Last November I attended the 17th General Assembly and Scientific Symposium of the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) held at the Paris headquarters of UNESCO (the United Nations Educational and Scientific Organization). The event provided an opportunity to learn about current international cultural and heritage landscape initiatives, network with colleagues from around the world and spend a week in Paris at that magical time of year when the city prepares for the holiday season.
The theme of the symposium was Heritage the Driver of Development with an emphasis on how, in a changing, increasingly interdependent world, cultural identity and heritage, in both the physical and intangible environment, is impacted. Simply put, how can new development coexist (and enhance) the past in a world where everything is beginning to look and feel the same?
UNESCO’s mission is to contribute to the building of peace, the eradication of poverty, sustainable development and intercultural dialogue through education, the sciences, culture, communication and information. Among other functions UNESCO oversees the World Heritage List which currently includes 962 cultural and natural properties of outstanding value to humanity. In the United States Independence Hall, Monticello. the University of Virginia and Yellowstone National Park are among the sites listed; as of now not one site in New England is included. To learn more about world heritage sites visit: http://whc.unesco.org/en/list.
The quote below, from World Heritage Cultural Landscapes: A UNESCO Flagship Programme, 1992 – 2006 by Mechtild Rossler and attributed to Beresford, M. & Phillips A. from “Protected landscapes: a conservation model for the 21st century,” is a particularly apt, concise statement describing the need for landscape preservation and protection.
“Despite humankind’s continued best efforts to destroy magnificent landscapes, devastate natural habitats and extinguish our fellow species, the world is still full of many stunningly beautiful places, rich in biological and cultural and biological diversity.”
Fittingly, the UNESCO building complex was designed collaboratively by an international team of architects, artists, industrial designers and builders. Sited on seven and half acres, the property harmoniously blends architecture and art throughout, deftly synthesizing works by the leading practitioners of twentieth century art in a celebration of UNESCO’s mission.
The buildings were designed by “three architects from three countries” Marcel Breuer of the United States, Pier Luigi Nervi of Italy and Bernard Zehrfuss of France. An international panel of five architects: Lucio Costa (Brazil), Walter Gropius (United States), Charles Le Corbusier (France), Sven Markelius (Sweden) and Ernesto Rogers (Italy) were involved as consultants to the project as was American architect Eero Saarinen.
The image below is a “General Plan of UNESCO Headquarters, Paris, France” from 1950, by architect Marcel Breuer. Annotations mark the placement for art works by Jean Arp, Alexander Calder, Joan Miro, Henry Moore and Rufino Tamayo. The Garden of Peace by sculptor Isamu Noguchi is circled in the upper right hand corner.
The blueprint, from the collection of the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art is from an exhibit, Marcel Breuer: A Centennial Celebration, held in 2002.To view other images from the exhibit visit: http://www.aaa.si.edu/exhibitions/marcel-breuer-centennial.
While the grounds of the complex are graced with an extraordinary collection of sculpture, the Garden of Peace (Jardin de la Paix), designed by Japanese – American sculptor Isamu Noguchi, is acknowledged to be one of the most influential projects in the field of landscape architecture in the twentieth century. A masterful synthesis of zen garden tradition and abstract formalism, influenced by Noguchi’s engagement with modern art, the design of the garden enhanced Noguchi’s international reputation and informed his later work.
UNESCO describes the garden as ” of great historical significance being the first created by a sculptor rather than a gardener.” Noguchi was assisted in the garden’s execution by Toemon Sano, a highly regarded Japanese garden master. To learn more about Noguchi and his work visit the site of the Noguchi Museum: http://www.noguchi.org.
Begun in 1952 and completed three years later, the garden reflects Noguchi’s personal design aesthetic and Japanese heritage. As such the garden has been the topic of continued discourse regarding the authenticity of its Japanese design. Landscape historian John Dixon Hunt in the book A World of Gardens concludes, “That the UNESCO garden promoted strong debate about both its “Japanese-ness” and its modernity was inevitable…exacerbated by the international scope of UNESCO and the internal squabbles about the garden.”
If like me you are trying to reconcile the idea of “squabbling” about the design of a peace garden sited on the grounds of an organization dedicated to intercultural dialogue and cooperation, a visit to the garden will dispel any lingering fragments of acrimony. For those who visit or use the space daily, the garden provides both ceremonial and contemplative features allowing for enlightened discourse or meditative calm removed from the world’s distractions. The simple beauty and harmony of the design supersede concern about the garden’s “Japanese-ness” or past disagreements.
UNESCO acknowledges that the garden differs from a traditional Japanese garden in the following ways; it can be viewed as a whole by visitors; contains three axes; uses non-traditional materials (such as asphalt) and design elements; the upkeep does not allow for interpretation on a daily basis and in its design expression human creativity takes precedence over nature.
In November of 1958 the UNESCO Courier published a special issue on the organization’s new world headquarters with an article on “The Garden of Peace” containing photographs,a plan and text by Noguchi detailing his intent for the garden. It is fortunate to have such a clear statement by the artist describing the design as well as the image below detailing Noguchi’s plan.
Gardens for UNESCO, Paris, 1956-1958 (Isamu Noguchi)
(c) The Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum, New York
“My original commission was to design the upper patio. The lower garden came about following my suggestion that this area would be enhanced by the inclusion of greenery which could be gained by including the adjoining sunken area as a part of a general plan. This is how the roadway came into being as a means of achieving this interrelation of great changes in level. It serves the same purpose as the Japanese veranda (roka) for viewing the garden. In theatrical terms, it is like the “flowery path” or bridge of entry (hanamichi).
The lower garden is often referred to as the “Japanese garden”. In my estimation, it would be almost more correct to say that the truly Japanese part is that which is least obviously so. It is true that I have paid a more obvious homage to the Japanese garden In the lower area. This follows the nature of the commission, and because of the very generous gift of all the stones from Japan.
To learn but still to control, not to be overwhelmed by so strong a tradition, ¡s a challenge. My effort was to find a way to link that ritual of rocks which comes down to us through the Japanese from the dawn of history to our modern times and needs. In Japan the worship of stones changed into an appreciation of nature. The search for the essence of sculpture seems to carry me to the same end.
This is an ambulatory garden, the enjoyment of which is enhanced by walking In it whereby one perceives the relative value of all things.
The raised paved area in the centre of the lower garden recalls the upper patio. One arrives on it and departs from it again with time barriers of stepping stones between it is the land of voyage, the place for dancing and music which may be viewed from all around the garden and from all levels of the surrounding buildings.
I have included two very old chosubachi or water basins in deference to the quality of age (shibui) which is so much a part of the Japanese garden. Everything else was both designed and executed by me.”
The pictures below shows the sympathetic relationship between the materials (mainly concrete) and forms used for the building’s details and those Noguchi uses in the plaza/patio area.
After reading about the debate regarding the authenticity of the garden’s Japanese pedigree, I became curious about how and when Noguchi’s project became a peace garden. Noguchi expanded his original project to design the delegate’s patio area – was there always an intent to create a peace garden or was it his idea?
In the 1958 edition of the UNESCO Courier quoted above the garden is clearly described as a Garden of Peace as well as a Japanese garden with an ” invitation to meditation.” There also exist specific references to individual design elements with the garden, including the Peace Fountain, the largest stone in the garden that is sited in a rectangular pool with “water cascading over Noguchi’s mirror-image Japanese inspired calligraphy for the word peace.”
The plantings and design elements include dwarf cherry, plum and magnolia trees (sadly not in bloom during my visit) bamboo trees, 80 tons of rocks, a small stream, little lake, bridge and flowers. These are described as “represent (ing) the harmony between nature and the acts of mankind.”
One of the earliest peace gardens I could locate is in London. Built for the 1910 Japanese British exhibition, Heiwa- en is deemed the oldest traditional Japanese garden in a public place in Britain. The garden was restored in 2010, one hundred year after its design. To read about the gardens restoration visit: http://www.japantimes.co.jp/text/nn20080902f4.html.
Visits to UNESCO headquarters, located at 7 Place Fontenoy, 7th arr. must be arranged in advance. For information regarding arranging a tour visit: http://www.unesco.org.
Copyright © 2012 Patrice Todisco — All Rights Reserved
Books about women gardeners and landscape designers, once very rare, have become a serious topic of scholarship in recent years. The success of Jane Brown’s 1982 study of Gertrude Jekyll, Gardens of a Golden Afternoon: The Story of a Partnership: Edward Lutyens & Gertrude Jekyll began a trend that continues today. Now, Catherine Horwood, a social historian and keen gardener, has provided an approachable and well-written survey, Women and Their Gardens: A History from the Elizabethan Era to Today, which celebrates the collective legacy of women gardeners in Great Britain.
Women have always gardened and gardens have always played an important role in the interior lives of women. From “collectors of once rare plants …. to the pioneers of design whose individual genius can be traced in landed estates, city parks and suburban patios,” Horwood introduces the reader to over 200 gardeners, plant collectors, artists, naturalists, educators and landscape architects whose efforts paved the way for today’s generation of women.
And what an amazing, dedicated, under-appreciated group of women they are.
The obstacles to their success were overwhelming and challenges abounded at every turn. Horwood includes many examples of the difficulties these women endured while providing insight into the delicate balance between their professional and personal lives, which were often complicated by intrigue, drama and the occasional scandal.
While the story of Beatrix Potter being denied review of her work on fungi by the Linnaean Society, who later honored her as a mycologist, is well known, Horwood provides other examples of just how challenging it was. I was amazed to learn that the public reaction to the first women being employed at Kew Gardens was “as though a new species of animal were on display at the zoo” and that they were labeled “London’s Kewriosities.” The photograph below, of the first women to work at Kew, is from the blog, The history of working women at Kew, written by Michele Losse and available at the Kew Royal Botanic Gardens web site: http://www.kew.org/news/kew-blogs/library-art-archives/working-women-at-kew.htm .
Another anecdote involves Rev. William Wilkes, secretary to the Royal Horticultural Society. When asked to recommend a female head gardener, Wilkes was unable to do so and replied that no woman gardener had the all-around knowledge and skill to direct the foremen of the departments proclaiming, “I do not believe such a person exists. Miss Jekyll herself would not be able to take such a post – she could not direct melon growing or early grape forcing, & so on.” Horwood acknowledges the tension between supervisory and manual labor and includes Wilkes’ concluding sentence, which he underlined in red, “to put women to [such work] is to go back a big step in the emancipation of your sex.”
The book is organized thematically and includes sections on plant collecting and exploration, shaping the landscape, the floral arts (including embroidery and collage), literature, and horticultural education. At four hundred pages, Women and Their Gardens: A History from the Elizabethan Era to Today is a book to be savored in multiple installments. It is thoroughly researched and includes an appendix of gardens by women, list of Royal Horticultural Society Medal winners and an extensive bibliography.
I do wish that more attention had been lavished on the book’s layout and design, which is quite basic with mostly black and white illustrations. While this would have increased the cost, for me, the expense would be justifiable. The talented women profiled by Horwood discovered and created beautiful plants, gardens, landscapes, botanical art and textiles and I wished for more compelling illustrations of their handiwork.
Women and Their Gardens: A History from the Elizabethan Era to Today was published in the United Kingdom in 2010 as Gardening Women and made available in the United States this past spring.
The author maintains a site, http://www.gardeningwomen.com/2012/05/women-and-their-gardens-us-edition.html, that includes information about her research as well as links to additional information about women gardeners, horticulturalists and landscape designers.
This review appeared in Leaflet A Massachusetts Horticultural Society Publication, November, 2012.
Copyright © 2012 Patrice Todisco — All Rights Reserved
When does a square become a park and when does a park seem more like a garden? Do the words we use to define public spaces impact how they are designed and the role they play within a city’s open space network? What if cities designed garden systems instead of park systems? Would it matter? Would they be different kinds of spaces and engage different constituencies?
These questions arose as I began writing about Post Office Square Park (rededicated as Norman B. Leventhal Park in 1997) at the end of last month. In the interim I traveled to Switzerland and visited Parco Scherrer, a private garden that when bequeathed to the local municipality became a park (albeit one with an entrance fee). While very, very different both spaces share common elements. Both “parks” are the product of singular visions and both integrate engineering, horticulture and sculpture with a commitment to detail and ornamentation.
As for perfect, that moniker derives from the byline of a Boston Globe article published on July 24, 1992 by architecture critic Robert Campbell. “The new park at Post Office Square downtown is one of the great public improvements in the history of Boston,” declared Campbell who further effused, “Post Office Square Park is the perfect park in the perfect location with a perfect design and perfect maintenance. This one is a four-bagger.”
Post Office Square Park recently celebrated its twentieth anniversary and for many the park, which has become the symbolic center of the financial district, seems as if it was always there. Remarkably, before the park was built the site was a derelict 950 car above ground parking garage, a sorry reminder of a time when the city’s public realm was in decline and businesses were more likely to build interior courtyards than encourage their employees to go outside at lunchtime.
Using a unique and financially complex public-private partnership model, the garage site was acquired through eminent domain by a group of civic-minded business leaders with the goal of creating a park above ground supported by the revenues of a new, state of the art, below-ground 1,400 car parking facility.
Empowered to develop the property with limited profit-making potential the entity they formed, The Friends of Post Office Square, remains a private civic corporation and continues to manage the park today. As part of the partnership agreement the Friends of Post Office Square contribute $100,000 annually to the City of Boston’s Fund for Parks and Recreation, an amount that will increase once they repay their institutional debt. For additional information about the history of the project as well as programming visit: http://www.normanbleventhalpark.org/.
It took more than ten years for the project to be realized. In 1997 Post Office Square Park was rededicated in honor of Norman Leventhal, the Boston-born developer and philanthropist who conceived the plan and led the effort to make the park a reality. Mr. Leventhal had previously developed Rowes Wharf, among other properties, and his singular committment to a high quality park on the site drove both the planning and design processes.
It is challenging to create new parks in a densely developed urban core and the process through which Post Office Square Park was realized left nothing to chance. An advisory committee, composed of city representatives and civic, business and community leaders, studied best practices in park design and management to develop a park program which became the basis for a design competition. The firm that was chosen, Halvorson Design Partnership (www.halvorsondesign.com) thoughtfully integrated the program requirements into their proposal.
According to a summary report prepared in 1993 for the Rudy Bruner Award for Urban Excellence the advisory committee felt that the design competition succeeded because it was used to ” select a designer, rather than a design.” During the selection interview process Halvorson “showed slides from [his] submission boards while reading from the program documents, illustrating how he had responded to the requirements,” impressing the selection committee.
The Draft Park Program Report, written by Skidmore, Owings and Merrill in 1987 is a scarce eleven pages in length and focuses on the ” character, users, uses, design elements, and maintenance of the park.”
In addition the program states:
“….the new full-block park will create a new and highly significant public room in the city – a place to rest and relax, to gather and be observed from the surrounding buildings. ……from overall concept to detailed design it is quality that counts….This park should depend on the spontaneity of urban living rather than on structured and orchestrated events to activate and animate itself. It should be serene and engaging rather than overwhelming and intrusive. It should be intimate and friendly rather than monumental and intimidating. And finally, it should be as hospitable to an individual as a crowd – providing both the familiar and serendipitous to a variety of users.”
The artist Howard Ben Tre was selected to design the park’s fountains. The park and garage structures were designed by Ellenzweig and Associates and the pergola’s lighting was designed by artist Ross Miller. The ornamental iron work throughout the park is by artist Richard Duca.
The park opened in 1992.
Post Office Square Park is carefully designed and maintained to support passive use and has successfully kept to its mandate. Seasonal programming, including mid-day musical performances, is provided and cushions are available for use on the lawn. An outdoor lending library featuring magazines and books is a popular feature.
When designed the principal users of the park were identified as office workers, followed by downtown shoppers, tourists and garage patrons. While the park receives limited use from the elderly and children, in the years following Post Office Square’s opening residential development in Boston’s downtown has increased and the park, which is mainly used during the work week, has become more active on the weekends.
Year round food service is provided and coupled with the patrons of the underground garage provides a focus for pedestrian activity.
Included on the Project for Public Space’s (PPS) list of the best squares and plazas in the world Post Office Square Park contains more than 125 species of plants labeled for identification. Horticultural displays change seasonally.
In a unique arrangement, The Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University “lent” trees from its botanical collection to the park when it was built in support of their commitment to increasing the public’s appreciation of the value of woody plants. These include a Hybrid Red Oak, an Eastern Arborvitae, and two Giant Western Arborvitae
From April through November the Operations staff meets monthly with the park’s designers, landscape contractors, arborist and maintenance staff to discuss current issues within the park. These conversations guide decision-making as the site changes and provide real time data regarding how the park is being used. The park manager “likes keeping in touch with every living thing” and likens her role to a museum curator responsible for an environment in which every detail is critical to the overall “canvas.”
At 1.7 acres in size, Post Office Square Park, is relatively modest in scale which makes its location in the middle of the Financial District an environmental challenge. The high level of maintenance provided by the Friends of Post Office Square assures that all of the systems within the park are constantly monitored. This fall the primary brick walkway is being repaired and the great lawn reseeded.
Aside from it many design accolades, Post Office Square Park is also an important example of the role that public-private partnerships play in the development of urban open space. Eight years after the park was completed The Project for Public Spaces, published Public Parks, Private Partners, a guide to how partnerships were revitalizing urban parks. As an entirely new park, Post Office Square Park is a unique model where civic enterprise provided the impetus for public realm improvements that also transformed the surrounding streetscapes. In addition, unlike most public-private partnerships, the parking garage provides a consistent revenue stream negating the need for ongoing fundraising.
While part of the public open space network, Post Office Square Park is privately managed and maintained at a level that far exceeds most public spaces within the city. Eventually the city will have an opportunity, if it so chooses, to assume ownership of the park although given the diminution of funding for public open space it is difficult to imagine a scenario where that would happen.
Boston is on the verge of developing a series of new parks in the Seaport District that will be privately built, managed and maintained . The thoughtful, collaborative process through which Post Office Square was designed and developed is a model to consider as they move forward.
In a Boston Phoenix article from 2004 Post Office Square is called the “Best Urban Oasis” a green refuge in the heart of the city. At the same time it is an incredibly active space where contemplation ……
coexists with camaraderie…….
Copyright © 2012 Patrice Todisco — All Rights Reserved
When traveling I visit local gardens and parks that are less known to experience places that fall outside the standard canon of landscape study. These sites are often not well documented and my visits usually generate more questions than answers.
Such is the case for Parco Scherrer, which I toured last week. Located in Morcote, Switzerland, a beautiful historic town on the shore of Lake Lugano (Ceresio), Parco Scherrer is the creation of Arturo Scherrer, an erudite and well-traveled textile merchant.
Sited on a steep hillside, Parco Scherrer contains a collection of sculptures and miniature structures modeled on buildings from the Mediterranean, Asia and Far East that are curiously wonderful and overwhelming. Without the benefit of Scherrer’s insight, I was left to imagine what he was thinking and how, given the difficulty of the terrain, the garden was constructed. Scherrer has been labeled both visionary and obsessive, traits which are often attributed to those who create gardens with a singular intensity.
Scherrer (1881 – 1956) is described in the garden guide as a “romantic and passionate landscape gardener.” Born in St. Gall, Switzerland he received an international education studying French language in Lausanne, Switzerland, textile and weaving in Aachen, Germany, Italian in Sienna and English and business in the United States. After assuming management of his father’s textile company in Munich, Germany, Scherrer is credited with its transformation into one of the “smartest English-style fashion houses in town.” He traveled extensively for business and developed a love for art, culture and architecture.
In 1930 Scherrer bought a house in Morcote with one hectare of land and began to transform the slopes and terraces into a richly landscaped private botanical/sculpture garden. His passion for art and antiquities, cultivated through travel, informed the design of the garden inspiring the installations of replicas of historic structures as well as exotic plantings and a large collection of sculpture.
To grasp the enormity of Scherrer’s undertaking one must visit Morcote with its steeply sloping terraced landscape. Regarded as “The Pearl of Ceresio,” Morcote, once a fishing/agricultural village, became a popular vacation destination in the 19th century. Included in the inventory of Swiss Historic Sites, the village includes a series of medieval arcades along the lake punctuated by alleys that ascend the steep hillside which, along with a network of trails, harbors discretely sited residences. At the peak of the hillside is Santa del Maria del Sasso, a baroque church dating from the thirteenth century.
Although the topography in Morcote is challenging, Scherrer’s endeavor was aided by the mild climate and the garden’s location on the Southern slope of Mount Arbostora where it is protected from cold winds. The site is beautiful with a breathtaking view of the Italian gulf of Lake Ceresio, the hills of Varese and the Po Valley.
Scherrer died in 1956 and according to the documentation his widow bequeathed the garden to the Morcote Municipality in 1965 with the stipulation that it be available to the public and preserved as designed by Scherrer. Considering that the garden was created in just over twenty-five years it is a remarkable accomplishment and testament to his vision and focus.
Existing documentation suggests Parco Scherrer was deemed “The Heavenly Garden” by the Aga Khan, grandfather of Karim Aga Khan. While I am unable to confirm the origin of this attribution one can imagine the wonder of visiting Scherrer’s tribute to Oriental and Eastern cultures along the shores of Lake Lugano.
To do justice to the richly complex elements within the park provides a challenge so I will present a brief overview following the sequence one travels as currently experienced by visitors. This begins and ends at the “Grotto Ticenese” where a seasonal restaurant is sited. The map below which was copied from the guidebook.
The garden is accessed by a series of Mediterranean-themed terraces in the renaissance and baroque style, connected by paths, arbors and staircases that gradually ascend to the highest point, where the Tempio del Sole (Temple of the Sun) is located. Each terrace and pathway is richly ornamented with sculpture depicting themes from literature and mythology.
The entry sequence, beyond the first plaza, is bathed in light and provides multiple opportunities for distant views.
Two lions of Carrera marble flank the entry staircase. The stairs connect to a pergola accented with sculptures representing the four seasons. The pergola culminates with an amphora dating from the thirteenth century.
The pergola leads to the Fontana Romana, a shaded dell connecting to the Belvedere. Here statues of Venus, Hercules, Juno and Jupiter are sited along with other sculptural elements.
The path continues upwards where the Limonaia, an airy structure inhabited by an otherworldly assortment of exotic animal sculptures, and the Erechtheum, a 1:4 scale model of the second temple of the Acropolis made from Vicenza stone, are sited.
At the highest point is the Tempio del Sole, described as a sun temple in a Moorish style that “awakens the dreams of the gardens of the Alhambra in Grenada with two baroque fountains of Veronese stones.” Statues of Mercury, the god of commerce and a female spinner are located here, on the garden’s highest vantage point, paying homage to the Scherrer family’s commercial enterprises.
This marks the completion of the Parco Scherrer’s classical elements.
I was already experiencing sensory overload as I embarked upon my descent. Before me lay an exotic landscape of dense, tropical vegetation with a series of structural features including a Siamese Tea Pavilion, an Egyptian Temple, an Arabian House and a “Palazzina” set in an Indian Garden. Each was richly ornamented with decorative detailing on both the interior and exterior and set within a landscape ornamented with sculptural elements.
The “Palazzina Indiana” is modeled on a Renaissance building, the “Palazzo Salo” in Brugine, near Padua. The interior of the building is a women’s compound in the Mughal style with a ceiling painting detailing the exact location of the heavens at the time of Mrs. Scherrer’s birth.
Four stone lions “protect” the building and to the right is a series of sculpture including four stone elephants, below three striking cobras, beneath a model of the sacred cow of Mysore.
Throughout the garden slopes and terraces of the garden are planted with exotic and oriental plants that Scherrer acquired during his travels including cypresses, camellias, camphor and eucalyptus trees, cedars araucarias, palms and bamboo woods. More than fifty of the plants are labeled with their scientific name and identified in the brochure as in a botanic garden.
The garden concludes at the “Grotto Ticinese” a structure paying homage to the Lugano region’s vernacular architecture. According to the brochure, the building is a reconstruction of a house from the “Sassello” quarter of Lugano which no longer exists and it now houses a seasonal restaurant and amenities for the park.
After visiting Parco Scherrer I did a quick search of background material to try to understand Scherrer’s thought process and motivation for building the garden. I wanted to see images of Scherrer and his wife entertaining guests, sitting on the Belvedere admiring the view or conducting a tea ceremony in the Siamese Tea Pavilion.
I did locate one article written by Daniel Minassian for Architectural Digest in 1989, titled “Wonders of Scherrer Park: A Monument to One Man’s Obsession in Switzerland.”
Obsession is an interesting word to use and I wondered what Mr. Minassian discovered in the course of his research that led him to conclude that the garden is a somewhat naive blend of cultures, styles and eras. Gods and mythologies clash; chronological time is suspended. Yet it all retains a curious power, and the imprint of the man who created it – proof that the born traveler is himself a kind of artist, in that his work admits of no impassable barriers.”
Parco Scherrer is open from March through October 15th and information can be found at : http://www.gardensinitaly.net/search.asp. The garden is especially beautiful in the spring when the azaleas and camellias are in bloom.
Copyright © 2012 Patrice Todisco — All Rights Reserved
Throughout the summer I visited a series of historic gardens located north of Boston in a somewhat random and entirely unfocused manner. Not having a clear goal my visits were serendipitous; a beautiful day, a spontaneous outing, a garden (or landscape) that was either very familiar or totally new. As Anthony Bourdain might say, no reservations and for me no expectations…. off I went.
Many of the gardens share common features (and strong female protagonists) with intriguing individual histories that illuminate the important social role horticulture and garden design played within American culture. Often they began as “gentlemen’s farms” and evolved to combine formal and informal features and landscapes. As an oeuvre the gardens provide glimpses into the perspectives and aspirations of their creators. They exist today in various stages of restoration. All are open to the public free of charge.
One of my favorites is Glen Magna Farms. While relatively small in size, Glen Magna’s gardens have been preserved as a collection of spaces that relate to each other physically and visually, yet retain the integrity of their individual historic periods, allowing for an opportunity to experience the evolution of American garden making in the nineteenth and twentieth century. For additional information about the history of New England Gardens watch “Lost Gardens of New England,” a multimedia presentation narrated by Laura Carlo on Historic New England’s website: http://www.historicnewengland.org/collections-archives-exhibitions/online-exhibitions/lost-gardens-of-new-england/lost_gardens.htm
Containing both formal and informal elements as well as specimen plantings, the gardens are ornamented with significant architectural elements and were described in 1908 as exhibiting “fresh matters of interest, fresh notes of beauty, a new arrangement of flowers and shrubs, an agreeable grouping of paths, a careful treatment of grass and lawn, a fine utilization of structural ornaments, old and new, that are naturally and rightfully placed, at precisely the right spot, and exactly where they will yield the utmost value.”
Located off Ingersoll Street in Danvers, Glen Magna Farms was owned by the Peabody Family for one hundred and forty-four years. In 1963 the Danvers Historical Society acquired the central eleven acres of the property with the intent of restoring them to their early twentieth century appearance. At that time the Town of Danvers acquired one hundred and sixty-five acres of the estate, including the barn and stables for conservation, preservation and recreation and developed a public park, with walking trails, community gardens, playing fields and a children’s farm. Together the properties form a remarkable ensemble that have been safeguarded for the public through enlightened planning and stewardship by the non-profit and municipal sectors.
Glen Magna Farms began as a twenty-acre refuge purchased by wealthy Salem merchant Joseph Peabody (1757 – 1844) in response to the war of 1812. Fearing a British attack along the coast, Peabody acquired the property and set about to improve and expand the holdings creating a “gentlemen’s farm” which later became a country estate.
The landscape and gardens evolved with subsequent generations of Peabodys, Endicotts and Crowninshields contributing to the design and plantings. They were assisted by prominent landscape gardeners and architects and the British statesman Joseph Chamberlain, an avid horticulturist that married into the family.
Glen Magna Farms is approached by a Carriage Road that was once lined with graceful elms planted in 1816 by one of Joseph Peabody’s sons. The elms are long gone however the road remains, serving as a reminder of the stately approach that once led to the house.
In the 1890′s, when owned by William Crowninshield Endicott (1826-1900) and his wife Ellen Peabody Endicott (1833-1927), the house was enlarged and redesigned by the architectural firm of Little, Browne and Moore to its current Colonial Revival style. Fortunately the original gardens, attributed to Captain Peabody and Alsatian landscape gardener George Heussler, retained elements of the original layout (the plantings in this garden have changed throughout the years).
Heussler, the designer of other notable local gardens, including the Derby Estate, is described in the Diary of William Bentley: 1811 -1819 as “the first man who ever lived in Salem in the character of a regularly bred gardener” and it thus makes sense that he would be retained to assist Peabody in the design of the gardens for his new property.
The Old- Fashioned Garden and Lover’s Walk can be seen on the map below, copied from the web-site of the Danvers Historical Society (http://www.glenmagnafarms.org).
A photo of the Old-Fashioned Garden and Peabody Gazebo was featured in the book, Colonial Homes and Their Furnishings by Mary Harrod Northend, published in 1917.
“The estate of the late Captain Joseph Peabody at Danvers, Massachusetts, was at one time famed for its old-fashioned garden. This lay to the right of the avenue of trees that formed the driveway to the house. These trees were planted in 1816 by Joseph Augustus Peabody, the elder son of the owner. The garden proper was hidden from view, as one passed up the driveway, but lay at the front of the house. In its center was a large tulip tree, which still stands, said to be one of the oldest and largest in the country. One of the unique features of the grounds, and one that has existed since the days of Captain Peabody’s occupancy, is a small summer-house, showing lattice-work and graceful arches. Its top is dome-shaped, surmounted by a gilded pineapple.”
Today the Old Fashioned Garden, as seen below, maintains the central gravel path with lawn bordered by annual plantings. In a September, 1908 article in the magazine “American Homes and Gardens” the garden is described as bordered with box, divided by a gravel path and ornamented with ‘primly’ laid out beds.
The gazebo, designed by Francis Peabody, was added to the end of the walk in 1840 and removed when the estate was sold. A replica now stands in its place.
At the end of the Lover’s Walk is a sculpture of the Lysithea, the daughter of Oceanus and one of Zeus’ lovers. According to the history provided by Glen Magna this sculpture is a replica of one found at Curraghmore House in Ireland, the estate of the Marquis of Waterford.
When the house was redesigned in the 1890′s the property was enlarged and embellished and a series of new gardens and landscape features were installed. Joseph Chamberlain (1836-1914) an influential British politician and statesman who married Mary Crowninshield Endicott (1864-1957) in 1888 is credited with designing the Flower (Italian) Garden and Shrubbery Garden on visits to the property in 1894 and 1898.
Chamberlain’s estate, Highbury, Moor Green, Birmingham, was noted for its extensive gardens and horticultural exhibits. In the article “Rus in Urbe,” by Phillada Ballard in the journal Garden History, Highbury is described as containing 100 acres that were artfully designed with many different gardens, including Elizabethan, Dutch and Italian. There was a rockery and shrubbery garden as well hot-houses containing one of the most widely recognized orchid collections of the day. In the “new” garden Chamberlain installed a brick pergola with climbing roses and a similar feature can be found in the Flower/Italian Garden at Glen Magna Farms, which is visible below.
Chamberlain, who is quoted in On Foreign Soil: American Gardeners Abroad as writing Mary that she should “never marry a politician, but (you) may marry a horticulturist – a grower of orchids for example” designed the shrubbery garden with curving paths in direct contrast to the formality of the Flower/Italian Garden. According to the Danvers Historical Society website exotic shrubs were imported from England to complement the naturalistic design. A majestic stand of weeping beech trees remain from the original planting.
In 1899 a pergola was acquired from the Cushing Estate in Belmont, MA. and sited on the main axis of the Flower/Italian Garden providing a formal entry to the shrubbery garden. The Cushing Pergola’s original cedar columns were replaced with marble in 1930.
In 1901, Ellen Peabody Endicott, rescued the Derby Summer House and had it moved to the property. Designed by Samuel McIntire in 1794 for Salem merchant Elias Haskett Derby, the Summer House is beautifully proportioned and detailed with ornamental carving. A National Historic Landmark it serves as the “logo” for Glen Magna Farms. A walled rose garden designed by Herbert Browne was created adjacent to the Summer House in 1904.
Browne was one of the leading designers of country estates in New England and designed, among other notable gardens, the Colonial Revival Gardens at the Hamilton House in Maine. Additional information about his life can be found on the website of the Cultural Landscape Foundation http://tclf.org/pioneer/herbert-w-c-browne.
Enclosed by a brick wall the rose garden is traditional in design and once contained two fountains. Today it is in the process of being restored and the perennial plantings have been updated. It contains ornamental sculpture and a series of medallions on the fence bordering the summer-house with renaissance-inspired profiles.
One of the last gardens to be designed on the property, Mary’s Garden (named for Mary Crowninshield Endicott) was installed in 1933. This garden is not yet restored.
A features in the garden that does remain is the Meadow Gate a particularly evocative element that is part of a stone wall separating the garden from the uncultivated landscape beyond. Procured from a Quaker Burying Ground in Philadelphia the gate depicts a willow tree surrounded by lambs and doves.
The Olmsted Firm was retained in the 1930′s to create a plan for the property that separated the agricultural functions from the house and formal grounds. The barn and stables were moved to their current location east of the house with a carriage road connecting the two. A circular drive was added to the front of the house where an Egyptian urn was sited.
The Barn Road connects the house and gardens to the barn and stables. There is a small pond, an education center, children’s barn and play area as well as generous lawns for picnics and walking trails……..and some very friendly sheep.
Glen Magna’s gardens are often rented for events so it is prudent to call ahead. For additional information inquiries about garden tours call (978-774-9165) or click on this link: www.glenmagnafarms.org/directions.html.
For information about Endicott Park visit: www.endicottpark.com.
Copyright © 2012 Patrice Todisco — All Rights Reserved
Shiftboston wants Copley Square to GLOW.
In partnership with LightBoston and Boston Light Source, they have recently announced three finalists for a competition requesting “artists, architects, urban planners, lighting designers, and landscape architects around the world ….to create a NEW approach for lighting Copley Square …. to make it one of the greatest squares in the world using LIGHT.” If only it were that easy. To view information about the competition finalists visit: http://shiftboston.org/competitions/2012glow.php
While Shiftboston provides a refreshing new perspective to the discussion regarding public open space in Boston the forum through which they operate, the design competition, is not new to Copley Square. A true “square” for less than fifty years, Copley Square has been reimagined as a public space frequently since its inception. Its current design is the result of not one, but two Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) managed international design competitions, an accolade that may make it unique among public open spaces in the city. But, I digress….
The history of Copley Square has been studied extensively. Named for the American artist John Singleton Copley in 1883, Copley Square began as an afterthought, described by Walter Muir Whitehill as an “awkward spot …..where a projected street, in this case Huntington Avenue, started off at a different angle than its neighbors” that was “never given any adequate monumental treatment.”
The site connected the formal grid of Boston’s Back Bay and the emerging South End with the square originating as two triangular landscape fragments, bisected by Huntington Avenue and framed by cultural and civic institutions. These included the Museum of Fine Arts located on the square from 1876 to 1909. The “Art Museum” is indicated on the 1888 Sampson Map seen below and lent its name to the “square” which became known as the Art Square.
The Museum of Fine Arts was one of many cultural and civic institutions to locate in the newly formed part of the city that became known as Copley Square. Enticed by inexpensive land values other cultural and civic organizations emigrated to the area and built impressive structures in the neighborhood. These include notable buildings which exist today – the New Old South Church (1873), Trinity Church (1877), the Boston Public Library (1895), the Copley Fairmount Hotel (1912) and arriving much later, the John Hancock Tower (1976) as well as a host of institutions that relocated to other sites. As the cultural centerpiece of Victorian Boston the “square” has been called, “The New World’s greatest agora of Faith and Learning, Arts and Sciences” by Boston historian Douglas Shand Tucci.
Despite the impressive collection of architecture adorning its perimeter, according to Keith Morgan and Naomi Miller in Boston: Architecture 1975 – 1990, Copley Square “remained a traffic center for years, lacking sufficient density in the immediate surroundings to become a viable urban plaza.”
Over time, the cultural and civic institutions bordering Copley Square would be replaced by primarily commercial enterprises with Trinity Church and the Boston Public Library remaining as bookends, framing the public space.
The above black and white photo is from the Detroit Publishing Company, 1887 – 1920. (Library of Congress).
Postmarked, 1903, the above image is taken from the New Old South Church (author’s collection).
For years designers, including celebrated landscape architects Frederick Law Olmsted and Arthur Shurtleff, proposed improvements to the “square.” However, it was not until the 1960′s and the creation of the “New Boston” that vision coalesced with action and an international design competition to select a plan for a “park” on the triangular patch of grass known as Copley Square was held.
Commenting on the chosen design, BRA director Ed Logue is quoted in Planning the City Upon a Hill: Boston Since 1630 by Lawrence W. Kennedy as predicting, “This exciting space will become a world-famous Boston landmark, similar to the Plaza San Marco in Venice and St. Peter’s Square in Rome.”
The winning design by Sasaki, Dawson, DeMay Associates, Inc. was indeed more plaza than park; a mostly hardscapped, gradually terraced, asymmetrical plan cut off from the street by a series of walls with a fountain sited at the square’s lowest point. Twelve feet below grade and visually disconnected from much of the surrounding streetscape, the design was emblematic of its era and a direct response to the site’s former use as a traffic island.
“We thought that by sinking the plaza, that by stepping it down, we would be making a place where people could get away from all the traffic: the sight, sounds, noise and fumes of the cars,” designer Stuart O. Dawson recalls in a 1984 article by Yvonne Chabrier in the Boston Phoenix. Among other challenges, the construction budget for the 2.4 acre plaza was slashed from the original proposal reducing the quality of the site amenities including trees, benches, lighting and paving materials, important elements of the design.
A combination of factors, including changes in attitudes about public open space, the ascendancy of private involvement in the public realm and the one-hundreth anniversary of the site fostered momentum for Copley Square’s redesign. “Area residents and business leaders were adamant about the need to improve the 1969 renovation for aesthetic, historic and safety reasons,” according to a 1986 Copley Square Redesign Briefing Document.
On Monday, August 22, 1983, Mayor Kevin White announced the formation of The Copley Square Centennial Committee to serve as a public/private liaison for the renewal of Copley Square with a focus on the Square ‘s one - hundredth birthday. “The purpose of the committee is to examine and improve upon Copley Square, one of the city’s most important urban spaces,” noted White.
Less than fifteen years after its creation, Copley Square would once again be the focus of an international design competition, albeit one informed by a well-orchestrated public process including four community meetings exploring the theme GREAT PUBLIC SPACES with William H. Whyte, author of The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces presenting, “Why Public Places Fail and Work.”
In a questionnaire conducted as part of the planning process 84% of the public favored rebuilding the square with 73% wanting to start from scratch. It was uniformly believed that starting with a new design, rather than improving the existing space, was necessary.
While it is difficult to remember a time public private partnerships were not synonymous with successful park development, Copley Square was one of the first such formal initiatives in Boston in which the private sector assumed responsibility for fundraising for both construction and the creation of an endowment. According to documentation the original construction budget of three million four hundred thousand dollars was to include two million dollars of private support. In addition, the private sector committed to raising a one and a half million dollar endowment for long-term maintenance.
The competition guidelines proscribed a design that was the antithesis of the existing plaza-like space promoting informal uses, flexible spaces and ease of public surveillance and control. The square should ”function chiefly as a congenial setting for conversation and unplanned activities… only secondarily should the Square be dependent for its animation on formally programmed events” according to the guidelines.
To displace “undesirable activities currently in the Square, such as drug dealing and petty crime, characteristic of desolate urban spaces” seating was to be made available for at least 1,000 persons with at least 1,050 linear feet of fixed seating and 300 movable chairs. A demountable seasonal cafe, accommodation for a Farmer’s Market and vendor’s pushcarts were recommended.
On a recent mid-day visit Copley Square’s benches were well used.
Acknowledging Copley Square’s location mediating between the low-rise historical district of the Back Bay and new larger scale construction at the Prudential and Copley Place, the guidelines request that the square, “create a place of beauty which helps to bring into balance these physical and social conflicts….embodying the idea of the city as a place of community and cultural meaning.” The design was required to employ natural materials, patterned paved areas, flower beds, generous sized trees and areas for quiet enjoyment and reflection as well as a place where crowds can gather. Existing infrastructure was to be used including the fountain which was to be replaced. The program included an ambitious and somewhat contradictory menu of uses intent on maximizing circulation and providing activity within the square throughout every season.
The winning design of Clarke & Rapuano (Dean Abbott, designer) was selected from 309 entries by the Copley Square Design jury on May 21, 1984. The plan and perspective of the winning design, as rendered by the design team, are below.
In plan the design recalls the triangular nature of the original traffic patterns with a strong cross-axis from the Dartmouth/Boylston Street corner to Trinity Church and the John Hancock Tower. Double rows of trees line both the St. James Avenue and Boylston Street edges, providing “outdoor rooms” with seating. A large at grade lawn, allowing for unobstructed views between the Boston Public Library and Trinity Church, transformed the plaza into a public green that was described as a “front yard” for the two buildings and ornately patterned paving created a carpet for the “outdoor living room for the community” that the square, described as a “place for repose and activity,” would become.
Copley Square in 1992 (author’s collection).
The Farmers Market in 1994
From the onset, both the criteria and design of Copley Square met with concern. The tension between active and passive use as well as how much of the site should be “green” was widely debated. The new design, with its large lawn restricting pedestrian access to several locations and the “smorgasbord of programmed activities” was accused of failing to make the square a distinctive space.
The one item everyone did agree upon was the maintenance budget which was set at two dollars per square foot or two hundred thousand dollars per year. Given the intensive use the square receives and its visibility as one of Boston’s most visited tourist destinations a consistently high quality of maintenance was deemed necessary. The endowment, raised by the private sector and augmented by additional fundraising, was intended to maintain the square’s special features including the fountain, lawn, trees and paving. (replacement paving was purchased at the time of construction and stored for future use).
For additional historical background about Copley Square and the surrounding architecture read Copley Square: The Story of Boston’s Art Square at: http://friendsofcopleysquare.org/CopleySquareStory/CopleySquareStory.pdf.
On June 22, 1989 Copley Square was rededicated. Almost twenty-five years later it is one of Boston’s busiest public spaces, collectively shared and a common ground for a diverse cross-section of the city.
That is not to say that Copley Square has not suffered from maintenance and management issues. Writing for the Back Bay Sun in 2011 Penny Cherubino noted “Keeping trees alive and healthy in the park has been a problem from the beginning. Within 13 months a Globe editorial said, “Trees that were supposed to soften the bricks are dying, the two lawns are drying up, the flower beds are unplanted, and the broken fountain has become the domain of skateboarders and graffiti artists.” These are some of the same issues that the park’s advocates face today. This year, there has been a problem with diseased trees. And, like other urban parks, overuse, vandalism, homelessness, and the push and pull of special interests are daily concerns for park advocates.” The trees, which have recently been replaced, are being monitored closely.
After a period of dormancy, The Friends of Copley Square, formed in 1992, has reorganized as an all volunteer effort initiating new events to support the square, including a summer solstice stroll as an introduction to the area’s rich history and architecture. For information about the Friends and to support their work visit: friendsofcopleysquare.org.
The construction of Copley Square was one of the first projects I worked on as a newly minted design graduate and like many other parks and open space projects built within the city during the past twenty-five years I had an opportunity to view the process through which the current space was conceived and built. The square remains a work in progress that deserves continued oversight and public engagement.
A quick tour of the square follows.
The Bostix Kiosk designed by architect Graham Gund (1992).
Tortoise and Hare Sculptures by Nancy Schon (1993).
The Boston Marathon Centennial Monument designed by Mark Flannery (1994).
John Singleton Copley by artist Lewis Cohen (2002).
Copyright © 2012 Patrice Todisco — All Rights Reserved
This has been an exciting year for London as the city celebrated the Queen’s Jubilee and hosts the summer Olympics. Creating unparalleled opportunities to highlight history and culture within a framework of modern design and innovation both events have featured all that makes London unique, including its beloved public realm.
It is therefore fortunate that landscape architect and historian, Todd Longstaffe-Gowan (www.tlg-landscape.co.uk) has written The London Square: Gardens in the Midst of Town, a comprehensive survey of the political, social and environmental forces and complex mix of users and uses that created the urban form most distinctly aligned with London – the residential garden square.
Elegantly written and extensively illustrated, The London Square: Gardens in the Midst of Town traces the evolution of the iconic space from the 17th century to the present day, providing an unflinching evaluation of both its positive and negative attributes. Despite a range of threats upon its integrity, from inadequate maintenance to traffic encroachments, the residential square has persevered as an enduring symbol of the city representing the “pride of London’s planning.”
Derived from the Italian piazza, the London garden square acquired a distinctly British character in the 18th century when greenery and a sense of enclosure were incorporated into its design. The inclusion of landscaped open space as part of residential development was widely imitated and the integration of nature within an urban environment known as, “rus in urbe,” set a standard for urban development that remains relevant today.
‘Square’ is used to describe rectangular open figures and their surrounding houses as well as crescents, circuses and polygons which possess “practically the same character.” Although Longstaffe-Gowan’s primary focus is on squares designed as part of residential developments, information on London’s ceremonial squares is included, most notably when threatened with schemes that compromise their public nature. While his study extends to the edges of Greater London the geographic focus is on squares located within the inner city.
For the reader seeking information about a particular square be forewarned, The London Square: Gardens in the Midst of Town is not a “potted” history of individual spaces. Instead the book explores common themes and issues throughout the past four centuries of time within a broad framework of scholarship.
Longstaffe-Gowan is no sentimentalist and presents an honest assessment of the competing political and social narratives that combined to make the square an important, often controversial, public space within the city. The fortunes of London’s garden squares waxed and waned throughout time as has the debate over their ownership, management and maintenance.
One of many examples included is “The Battle of the Railings” a campaign during the Second World War described as “not simply a question of supplying scrap metal for munitions….but a battle fought for democracy” at a time when the iron railings represented “an outdated system of social hierarchy.”
While efforts to safeguard open space throughout London became active in the late 19th century it was not until 1931 that The London Preservation Act was passed providing protection to 461 squares and enclosures. “The rock upon which all preservation of squares is built,” the Act, while imperfect, was one of the first to provide protection to designed landscapes. The protection of London’s garden squares from privatization and inappropriate development, an issue that is also of concern in the US as cities deal with a lack of financial resources to maintain public open space, is ongoing amid development pressure and funding shortfalls.
As the president of the non-profit organization, London Parks & Gardens Trust, Longstaffe-Gowan has dedicated much of his career to preserving London’s Squares and making them accessible to the public. The Trust has recently launched the London Inventory of Historic Greenspaces online, which contains details, supported by photographs, plans and drawings, of 2,500 parks, gardens, commons, cemeteries and other historic spaces across Greater London. For more information about the survey visit: www.londongardesnonline.org.uk.
The London Square: Gardens in the Midst of Town succeeds on many levels. An impeccably researched and annotated work of scholarship the book is, at its core, an engrossing narrative describing London’s evolving attitudes regarding the value and importance of public open space. The residential square, integral to the well-being of the community, remains a “form that can be given new life at the end of the millennium” providing for ongoing exploration and reinvention.
The London Square: Gardens in the Midst of Town
by Todd Longstaffe-Gowan
(New Haven:Yale University Press, 2012)
This review appeared in Leaflet A Massachusetts Horticultural Society Publication, August 2012.
Copyright © 2012 Patrice Todisco — All Rights Reserved