Book Reviews

Book Review: Captured Landscape: The Paradox of the Enclosed Garden by Kate Baker

March 8, 2013

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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.  

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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 .

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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.

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Mottisfont Abbey, 1987

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

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  • Reply Jean March 10, 2013 at 3:01 am

    This sounds like a wonderful book; I’m adding it to my wishlist. Thanks for the review.

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