraw-Hill 2002), was heavily illustrated with his own drawings, used to clarify ideas more easily than photographs could do.

When Elizabeth needed a good text to teach the history of landscape architecture to the newest generation of college students, she and Chip began work on their own textbook, using the model of cartoon and graphic novel—both popular with today’s students. The result is a lucid and concise history of landscape architecture—and, for that matter, the world. And it’s delightfully entertaining as well.

The authors trace the history of humankind’s conscious treatment of the land, beginning with the cosmological landscapes of prehistoric man, such as England’s Stonehenge and Peru’s Nazca Lines, and the familiar ancient gardens of Persia, Greece, and Rome. One chapter covers the sixth to fifteenth centuries, commonly known as the Middle Ages, when man’s relationship to the natural world was mostly characterized by a fear of the unknown.

The fifteenth century began an age of exploration, both of the natural world and the intellectual world. Each chapter from then until the twentieth century is treated as a unit of time in this long evolution of humankind and nature. What sets this book apart from others of its kind is the remarkably equitable attention given to both the Western and Eastern worlds in each period.

The final two chapters are organized differently. The twentieth century was a time of rapid change in attitudes and design philosophies, so the chapter is organized by theme, such as the Country Place Era, the City Beautiful Movement, Modernism, Environmentalism, and Ecological Design. The notions inherent in each of these themes were found throughout the world, in differing degrees.

The final chapter reviews ten significant landscape projects of the twenty-first century’s first decade, showing the degree to which issues of community, society, environment, and sustainability have risen to the fore in the design of our landscapes. Which will ultimately be the most effective in preserving the world as we know it remains to be seen.

Richard G Turner Jr, editor