It has been a week since the Boston Marathon.
I was in the process of writing several posts when, on Monday, the bombings in Boston occurred. My television was broadcasting the race throughout the day as I tended to mundane household chores after returning late Saturday evening (on a plane filled with runners in race attire) from a conference on “placemaking” in Detroit.
As the horrific extent of the bombing became evident friends from across the country and around the world starting calling and instant messaging. Was I okay? Was my husband who has run for Dana Farber the past several years running? Did I know anyone who was hurt?
I have attended the Boston Marathon many times and stood at the finish line. When I was the Executive Director of the Esplanade Association we fielded a marathon team, an undertaking that afforded a deep respect for the amateur runners who dedicate months of time to training, in often grueling weather, to provide support for charities of all sizes that depend upon donations from the race to advance their missions.
Several months ago I wrote about the history of Copley Square where the marathon ends. It is here that two very different monuments commemorating the race are sited.
The Boston Marathon Centennial Monument was dedicated on April 9, 1996. Donated to the city by the Boston Athletic Association and John Hancock Financial Services, the monument was designed by landscape architect Mark C. Flannery and artists Robert Shure and Robert Lamb.
Located on the Boylston Street side of the square, the monument contains a fifteen foot granite medallion with a profile of the course highlighted by stones representing each of the eight towns along the route. Around the central medallion the names of champion runners from the open, masters and wheelchair divisions are etched in the surrounding granite.
Four granite posts, bearing the emblem of the Boston Athletic Association and images of diverse runners, frame the monument. The image below is from the website of the Boston Public Art Commission, founded in 1890. The Commission has the authority to approve and site new public art on property owned by the city and as part of their mandate oversee a program where the costs of restoring or maintaining a work of art can be adopted by an individual or corporate sponsor. The Boston Marathon Centennial Monument remains eligible for adoption and for more information on how to do this visit: http://www.publicartboston.com/.
The second monument, Tortoise and Hare, is by local sculptor Nancy Schön and was sponsored by the Friends of Copley Square, a non-profit organization dedicated to “preserve and enhance the park as a recreational resource for residents, workers and visitors to the City of Boston.” The Friends of Copley Square’s support is essential to maintaining the beauty of the square.
The pair of bronze sculptures celebrate Aesop’s tale of persistence and accomplishment illustrating the adage, slow and steady wins the race.
According to Schön’s website, the Boston Marathon holds a special meaning for the artist, who from an early age cheered on runners along Commonwealth Avenue’s “Heartbreak Hill.” She decided to create a sculpture for children that would be a meaningful metaphor for both the race and life hoping that they “will cherish these animals – pat them, hug them and learn the important lesson that the fable teaches. After all, children are our future and they are the runners and citizens of tomorrow.”
For a complete list of Boston Marathon monuments visit: www.johnhancock.com/bostonmarathon/mediaguide/10-monuments.php.
Both the Boston Marathon Centennial Monument and the Tortoise and Hare sculptures commemorate, in wonderfully different fashion, an event that is at the core of Boston’s identity. Their symbolism provides a powerful reminder of the role landscape elements play in the creation of an identity of place; the intangible quality that makes it unique.
Monuments can take many forms and whether a park, garden, statue, fountain, plaque or memorial wall all are artifacts within which the narrative of the city resides. Imbuing the present with the past they offer unique expressions of time and space, demarcating both joyous and tragic events. If successful they inspire and console, marrying memory and beauty with the passage of time.
It is too soon to predict how and if a monument will be considered to commemorate the events of April 15th. For many, the race itself will be the monument. However, in the Boston Globe editorial Turn Grief into Charity for the City, published on the day following the bombing, Scott Lehigh opines that a foundation….”could help improve Boston. It might for example, build or improve parks or pools or youth centers in the city’s neighborhoods. It might even offer scholarships to Boston kids. It could also sponsor events for the community.” The One Fund Boston has been established to help the people most affected by the tragic events that occurred during the Boston Marathon. To contribute visit: https://onefundboston.org/
What I do know is that after 9/11 many people sought solace along the Esplanade, a place of great beauty bordering the Charles River. Conceived in 1893, just four years before the running of the first Boston Marathon, the Esplanade’s handsome promenades were envisioned as a “central court of honor” for a metropolitan park system designed to connect people to each other and the natural world.
In Boston, The People and the Place published in 1903 Mark Antony DeWolfe Howe wrote, ”The wit who said,”Boston is not a city, but a state of mind,” may not have realized how much of historic significance was in his remark. If there ever was a community which did not merely happen, but represented a definite idea, embodied and strengthened through all the life of its formative years, that community was the city – the “state” of mind – of Boston.”
The state of mind that is Boston is reflected in the exquisite beauty of its parks and open spaces.
Ulysses is compelled to live life to the fullest, wandering a world where in Tennyson’s words, ”Much have I seen and known; cities of men, And manners, climates, councils, governments.” Part of all that he has met, Ulysses further seeks a newer world where, “although much has been taken much abides” and “some work of noble note may yet be done.”
As the noble work of healing begins let us find beauty and solace in the “state of mind” and place that is Boston.
Copyright © 2013 Patrice Todisco — All Rights Reserved
Elegantly written and designed, Tree Gardens: Architecture and the Forest, by landscape architect Gina Crandell, is the first book to explore the use of trees as architectural elements in the creation of landscapes, fostering a new perspective on the complex issues that arise when living materials are used to replicate built form.
Trees used to form architectural spaces are both of the garden and forest, shaped by intent yet subject to the inevitable forces of nature. The “impossibility of completion and the certainty of change that differentiates landscape architecture from architecture” provides a foundation for Crandell’s carefully researched analysis of how, over long periods of time, the integrity of landscapes designed with tree gardens at their core, is maintained.
Tree Gardens: Architecture and the Forest contains fifteen case studies beginning with the Wooded Circle of Lucca, Italy, dating from 1544, and concluding with the 9/11 Memorial Garden in New York City. The historical breadth of projects included in the book illustrates how trees, used as architectural elements, have evolved from military installations with civic implications to symbolic elements that reverentially reconnect man to the natural world, evoking memory, loss and regeneration.
The case studies, which form the core of the book, present landscapes from the United States, Europe and Asia and while they include several historic examples, notably Versailles and Central Park, focus mainly on contemporary projects. The selected landscapes offer diverse design solutions for unique sites employing tree gardens at various scales and budgets. Whether defined as a bosque, allée, hedgerow, quincunx, plantation, regenerating forest or orchard each site presented uses trees to create environments that are ambitious, thoughtfully conceived, carefully executed and maintenance intensive.
A list of the species, concise history of the site, overview of the design intent, and an analysis of existing conditions and management and maintenance issues is provided for each of the fifteen case studies as well as richly illustrated plans, historic images and extensive, contemporary photographs.
Crandell does not share the methodology through which individual projects were selected for inclusion in the book and does not provide insight into how and if the selected projects relate to each other historically. Every project is presented on its own merit and as a portfolio the studies collectively illustrate “a variety of ways tree structures, ranging from tens to thousands of trees, can form expressive spaces that heighten our understanding of nature.”
One of the most compelling challenges illuminated in Tree Gardens: Architecture and the Forest is familiar to anyone who nurtures a garden; that is, the complex reality of designing with materials that change over time. Working with trees magnifies the problem as it takes great skill to create new landscapes that evoke their desired structural form upon completion and once grown to maturity maintain a project’s design intent.
This process is thoughtfully detailed in the concluding chapter on the 9/11 Memorial Forest at the site of the World Trade Center. Collaboratively designed by Michael Arad and PWP Landscape Architecture, the Memorial Forest exists today as a result of an arduous process of negotiation and advocacy by the designers to secure as much as possible of the six-foot layer of subsurface necessary for more than 400 Swamp White Oaks to flourish on the site.
The image below is from PWP Landscape Architecture where additional information about the 9/11 Memorial can be found: http://www.pwpla.com/national-911-memorial.
The trees, chosen for disease resistance, strength and longevity, were carefully selected for their expressive visual characteristics and acquired from multiple nurseries where they were nurtured to the large caliper five-and-a-half to seven-and-a-half inch size desired for planting. To counterbalance the possibility of loss, the planting plan includes both natural groupings and formal allées that accentuate the approach to the fountains. A single Bradford Pear tree that survived the attack has been replanted on the plaza.
Crandell concludes with a chapter, “The Orchard, the Nursery and the Forest” which poses the question, “how might it be possible to expand the focused engagement and sculptural experience of tree gardens to vast landscapes without also investing vast resources?” As urban environments strive to enhance green infrastructure and offset the impacts of climate change it is a question that merits further inquiry.
Tree Gardens: Architecture and the Forest is a thoughtful book that will appeal to anyone with a passion for horticulture and design providing a unique perspective on the “world’s largest living architectural structures” and their use as landscape elements throughout time.
Tree Gardens: Architecture and the Forest is published by Princeton Architectural Press, NY (2013).
This review appeared in Leaflet A Massachusetts Horticultural Society Publication, April, 2013.
Copyright © 2013 Patrice Todisco – All Rights Reserved
Quiddity – the ineffable quality of “whatness”.
What you may ask is whatness? It’s everything that makes a place unique and while the word may be new to me the concept is not. The quiddity of a place has intrigued travelers for millennium and was the focus of an article “London’s Odd and Empty Corners” by Guy Trebay in the travel section of the Sunday New York Times several weeks ago.
Trebay, on a frenzied visit to London, a city he finds endlessly fascinating, explores those peculiar and quirky places that can be found in no other location, the “little spaces, odd corners and crooked byways” that are “woven into the city’s texture, in its arcades, its shoulder-wide alleys, odd terraces, house museums and specialty shops; secreted between and beside and atop and sometimes even within the big marquee attractions, hidden right there in plain sight.” London, he observes, is a capital city whose agrarian soul coexists with its urbanity and he delights in sharing the lesser known spaces where history and modernity intertwine to reveal the “quiddity” of the city.
While the article focuses mainly on the indoors (having been written in March) when I was in London last spring I discovered one of those places that Trebay extols, a secret garden hidden in a marquee attraction – Regent’s Park. Like most secrets I learned about the garden by coincidence when I struck up a conversation with a Londoner while observing herons nesting on an island in the adult boating lake of the park (yes, there is also a children’s boating lake). In full rapture of the intimacy in which the natural world permeates central London, I was directed to a garden that was designed to be meditative, providing an elegant counterbalance to the busy pathways of the larger park.
Located off the inner circle in Regent’s Park, Saint John’s Lodge is one of two remaining garden villas included in John Nash’s residential plan of 1811. Built in 1819, Saint John’s Lodge was a private residence until 1916, when it was converted to a hospital and later used by London University. Today the villa is privately owned once again (by the Sultan of Brunei) and the garden available to the public since 1928, is managed and maintained by the Royal Parks Agency.
According to a brief history the garden had an informal layout (seen above in a map dated 1833) until 1892 when the 3rd Marquess of Bute commissioned an Arts-and-Crafts architect, Robert Weir Schulz (1860 – 1951), to develop a garden that was, among other attributes, “fit for meditation.”
The garden was reconfigured to include a series of “rooms” on axis with the villa that included sunken lawns, a circular garden and a pool where a statue of Saint John the Baptist (replaced by Hylas and the Nymph) was featured as well as an enclosed wilderness garden, particularly suited to contemplation.
In 1994 the garden was renovated by Colvin & Moggeridge to recapture elements of the 1890′s plan and pay homage to the 3rd Marquess of Bute.
According to London Gardens Online (http://www.londongardensonline.org.uk) the renovation included a new walkway east of the gatehouse and the addition of a metal arbour (seen below) reflecting the original stone portico.
Site amenities included new high-backed benches as well as several statues and urns including the “Shepherdess” and the “Awakening”. The siting of new commemorative pieces within public gardens and parks is always a challenge and it is fortunate that the plan sensitively incorporated these elements into the existing design.
These changes are reflected in the diagram below located at the entrance to the garden. The entrance, seen on the left, leads into the circular garden and fountain with an oval-shaped lawn area to the right and smaller enclosed circular garden rooms beyond. Formal lawns with perennial borders are located off of the central axis.
The garden’s entrance (which is easily missed) is off the Inner Circle of Regent’s Park not far from the information center. An arched pergola covered with clematis and roses and bordered with perennials and seasonal plantings defines the passage into the garden, an outdoor corridor enclosed by landscaped walls and an allee of trees.
One of the wonderful aspects of entering the garden through a pergola, a space that combines architectural form with landscape elements, is that it is rather like the rabbit hole from Alice in Wonderland, a narrow passage that transforms you to a completely different world. You will notice from the image below that you can’t see what lies ahead.
At the terminus of the pergola is an urn on a plinth dedicated “In affectionate memory to Anne Sharpley (1928-1989), a journalist who loved this garden.”
Curious to learn more about Sharpley and gain insight into the prominent location of the memorial at the garden’s entrance, I embarked on a quick search for information about Anne. While I have barely scratched the surface of her life I discovered that Sharpley, an investigative reporter for the Evening Standard in the 1960′s, began her career as an art student and became a reporter after winning a Vogue sponsored competition in the 1940′s. She appears to have been an indefatigable character with a life full of adventure.
According to William Stevenson, in Past to Present: A Reporter’s Story of War, Spies, People and Politics (2012) Anne was dubbed “Shapley Sharpley” by Randolph Churchill and among other attributes “love(d) dangerous faraway places” while being a “romantic soul who show(ed) him (London’s) historic hideaways, dens of vice dating back to Henry the Eighth, goldsmiths in the maze of alleyways around the Rothschild banking complex and places still hoarding the secret slips identifying the Scarlet Pimpernel who saved French prisoners from the guillotine at the time of the revolution.”
Her advice, “the further back you look, the further forward you can see” seems an apt description of this secret oasis in the city that she loved and while I look forward to learning more about Anne’s exploits, of which there appear to be many, I admire the simple elegance of the memorial in her honor and the fact that this garden, so of the place (how very quiddity) meant so much to her.
The entry path leads into the garden which contains other clues to its history including stone piers topped by cherubs bearing shields with the insignia of the Bute family – who redesigned the garden in the 1890′s.
The garden is intimate and just over an acre in size. Circular/oval spaces are offset by a rectangular lawn and each is defined by hedges, trees and changes in elevation providing enclosure for the outdoor rooms while allowing for visual connections and variations in light and shade. The combination of formal and informal elements adds to the garden’s appeal.
At the end of the oval garden, there’s a covered seat where a nymphaeum once stood, forming the focal point to the axis of the villa. Another smaller circular garden is framed by lime trees encircling a stone urn. The intimacy of the garden and the manner in which views are framed by trees, architectural elements and sculpture can be seen in the two views below.
It was in this area of the garden that I found another memorial, The Awakening by Wuts Safardiar dedicated, “In fond memory of Anne Lydia Evans (1929 – 1999) who shared the secret of this garden.” Anne was a general practitioner in Marleybone, the neighborhood adjacent to the entrance of the park, and is described as compassionate and fair, with a deep social conscience who worked on the “Medical Campaign for the Care of Victims of Torture.”
I like to imagine the two Annes, who loved this secret garden so much that they chose to become part of its history, here at the same time in their own special niche, blissfully unaware of each other.
There is a long history of secret gardens (giardini segreti) intentionally designed within larger schemes as discrete outdoor rooms for contemplation. It is unusual for these gardens to be part of the public realm while retaining the characteristics that make them unique.
The garden at Saint John’s Lodge is one of those wonderful places that could not exist elsewhere. It’s a hidden gem within a larger park, a secret garden within the heart of the city.
The garden is open daily during the same hours as Regent’s Park.
It is located off the inner circle close to Chester Road and the park office. For additional information visit:
Copyright © 2013 Patrice Todisco — All Rights Reserved
What does it mean to capture a landscape? Is it truly possible to do so?
In Captured Landscapes: The Paradox of the Enclosed Garden, British architect Kate Baker explores the history and evolution of the enclosed garden, also known as hortus conclusis. Mediating between the built and natural world the enclosed garden contains both architectural and horticultural elements – a hybrid between a building and a landscape. Integrating the inner and outer world, the enclosed garden is an ambiguous space. Thus, the paradox.
The book is divided into six chapters. In each, Baker begins by recounting a visit to a landscape that illustrates the concepts to follow. Featuring locales that range from Mottisfont Abbey in Great Britain to the rural Chilean Village of Toconao, these anecdotes create a dialogue with the reader elucidating Baker’s belief that to understand such gardens requires an immersive experience that is both spatial and sensory. Baker’s experiential descriptions are augmented with objective analysis and an extensive use of diagrams, plans, photography and excerpts from literature.
In the first chapter elements of the enclosed garden are introduced including containment, climate and adaptation. This is followed by an overview of the principles involved in integrating garden space into built form. Examples are provided from both historic and modern precedents with a primary focus on Britain, the Mediterranean, Japan and South America.
The courtyard of the Boston Public Library, seen below in an undated postcard, was inspired by the Palazzo della Cancelleria in Rome adding light to the building’s interior while providing a tranquil space for contemplation.
The earliest enclosed landscapes are attributed to the Persians from which the word Paradise originated. A translation of an ancient Persian word describing a place surrounded by walls, a “Pairidaeza” was either an enclosed area for hunting or a fertile site in the middle of the desert that, through the diversion of water, had the capacity to support human habitation by providing shade, shelter, safety and sustenance.
The image below, Manizha Entertains Bizhan from Firdawsi’s “Shahnama” dates from the late 15th century. The Arthur M. Sackler Museum at Harvard University is currently hosting the exhibit, In Harmony: The Norma Jean Calderwood Collection of Islamic Art which includes a series of manuscripts from the “Shahama.” For additional information visit: http://www.harvardartmuseums.org/exhibitions/current/harmony-norma-jean-calderwood-collection-islamic-art .
Baker traces the history of the enclosed garden from a place of refuge and utility to one with spiritual meaning and metaphorical significance throughout the Persian, Roman, Islamic and Medieval worlds. In a concluding chapter the history of enclosed spaces that are detached from buildings is detailed including botanic gardens, giardini segreto, kitchen gardens, city retreats and refuges.
One of the strengths of the book is the diversity of case studies that are included reinforcing the versatility of the enclosed garden as applied to different cultures, climates, landscapes and historic periods. Examples include classic gardens such as the Alhambra, Sissinghurst, Villa Lante and Ryoan-ji to contemporary designs such as the old farmyard at Bury Court in Surrey designed by Piet Oudolf and Maggie’s Center at Charing-Cross Hospital, London, designed by Rogers Stirk Harbour and Partners.
This mix of old and new reinforces the importance of the enclosed garden throughout time and lays the foundation for a discussion about why the form remains relevant today as urban environments adapt to the challenges of climate change.
Captured Landscape: The Paradox of the Enclosed Garden can be purchased in either hard cover or as a paperback, the version that I have read for this review. The paperback is just under two hundred pages in length and measures approximately six and three-quarters inches by nine and three-quarters inches in size, limiting the quality of the extensive photographs and illustrations.
Although written primarily as source and reference book for designers, Captured Landscape: The Paradox of the Enclosed Garden succeeds on many levels and is relevant to anyone with an interest in “the phenomenon of capturing the landscape, and converting it, through architecture and architectural elements, into memorable places.”
Captured Landscape: The Paradox of the Enclosed Garden by Kate Baker
(New York : Routledge, 2012)
This review appeared in Leaflet A Massachusetts Horticultural Society Publication, March, 2013.
Copyright © 2013 Patrice Todisco — All Rights Reserved
According to the February issue of the global affairs magazine Monocle (www.monocle.com) Jakarta’s cemeteries “soon won’t be just a resting place for the dead.” In an ambitious effort to triple the park space in the city, governor Joko Widodo, plans to turn cemeteries into parks as a part of a master plan to green the city and restore lost open space.
While it’s a long distance from Jakarta, Indonesia to Cambridge, Massachusetts I couldn’t help think (having just taught a seminar on American landscape history) about the evolution of cemeteries and how, particularly in New England, attitudes about their use and relationship within the urban environment have changed over time. The development of rural cemeteries was a precursor to the creation of the American park system and Mount Auburn Cemetery, located just four miles outside of Boston and two miles from Harvard Yard, was the first rural cemetery created in the United States.
“It’s not so much that Mt. Auburn looks like a park, but that parks were created to look like cemeteries,” observes Bree Harvey, Mount Auburn’s Vice President of External Affairs in the article “Dallying With the Dead” by Harvard Crimson staff writer Christine Hurd. Notes Bree, “When public parks, such as Central Park, started to be founded in the mid-19th century, cemeteries went back to being viewed as merely a place to bury the dead.” To read the full article visit: http://www.thecrimson.com/article/2011/10/25/cemetery_halloween_auburn.
While Jakarta’s plan to repurpose cemeteries as parks rather than solely as repositories for the dead may be seen as unusual the relationship between parks and cemeteries is lengthy and the richly landscaped design of Mount Auburn provides an intriguing precedent, albeit in a different cultural context. While I am not certain how and if Jakarta will implement its plan it is unquestioned that as cities throughout the world struggle with expanding populations, diminishing open space and degraded environments every piece of available greenspace needs to be maximized to contribute to the biodiversity of the larger ecosystem.
On another note, as Boston continues to experience a bout of dismal winter weather looking forward to spring, just four weeks away, provides a useful antidote and Mount Auburn, a landscape of contemplation and renewal, is the perfect canvas through which to celebrate the changing season.
On my last visit to Mount Auburn I photographed the plot of the SPRING family, one of the original “proprietors” of the cemetery, a fortunate coincidence.
Founded in 1831 Mount Auburn was conceived as a place to accommodate the living as well as the dead, a “garden of graves’” where families could visit their loved ones in a sylvan landscape ornamented with sculpture sensitively sited within rolling terrain graced by ponds, dells, glades and a “mount” that afforded vistas to the Charles River, the New England landscape and the expanding city beyond.
Inspired by Pere-Lachaise in Paris, Mount Auburn was designed as a picturesque landscape in the English style celebrating rather than subduing nature without formal constraint while embracing the topography and unique physical attributes of individual sites. Popularized by the landscape theorist William Gilpin, the picturesque style of landscape design also incorporated architectural elements – rustic cottages, castles and Gothic ruins into its plan, particularly suited to a cemetery with its statuary and mausoleums. At Mount Auburn monuments to the dead range from the simple to the elaborate reflecting both an interest in social status and classicism.
From the onset Mount Auburn welcomed the general public and was a popular tourist attraction. The winding paths and roads encouraged leisure and were well suited for carriage drives from the city. A series of guidebooks and histories were published containing detailed description of individual monuments most notably by Nathaniel Dearborn.
The images below are from the eleventh edition of ”Dearborn’s guide through Mount Auburn: with eighty engravings for the benefit of strangers, desirous of seeing the clusters of monuments with the least trouble : with the established rules for the preservation of the cemetery, purchase of lots, and other concerns” published in 1857, just twenty-six years after Mount Auburn was founded.
Before Mount Auburn most city residents were buried in churchyards or vaults below churches. An example is Boston’s Old North Church which has 37 crypts holding more than 1,000 bodies piled below. As the population of Boston grew, these options became untenable and concern about overcrowding and public health fostered a desire to locate new graveyards (as they were called at the time) outside of the city proper.
This need coincided with changing attitudes about death and the growth of interest in horticultural pursuits exemplified by the founding of the Massachusetts Horticultural Society in 1829. As attitudes about death evolved so too did the terminology and the word cemetery, derived from the Greek and connoting a temporary place of rest rather than a permanent condition, emerged.
In 1830 the Massachusetts Horticultural Society purchased 72 acres of mature woodland in Watertown and Cambridge for $6,000 to develop a “rural cemetery” and experimental garden. Dr. Jacob Bigelow, Mount Auburn’s primary advocate ”…had his attention called to certain gross abuses in the practices of sepulture as it existed under churches and in other receptacles of the dead in that city. A love of the country, cherished by the character of his early botanical studies, …led him to desire the institution of a suburban cemetery in the neighborhood of Boston, which might at once lead to a cessation of the burial of the dead in that city, rob death of a portion of its terror, and afforded afflicted survivors some relief amid their bittersweet sorrows,” according to Robert Manning in the History of the Massachusetts Horticultural Society. 1829 – 1878,
The site was laid out by Henry A.S. Dearborn, the first president of the Society and Alexander Wadsworth as an “embellished landscape” with rolling terrain, ornamental plantings, ponds, sylvan glades, monuments, fences, fountains, and chapels.
The map below by Dearborn is from the Norman P. Leventhal Map collection at the Boston Public Library. To access the collection visit: mapsbpl.org.
While design inspiration came from the English Landscape Garden the layout anticipates early suburban developments, with curvilinear streets framing distant views. The streets were given sylvan names, also replicated in suburban developments. Thus the dead were the first to move to the suburbs.
Lots were typically purchased for families, keeping both the physical household and “christian” family intact. They were sold as fee simple real estate but the purchasers, who had become joint stockholders, were required to abide by the regulations of the cemetery. A a portion of the purchase was placed in a fund for the perpetual care of the site. The list of original proprietors is emblematic of Mount Auburn’s appeal and includes the names of many of the region’s preeminent families including Boston Brahmins, political dignitaries, artists and authors.
Specific recommendations were provided on the design of individual monuments detailing plantings, materials and ornamentation. Many sites were enclosed by ornate fencing or railings which were required to be “light, neat and symmetrical.”
In an 1832 report further specifications regarding the laying out and improvement of lots were detailed. All monuments were to be marble or granite and plantings could not obscure individual lots leaving them “free and open” and of a “humble” character. The committee concluded their report by stating, “that the general appearance of the whole grounds should be that of a well-managed park.”
Whether defined as a cemetery or park Mount Auburn is beautiful in every season. With over 500 species of trees it functions as an urban arboretum and is popular as a site for bird watching. Tags provide assistance with vegetation identification providing the experience of a botanic garden.
An active cemetery, Mount Auburn has sensitively expanded to contain 170 acres and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places (1975) and as a National Historic Landmark (2003).
While I have provided some highlights there are many more. Visit the following links for additional information and plan to visit during the spring. The site is well documented with an information center and multiple brochures and walking tours available.
For additional information visit:
Mount Auburn Cemetery : www.mountauburn.org
National Park Service: Teaching with Historic Places Lesson Plan:
The Cambridge Room: thecambridgeroom.wordpress.com/category/mount-auburn-cemetery/
The copper sundial below, on the Joseph Story chapel reads, “With warning hand I mark time’s rapid flight from life’s glad morning to its solemn night, yet through the dear God’s love I also show there’s light above me by the shadow below.” The quote is attributed to the poet John Greenleaf Whittier.
Originally made of wood, the current granite gateway was designed by Dr. Jacob Bigelow in 1842. The Egyptian style reflects both the sacred and the sublime providing visitors with a ceremonial entrance that pays homage to the ancients and the passage from the world of the living to the world of the dead.
The gate is engraved with a winged disc symbolizing divinity, royalty and power and the upper cornice is decorated with vertical leaves in a style known as Egyptian Gorge containing a Cavetto cornice between a flat horizontal slab-like element at the top and a torus, below.
Also designed by Dr. Jacob Bigelow the chapel was built in the 1840s – 1850s and constructed of Quincy granite. Used for memorial services (Mount Auburn remains and active cemetery), the chapel is designed in the Gothic Revival style with stained glass windows imported from Scotland. According to “An Introductory Walk” by the Friends of Mount Auburn Bigelow chose the Gothic style because it imitated the groves and bowers under which the ancient Druids performed their sacred rites
A memorial commemorating the preservation of the Union and end of African slavery the Sphinx was commissioned by Bigelow in 1871 following the Civil War. Designed by sculptor Martin Milmore the Sphinx is located on axis with the Bigelow Chapel.
Erected in 1852 to honor General George Washington and his role leading the colonial forces at the beginning of the Revolutionary War. The tower rises 125 feet above sea level and when first built offered a rare view of the surrounding countryside including Boston.
The view from the tower remains unspoiled and it is a good spot to enjoy the fall foliage.
Dearborn’s 1857 Guide to Mount Auburn includes an image of the tower on its cover.
This is the spot where on September 24, 1831 two thousand people gathered for the consecration ceremony officiated by Judge Joseph Story who dedicated the site as a “rural cemetery or burying ground …to plant and embellish… with shrubbery and flowers, and trees and walks and other rural adornments.”
One of the most unchanged landscapes of Mount Auburn, the dell contains a vernal pool and is planted with native eastern Massachusetts plants including Wintergreen, Lowbush Blueberry, Lady Fern and Bugbane.
Named for the noted botanist and early supporter (and critic) of Charles Darwin, the ornamental garden is located near the entrance to the Cemetery and contains a circular fountain complemented by both native and ornamental plantings including a Dove Tree and Yulan Magnolia. The garden has been redesigned on multiple occasions including by Lawrence Caldwell in 1930, Innocenti and Webb in the 1960′s and most recently as part of a master planning effort by Halvorson Design Partnership, Inc. For additional images visit: http://tobiaswolflandscape.wordpress.com/159-2/.
One of Mount Auburn’s more recent landscapes Spruce Knoll is designed by landscape designer Julie Moir Messervy. Using the surrounding landscape as inspiration, Messervy developed a woodland garden that is a natural burying space where ashes can be placed directly into the earth. To enhance the contemplative quality of the site Messervy chose to ring the knoll with markers rather that integrate them throughout. To read more about Julie’s vision for Spruce Knoll visit: http://www.jmmds.com/design/landscapes/mount-auburn-cemetery/.
Copyright © 2013 Patrice Todisco — All Rights Reserved
“This is not a crazy pointless luxury; it is a shrewd investment by a city whose moral and economic standing is due in great part to the assets of its natural beauty.”
Professor Angelo Pizzorno
To expand upon themes explored in my last post on Boston’s Commonwealth Avenue Mall and Public Garden, including how spaces that are beautifully designed and well-maintained enhance the pedestrian experience, I wanted to provide an overview of the parks and public realm in Lugano, Switzerland. For the past three years I have visited Lugano annually allowing me the opportunity to closely observe and enjoy the city and environs. Both are remarkably beautiful. Last October I met with the city’s “Public green manager” to discuss the management and maintenance of Lugano’s parks and public spaces.
As the names Parco Civico and Parco Ciani are used interchangeably in most of the documentation I have read while researching this piece I have used them together. The name plate on the entrance gate to the park reads Parco Civico/Villa Ciani.
Located at the mid-point of Lugano’s lakefront the Belvedere Sculpture Garden, seen above and below, is enhanced by colorful flower beds, shrubs, trees and a collection of modern art.
While writing this piece an editorial titled, The bad and the beautiful; Have we lost the knack of creating attractive cities? The pursuit of beauty has become slightly taboo by architecture critic Edwin Heathcote appeared in The Financial Times (www.ft.com). The piece opens with a quote from poet Joseph Brodsky stating “the purpose of evolution is beauty” to which Heathcote posits, “if the zenith of civilization is the city, then surely it follows that beauty is also the ideal of urbanity.”
Professor Pizzorno, quoted above, argued in 1912 for the acquisition of Lugano’s most beloved park, Parco Civico/Ciani by linking the moral and economic standing of the community to its natural beauty, an element that should be preserved no matter what the cost. Observing that beauty is not a luxury but a shrewd investment, Professor Pizzorno was clearly ahead of his time as park and public realm advocates today routinely tout the economic benefits of those resources.
Heeding Professor Pizzorno’s advice the citizens of Lugano invested well and today Parco Civico/Ciani is a beautiful, green oasis in the heart of the city that anchors the lakeside promenade and is the crown jewel of the city’s park system.
The map below from “The blue guides Northern Italy from the Alps to Florence”, 1953 edition attributed to E.A. Chambers shows the layout of Lugano’s waterfront. Parco Civico/Ciani is on the far right separated from recreational facilities including outdoor tennis courts, an indoor swimming facility and a public beach (Lido) by the river.
The map also details the historic city center, (Municipio) and sculpture garden (Belvedere). The lakeside promenade begins in a small terrace the “Rivetta William Tell” located off the main gate of Parco Civico/Ciani and ends in the neighborhood of Paradiso providing a coherent and graceful edge to the waterfront. Both active and passive recreational opportunities are sited along the promenade whose character reflects contiguous neighborhoods and road alignments. Seasonal ferries to adjacent towns and swimming clubs are important destinations sited on the promenade.
Parco Civico/Ciani, Lugano’s signature park, overlooks the shores of the lake a short distance from the downtown. Described as the “green lungs”of the city, the park’s 63,000 square meters provide a mix of quiet paths, ornamental plantings, lawns, sculpture and a play area for children. Exquisitely planted, the park connects to a network of trails and open spaces and its waterfront promenade affords majestic views framed by the surrounding mountains.
The park is on the site of the former estate of the Ciani brothers, wealthy Milanese industrialists who are credited with early horticultural and infrastructure improvements that include building retaining walls along the lake and river in 1845. A plan from Guidi’s census map of Lugano dated 1849 depicts a formal garden on the estate centered on an ellipse that connects to stables which were removed in 1967.
The highly ornate plan is included in a brief history of the park that I found on the website Viva Gandria. http://www.viva-gandria.com/article-la-discussione-attorno-al-parco-ciani-64748416.html.
I leave it to future landscape historians (who are more facile in Italian than I) to trace the evolution of the park’s design from a private garden to a public park. It is likely that the Cianis employed a foreign landscape designer for the original layout as according to Christopher Girot, chair of landscape architecture at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology ” since no garden design school with an artistic background existed in Switzerland previous to 1887, foreign-educated ‘landscape gardeners’ began moving to the country. With them advanced the villa gardens in landscape style to the status symbol of an entire social class.”
The 1912 the park and villa were purchased by the City of Lugano for approximately a million and a half francs.
In 1985 a study was undertaken to document significant architectural and horticultural features in the park. At the time 670 trees were assessed to determine their age and state of health leading to a restoration and seasonal planting plan. The seasonal ornamental plantings remain a valued characteristic of the park that provide annual interest and anticipation.
The park has two distinct areas that are discernible in the map below, printed before the park was acquired by the city in 1912 . The first, adjacent to Villa Ciani, is accessible from the main entrance and includes gardenesque features, lawns and a collection of trees with an international pedigree.
The second part of the park, from the dock area to the River Cassarate, has a more naturalistic feeling. According to records tree species that are indigenous to the area and typical to the forests of Ticino were planted here including oaks (Quercus spp.), Lime (Tilia spp), plane (Platanus hybrida) and maple (Acer spp.). The play area is located in this area as well.
By 1912 the waterfront promenade, connecting the park to the downtown and other recreational, cultural and transportation amenities had been developed. Completed in three phases beginning in 1865, the promenade provided a formal edge to Lugano’s waterfront and reflected changing attitudes towards its use as the city evolved from a fishing village to the popular tourist destination that it is today.
The image below, from “Lugano, The City of Murals” in the book Le Tour de Monde published in 1860, depicts the waterfront at its earliest stages of development. It is accompanied by the following romanticized text, “The tired tourist walks along the waterfront in the immediate area shaded by chestnut trees and parks whose flora is true botanical gardens.”
Although taken in a different location on the water the view below, of the promenade today, shows how the original vision has been maintained.
As the promenade was being constructed (a feat of engineering that involved multiple phases and sophisticated techniques) walking, as a social activity, was surging in popularity. According to a brief history of walking that I read the first walking club, the Black Forest Wanderverein, formed in Germany in 1864 the year before the first section of the promenade was built.
Concurrent with this trend a distinct type of walker was born, the “flaneur”. Variously described as a stroller, lounger, saunterer, urban explorer or connoisseur of the street, the flaneur originated in Paris during this period as the city transformed from a medieval to modern form with grand tree-lined boulevards, squares and public buildings. The gentleman walker pervaded European culture providing a new way of experiencing the urban environment.
The promenade also provides a venue for the sacred passeggiata—the afternoon stroll to see and be seen that is an integral component of every Italian day (Lugano is in Ticino, the Italian region of Switzerland). According to a Frommer’s guide the promenade “asserts the city’s true personality as a graceful, sophisticated resort. It’s not Swiss, not Italian…just Lugano.” A social bonding experience, the passeggiata is also good exercise. The promenade is a popular destination for leisurely strolls as the pictures below, taken in two different sections attest.
What makes Lugano’s waterfront so successful? The promenade is simple and elegant and the design elements are uniform while the activities are diverse. Features, including railings, lighting and benches are repeated throughout. There are easily identifiable zones of activity that support rather than compete with each other, providing a balanced mix of uses.
A double row of 486 trees planted along the promenade create an environment that mediates between the lake and historic center. The trees provide a transition between the stillness of the water and the activity of urban life. Two species of trees, linden (Tilia platyphyllos and Tilia euchlora x) and horse chestnut (Aeschylus hippocastanum) are planted along the promenade.
The trees are pollarded, a pruning technique practiced in Europe since medieval times. Traditionally trees were pollarded for fodder to feed livestock, to generate wood for fuel or to generate materials for fencing and baskets. Although labor intensive to maintain, pollarded trees tend to live longer as consistent pruning keeps them in a juvenile state. In addition the compacted form of pollarded trees minimizes storm damage and interference with utility lines.
Along Lugano’s waterfront the trees create a pleasing, rhythmic scale and beautiful sculptural forms in the winter months. The interplay of shape and shadow is enhanced by the lake’s reflective light.
The Medieval Garden Enclosed a blog published by the Cloisters Museum and Garden has a useful piece, Woodswoman, Pollard that Tree, should you wish to use this technique: http://blog.metmuseum.org/cloistersgardens/2011/02/25/woodswoman-pollard-that-tree/
As the pictures below indicate the city has an ongoing effort to replace trees that have been impacted by disease. The framework needed to pollard the new trees is visible.
Lugano highly values its natural environment and cultural heritage as an important foundation for future growth. While I have highlighted Lugano’s iconic downtown spaces – the waterfront promenade and parks, the city is keenly focused on the rich mosaic of gardens, meadows, woodlands, trees and trails that connect its neighborhoods and neighboring communities. In 2012 Lugano nel verde parchi, giardi e boschi (Green Lugano parks, gardens and trees) was published providing an overview of existing spaces as well as planning principles for future consideration.
When I met with the city’s Public green manager Roberto Bolgè ,who oversees planning and project construction (maintenance is undertaken by a separate agency), I learned that at the moment Lugano does not have friend’s groups or public-private partnerships for individual parks and open spaces. There is a strong cultural belief that parks and greenspaces are important and they funded accordingly. Dedicated crews of gardeners tend to each park and they are highly regarded as “artists whose palette consists of plants and flowers cultivated with skill and love,” according to Bolgè.
Lugano recently completed a survey of Parco Civico/Ciani users which confirmed that people value the park for its restorative qualities and as a place to escape from the city.
There is not a mandate for active programming (such as yoga, walking groups, dancing, etc.). There is, however, an outdoor library and a newly redesigned play area. The picture of the Park & Read poster below was taken last October (although I am not clear why the title is in English).
There are opportunities for play and an area outside the park’s gate near the “Rivetta William Tell” is often equipped with games including this oversized chess set.
Among other projects Lugano has developed a plan to reduce and/or eliminate traffic along the lake (during weekends in the summer the road is closed to cars) and strengthen connections to pedestrian areas in the historic downtown while enhancing access to the lake and park. The proposal includes the development of a new square created by unifying Piazza Manzoni and Piazza Rezzonica with the Town Hall, the city’s most symbolic, important building at its center. A covered structure would accommodate annual festivals and performances.
The plan maintains the Piazza della Reforma as an internal, “living room” for the city where people meet at the center of the historic street core. The new square, by the lake, is described as a “play area” tied to events and tourist attractions, open to the lake and landscape. For more information on the Lakefront Project and other planning initiatives visit: http://www.lugano.ch/en/lugano-urbana/grandi-progetti/progetto-lungolago.html.
As in my last post this has become somewhat a longer piece than I had intended. While there is a great deal of other information I might share (such as an overview of the sculpture within the park and along the promenade) I wanted to conclude with a sculpture of “Giorgo” Washington placed in a cupola topped temple-like structure in the Paradiso section of the promenade. While Washington never visited Lugano, he was immortalized by a Swiss entrepreneur who, according to a guidebook, donated the bust to honor the United States as a land of opportunity. I must admit to being surprised on the day I stumbled upon “Giorgo” on the promenade leading me to wonder if anyone has ever undertaken a survey of Washington’s likenesses throughout the world.
Should you be interested in learning about Switzerland’s landscape legacy (and live in the metro Boston area) the McCormick Gallery at the Boston Architectural College (BAC) is currently hosting The Swiss Touch in Landscape Architecture, an exhibition highlighting projects designed by significant historic landscape architects from the beginning of the twentieth century to those practicing contemporary landscape architecture today.
A symposium and gallery talk by Swiss Landscape Architects, open to the public, will occur on January 30th at 6 p.m. and for more information visit: http://www.swissnexboston.org/a-symposium-with-gallery-talk-by-swiss-landscape-architects.
Copyright © 2013 Patrice Todisco — All Rights Reserved
Several weeks ago I attended a lecture on the history of the Commonwealth Avenue Mall. The central axis of Boston’s Back Bay the Mall links the Common and Public Garden to Olmsted’s masterpiece the Emerald Necklace tangibly connecting the natural environment of the suburbs with the city’s urban core.
Coincidentally on the same day my local NPR radio station (WBUR) ran an interview with Jeff Speck the author of a new book, Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America One Step at a Time. Boston, which once deemed itself ” America’s Walking City” is ranked third in the country in walkability (following New York City and San Francisco). Walkability is a function of many characteristics and according to Speck’s “theory of walkability” must be useful, safe, comfortable and interesting. Add beauty, an element of surprise and a dose of nature to create a walking environment that transcends the ordinary.
Having participated in the creation of many public spaces in Boston (including the Big Dig/Rose Kennedy Greenway) I couldn’t help but compare the places that have been created within the past twenty-five years to the Commonwealth Avenue Mall (elegant, graceful,symbolic) and Public Garden, with its ornamental, nuanced landscape. These are iconic green spaces identifiable by name. This led me to wonder if for all our efforts to create memorable and welcoming new public spaces and streetscapes in Boston, have we succeeded?
More importantly as the city creates a new neighborhood in the South Boston Seaport /Waterfront (not unlike Boston’s Back Bay) has a vision for the public realm emerged that is clear, compelling and dare say, inspiring? Is the new Boston’s public realm going to be as imageable (and walkable) as the old? Will it be of its time while standing the test of time?
The Commonwealth Avenue Mall and Public Garden were created on filled land between 1837 and 1880 at a time when Boston’s population was growing and immense pressure was being placed upon the city to compete with the suburbs to retain its affluent (upper middle class Yankee) residential population. Although they were developed independently, both spaces share a formality that traces its genesis to European precedents. Unlike the Common, acquired by the city in 1634 for utilitarian purposes, the Mall and Public Garden were designed for pleasure and both accommodated the popular pastime of walking (strolling, promenading, perambulating) an important social and recreational activity during the late nineteenth century.
The filling, design and development of Boston’s Back Bay has been chronicled many times. In short, to accommodate Boston’s expanding population while alleviating a chronic environmental problem the Back Bay was filled creating a new “designed” residential neighborhood. Unencumbered by topography, a grid centered by a tree-lined pedestrian mall emanating from the Public Garden became the organizing element for the plan, providing connectivity to adjoining communities and a green spine to the district . To read more about the filling of Boston’s Back Bay I recommend two books, Nancy Seashole’s Gaining Ground: A History of Landmaking in Boston and Stephen Puleo’s A City so Grand: The Rise of an American Metropolis, Boston 1850 – 1900.
While planning for both spaces evolved over multiple years, the Public Garden was founded first, in 1837. This was eight years after the Massachusetts Horticultural Society (1829) and six years after Mount Auburn was developed (1831) by the Horticultural Society as a “cemetery, arboretum and experimental garden.” Horticulture played an important role in the intellectual and social life of the city and it is no surprise that Bostonians would strive to develop a botanical garden in the downtown, a trend that was widely practiced in Europe.
As for European precedents, it is known that the primary designer of the Commonwealth Avenue Mall, Arthur Gilman visited England and France in 1853. In 1854 the first plan showing a formal grid for the Back Bay was published. “In the center of the remaining space,” wrote Gilman to the Back Bay Commissioners in 1856 (as quoted by Puleo),”a broad avenue is contemplated, similar in effect to that of the Champs Elysees in Paris or the Unter den Linden in Berlin.”
According to Puleo the Back Bay Commissioners also noted that the Mall “will be ample for walks and seats secure from the interference of carriages….It is believed that an ornamental avenue of this character…with stately dwelling houses upon each side, connecting the public parks to the centre of a busy city with the attractive and quiet ….country in the neighborhood, is a thing not possible of construction elsewhere in the world.”
While the word mall has become associated with suburban shopping experiences, its roots date to 13th century Italy where a game named pallamagilio was popularized. Played on a court, pallamaglio involved hitting a ball through an iron ring suspended at the end of a long alley, often shaded by rows of trees where spectators would promenade. During the 16th and 17th century the game spread throughout Europe and most notably London where the mall in Saint James Park was not planned as a stately approach to the Palace, but as a venue where the King could play Pall-mall, a game introduced to England from France.
As for Botanic Gardens, they also have European precedents. One of the earliest was established in Pisa, Italy in 1543. Was Boston’s Public Garden the first in the United States? In intent, perhaps. But in execution the Garden, which became a public rather than a private endeavor, was ultimately primarily designed for pleasure with limited ongoing educational and scientific programming and research (the original plan included a conservatory lost in a fire). Bartram’s Garden in Philadelphia (1730) and The Missouri Botanic Garden, established in 1859 (twenty years after Boston’s Public Garden was incorporated and before the current design was established) each lay claim, for different reasons, to be the first Botanic Garden established in the United States.
The two plans below, dated 1857 (Burrill) and 1863 (Forbes) show the changes that occurred within six years in the Public Garden and Mall. Noticeable is the lagoon and layout of the Mall with a central axis that visually links the two spaces. Both are from the Norman B. Leventhal Map Center at the Boston Public Library and can be accessed at: http://maps.bpl.org/view_collection.
The photos below, illustrate the strong visual and spatial relationship between the Mall and Public Garden. The first is from the Public Garden looking towards the Mall and the statue of Alexander Hamilton (1865) by William Rimmer…..
…..the second is from the Mall looking towards the Public Garden and the equestrian statue of George Washington (1869), by Thomas Ball.
According to Marshall Pinckney Wilder, author of The Horticulture of Boston and Vicinity, the Public Garden’s origin can be traced to the “desire of a few …. citizens who were interested in horticultural improvements and rural embellishments, but more especially in the establishment of a Botanic or Public Garden, similar to those of the cities of the old world.” Horace Gray, an amateur horticulturist is credited with being its lead proponent.
The Garden, conceived by private citizens became publicly owned on April 26, 1856 through an act voted upon by the citizens of Boston. According to records the cost was $55,000 for the twenty-four acres. In 1860 a design competition was held and a plan by architect George F. Meacham was selected. This is the same year as the three-acre artificial lagoon was completed. The suspension bridge, for may years the smallest in the world, was added in 1867.
The Public Garden is home to many noteworthy sculptures and memorials. Two of my favorites can be found in the area of the park near the corner of Arlington and Beacon Streets.
The Ether Fountain, a gift of Bostonian Thomas Lee, is the oldest dating from 1868. Designed by John Quincy Ward and Henry Van Brunt, the fountain commemorates the first use of ether at the Massachusetts General Hospital in 1846. After many years of neglect the fountain was recently restored with support of the Friends of the Public Garden and Common and the Solomon Foundation. It’s inscription reads: ”In gratitude for the relief of human suffering by the inhaling of ether, a citizen of Boston has erected this monument, A. MDCCCLXVII.”
Although the Commonwealth Avenue Mall’s original plan did not include public art, there are nine memorials and sculptures sited between the Public Garden and Hereford Street.
Patrick Andrew Collins, shown below, was Mayor of Boston from 1901 – 1904. An Irish immigrant who attended Harvard College, Collins’ stern gaze looks out upon the neighborhood originally created for Boston’s elite, a cautionary reminder of the dramatic changes that would change the face of Boston’s political landscape in the years following the Back Bay’s development.