Michael Dennis & Alistair McIntosh







    This essay outlines the long transformation from the Garden and the City during the Renaissance, to the Garden as the City in our time. Cities require density of urban buildings and people. Thus, there can be cities without landscape, but landscape without density of urban buildings and people cannot be a city. Moreover, dense, compact cities are more culturally effective and resource efficient on a per capita basis. The urban design of cities should comprise both urban buildings and designed landscapes of streets, squares, gardens, and parks. The integration of architecture, landscape, and urban design in the mid-nineteenth-century Paris of Adolphe Alphand and Georges Haussmann provides a suggestive model for the contemporary city.


    The plan of the gardens of the Villa d'Este, for example, could easily be imagined as the plan of an ideal Renaissance town. The plan of the Boboli Gardens in Florence, like that of the Villa d'Este, could also be imagined to be an urban town plan, but slightly more baroque with larger blocks and more flamboyant shapes.

    The gardens of the Villa Lante at Bagnaia are generally regarded as among the most beautiful in Italy. It is the villa's relationship with the town, however, that is most compelling—a clear expression of Peterson's idea of the garden as mediator between sacred and profane. The villa consists not only of the famous walled garden, but also the adjacent "wild" wooded area. The parterre of the garden relates directly to the town square, cementing the connection of city:garden:nature.

    If walled Italian Renaissance gardens like the Villa Lante and the Boboli Gardens could be seen as urban models, and as mediating between the city and the country, French Baroque parks and gardens might be seen as more direct models for the city. Indeed, the Bois de Boulogne was bigger than the city of Paris, and twice as big as the city of London.


    In the mid-nineteenth century, the garden entered the city for the first time as a public amenity for the expanding city of the bourgeoisie. In Paris it was as an aggressive and integrated medium of urbanism; in New York it was as an antidote to the city. Each was the product of a major landscape figure: Adolphe Alphand (1817–1891) in Paris, and Frederick Law Olmsted (1822–1903) in New York. Although Alphand and Olmsted were contemporaries, and although there is some formal overlap in their work, their philosophies regarding the relationship of landscape and urbanism could not be more different. For Alphand, landscape was an equal partner with urban and architectural form in the making of an enhanced but compact city. For Olmsted, the city was a problem; the solution was to provide a natural substitute. These two opposite attitudes towards landscape and the city produced two distinct lineages that only converged in the modernist city of the twentieth century.

    Alphand's Paris landscape is a fortuitous blend of two landscape traditions: the formal tradition of the allée, the cours, and the promenades; and the Romantic tradition of the picturesque landscape. Napoleon III was particularly fond of Hyde Park and the English Romantic landscape, and one of his first initiatives after 1848 was to have Alphand transform the Bois de Boulogne from a geometric hunting wood into a Romantic park for the bourgeoisie. Later, the same was done with the Bois de Vincennes. Notably, at the time, both of these were outside the city proper. Within the city, the formal—more urban—tradition prevailed, although some medium-sized Romantic parks, like the Parc des Buttes Chaumont, Parc Monceau, and Parc Montsouris were created.

    Historically, urban streets were relatively narrow, and without landscape. Movement within the city was limited. To accommodate increased population and movement, however, Paris and other cities "loosened" in response. As streets became wider, landscape became an important design component.

    The boulevards were wide, monumental, often multi-land thoroughfares, with generous amounts of trees and other vegetation, combined with street lighting and underground drainage facilities. Trees were an effective way of articulating various modes of traffic and pedestrians within the same system. The boulevards were crucial to facilitate and separate traffic flow, but also to bring in air and light. They also formed the backbone of the promenades of Paris. The promenade, originally a rural walk that was conceived as an alternative to the motion of city life, was built into the city fabric itself by Alphand.

    The various landscape designs—from small squares to urban forests—worked as the climaxes of Alphand's promenades. Within their quarters, the squares filled a need for accessible neighborhood parks. The squares often resulted from a pattern of diagonal streets forming an irregular open space. These leftover spaces were resolved by the landscape design, which might be either formal or picturesque. The number of spatial conditions required an almost endless variety of solutions.

    The Bois de Boulogne had been a hunting reserve for France's kings, until it was transferred from the national government to the city of Paris. Since Napoleon III was in favor of contemporary English landscape architecture, especially Hyde Park, Alphand transformed its geometry of linear axes into labyrinthine promenades composed in curves and sinuous lines. He introduced large water features including cascades and grottos, and nested pavilions and building ensembles, a hippodrome, and smaller gardens within the park, forming various attractions. The choice and layout of new vegetation gave the area an informal character. These transformations served for the entertainment and recreation of the bourgeoisie. Later, the design of the Bois de Vincennes followed the example of the Bois de Boulogne, though it was located away from the wealthy districts of the city.

    The Paris of Napoleon III was constricted within its fortification walls, and though its population had roughly doubled since 1740, he saw it as a compact city that he wanted to make healthy, monumental, and beautiful. Indeed, Haussmann, Alphand, and others demonstrated that an industrial city with old roots could be functional, economical, more social, and more beautiful. They also showed that urbanism could be conceived on a large scale, and that the relationship of buildings to space should be at least as important as the design of individual structures. Moreover, a new attitude about the architect's duty towards the community was born. It was a conception that was fundamentally different from that of the École des Beaux Arts, whose teaching was blind to social conditions and site. Most important was the introduction of landscape as a fundamental component of urban design. Not only could the city be conceived holistically, but this could only be done by including landscape—both formal and Romantic types.


    In the mid-1800s, half a million people were living in New York City, most in crowded, cramped quarters below 38th Street. To escape the din of city life, they sought refuge in pastoral spaces such as Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn.

    Central Park was the first purpose-designed public park in the United States, and Olmsted's first landscape commission. In 1872 Olmsted also did the conceptual design for Riverside Park and Drive in Manhattan, and with Vaux, designed Prospect Park in Brooklyn.

    The Romantic naturalism of Central Park was an antidote to the psychological intensity of daily work life in the commercial city. Even though the park was completely fabricated—completely man-made, in the manner of the Buttes Chaumont—it seemed natural, and was big enough to wall off the city outside. In fact, formally and philosophically the park contained the seeds of the disintegration of the American city. At this point in time, i.e., well before the worst of the industrial era—an era of filth, congestion, crime, and disease—the idea of a less dense, less integrated city had emerged in America.

    For Olmsted the need for landscape in the city as a counter-force to the stress of the built urban experience created the need for a large urban park. It was a form of psychological recreation. He saw the Parkway as a means of extending the influence of the park into the surrounding expanding city, and that the interconnected park system—many parks connected by parkways—could be used to structure the growth of the city. Finally, he was one of the first urbanists to conceive of landscape as natural infrastructure—urban drainage, the preservation and incorporation of natural landscape units into the development strategies of the expanding city. All of the above, in addition to advocacy for the separation of commercial and residential life and an insistence that the latter had to be within a landscape setting, gave birth to the suburb, and the ecological landscape movement along with it. This vision influenced all three of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century urban visions: the Garden City, the City Beautiful, and the Modernist City.


    The two opposite mid-nineteenth century attitudes towards landscape and the city—that of Alphand, and that of Olmsted—each produced distinct lineages that only converged in the modernist city of the twentieth century. The tradition of Haussmann and Alphand led to the dominance of circulation—the rationalized street—in the work of late nineteenth century planners such as Joseph Stübben and Eugène Hénard. The tradition of Olmsted led to the dominance of nature in the Garden City movement.


    Cities require density, continuous urban fabric, and a legible civic realm of space, however, and the long evolution from landscape and the city to landscape as a substitute for the city has led to much current confusion.

    Claims of landscape's hegemony over an impotent architecture are often professed, and with justification. But beyond a clever marketing strategy, the proposals of Landscape Urbanism fall short of the goal of a better integration between city and nature.

    To paraphrase Gertrude Stein's well-known saying "there's no there, there," one has to admit "there's no urbanism there." Landscape as the city is an incomplete paradigm. If the ominous urban and environmental issues of the twenty-first century are to be addressed, a more comprehensive strategy involving architecture, landscape, and urban design must be used. This means beginning with the city again—but the city as part of a larger ecological construct.


    Diminishing natural resources, rapid climate change, and world population growth make a compelling economic argument for denser forms of urban development, with built form and landscape closely intertwined. This is more energy efficient when measured in terms of carbon emissions per capita, and translates into less expenditure on resources per person. Locating more on less would leave more of that other finite resource—land—for uses integral with the creation of a sustainable natural environment that will be the ecologically based foundation for a compact urbanism. This will be an urbanism where designed landscape is an equal partner with urban and architectural form in the making of a city within its specific natural region. In the paragraphs below, we differentiate this approach, which we term "urban landscape," from Landscape Urbanism.

    There is a reinvigorating position within landscape architecture—one that is complementary to urban density. This strain of built urban landscape emerges out of the interaction of specific sites and places—usually over an extended period of time, often at least a decade—and as part of a larger strategy of urban, environmental, economic, and social regeneration. It displays a shared elemental language of landscape architecture: earth, rock, water, plants, and weather deployed to environmentally situate people in a particular urban place. These are landscapes where the continuity and transformation of the inherited fabric of sites are manipulated to renew and reinvigorate an understanding of the nature of nature in the contemporary world—much as the Buttes Chaumont did in nineteenth century Paris.

    If the current and future urban landscape is to be relevant, it must be based on the discipline of landscape ecology. Ecology is a branch of evolutionary biology that investigates the way organisms interact in space over time. Landscape Ecology is a branch of ecology that analyses, understands, and predicts the workings of heterogeneous landscape configurations—the sort of landscapes often associated with human modifications of the natural landscape. Simply put, landscape ecology is a horizontal study of a matrix of landscape ecosystems as opposed to the traditional ecological approach of a vertical analysis of the interactions of a single ecosystem. These heterogeneous landscapes have three basic components:

      structure: spatial relationships of elements, distribution of energy & materials

      function: interaction among spatial elements & energy flows among components

      change in time: alteration of structure & function of the ecological mosaic in time

    These three elements operate within specific climatic, geomorphological, and disturbance conditions. The natural environment is never static. There is no balance of nature. Climate has always fluctuated (the contemporary arguments are about the rate of change and the extent of human agency in accelerating the rate of change). At any given moment geological processes are at work, rivers are carrying the hills to the sea, suddenly the earth shakes and a city falls. Human cultures too have for millennia changed the landscape for intended and unintended ends. These are some of the disturbance conditions within which heterogeneous landscapes develop. When seen from the window of a plane, heterogeneous landscape structure forms a predominant pattern. For example in rural Lowland Scotland it would be one of farm fields, woodlands, and hedgerows. Within this pattern, the woodlands form patches of different sizes and shapes, and the hedgerows are corridors often connecting the woodlands. This landscape matrix creates a physical environmental structure that allows species—plants and animals—to migrate in response to changing climate and other environmental pressures. The size, shapes, connectivity, and distribution of the patches and corridors determine the robustness of the landscape and its ability to function as an environment. Patterns of sustainable urbanism must comprehend and manipulate a landscape's morphology and manage the energy flows that move through it at a regional scale. From this analysis a reasoned understanding of an urban landscape of reality can be conceived, developed, and constructed. It will consist of a range of regional landscapes that include urban settlements. These settlements will re-aggregate urban life in compact, vital, and human communities: each city set within a regional landscape infrastructure that will environmentally sustain them.

    This landscape must be constructed and managed in a time of rapid climate fluctuation, and the shape of the landscape will change dramatically. Plants and other organisms have evolved within constantly fluctuating climate regimens, fires, floods, and earthquakes, and the disturbance they all induce. Individual organisms, using their species-specific reproductive strategies, have changed their geographic ranges in response to all of these disturbances. One simple example may serve: the natural vegetation of eastern North America has been moving in a fluctuating north/south drift for a very long time. What is different now is that the rate of change may be more rapid than the evolutionary response of many species, and that the movement of species is constrained by the geography of a distributed and disaggregated urbanism. To counter this reality we have to stop thinking of nature as a beneficent balm. Rather, we must conceive of nature and its manifestation in landscapes, of which human civilization is a part, as a spatial, environmental infrastructure that provides the vectors for species movement and survival and also situates a re-aggregated urbanism within a regional, sustainable environmental context.

    There is nothing in this description of landscape ecology and its role in the shaping of landscapes that practitioners of Landscape Urbanism or ecological urbanism would disagree with. The difference between Landscape Urbanism and what we are describing—landscape and the city—resides not in the understanding or use of landscape ecology but as to where and how its environmental insights are applied. In our view, using landscape ecological knowledge to manage and plan a dispersed urbanism is at best a rearguard action. Rather, ecologically based planning should also include the re-aggregation of cities. These compact, humane, urban environments of blocks, streets, squares, parks, and other open spaces would be situated within an ecologically sustainable natural infrastructure region. This landscape infrastructure would surround cities, and be within and under them. Within the urban fabric, designed landscapes would mediate between the urban architecture and the larger landscape ecological infrastructure. This landscape mediation will be both a sustaining biophysical interaction, and an imaginative rejuvenation of the relationship between urban culture and a contemporary idea of nature—a transformation of Steven Peterson's thesis of sacred city and profane country mediated by the garden, to one of an interdependent city/region with urban landscapes mediating the nature of nature in the twenty-first century city. It is this understanding of the designed landscape that has informed the authors' design practices. Two examples, Texas A&M University and the Central Indianapolis Waterfront, are described below.



    The campus of Texas A&M University is an example of these principles used to reconnect and improve both natural and urban environments. During the period of unprecedented expansion that followed World War II, the campus sprawled west from its compact core with anti-urban building types and aimless landscape. In the process, water systems, vegetation, and habitat environments were seriously eroded and broken. Lawns replaced native vegetation, and what then-president Robert Gates called Soviet-style buildings were placed in isolation, ever further from the historic community of buildings. The existing civic open space structure of the core, and the outlying, but discontinuous, ecological systems served as the basis for the development of an extended landscape infrastructure that could at once reconnect the natural systems and provide the spatial structure for a long-term future building program. This landscape structure provided for a transition from the well maintained urban quadrangles and courtyards of the core to the riparian landscape and native vegetation to the west—a transition from the formal to the picturesque. In addition, at least fifty years of building growth could be accommodated, and used to support an extended campus fabric of civic spaces within a sustainable, walkable campus.


    The Central Indianapolis Waterfront is an example of landscape designed to help regenerate the urban fabric of a city. For over one hundred years Indianapolis had not engaged the natural environment of the White River, which lies to the west of the downtown. The riverbanks were lined with flood-walls and old industrial buildings. The abandoned dry trench of the Central Canal formed the only tenuous link with the nearby urban fabric. The historic Military Park, the State Capitol grounds, and a previously renovated section of the Central Canal were isolated fragments of landscape within a loosened urban fabric of roads and scattered buildings.

    The new landscapes have created a civic structure around which an urban fabric of streets, blocks, and architecture have coalesced into a downtown district. The banks of the White River have been transformed into a linear open space sequence linking to regional environmental systems to the north and the south of downtown. Park spaces extend from the river environment into the urban core of the downtown, integrating Military Park, the canal fragment, and the State Capitol grounds into a unified open space sequence. These landscapes relate immediately to their built surroundings and also mediate between the city and the larger environmental context of the White River valley. Three strategies govern the design and making of this place.

    First, and most important, is the deliberate re-aggregation of built urban form around a designed landscape that mediates between a redeveloping, compact city and the larger environmental context. The ecological idea of this project lies in the sequence: urban form, designed landscape, and larger environmental context. The civic landscape is part of the re-aggregation strategy, and this approach, over time, will free the larger natural context to take on a sustaining ecological role. Second, these landscapes are stages for the daily life of the community. They are specifically designed to accommodate a range of activities and programs. They have "thickness" as opposed to "surface." Changes will inevitably occur; trees will die; uses will change; but all within a resistant physical context. Finally, the landscape design situates these activities in their particular geographic setting. The making of these spaces creatively re-constructs the found physical fabric of the existing city. This is not an essay in historicism, however, but a balancing of the forces of transformation and continuity—the making and remaking of humane cities in place and time.

    Both of these projects are models of landscape and the city. Each is an essay in the creation of a compact urban environment that relates to a larger re-constituted environmental context using the languages of civic design and landscape architecture to shape a legible, useful, and expressive public realm. They represent a search for a relevant contemporary urbanity within an environmentally and psychologically sustaining nature using a shared elemental built language to shape landscapes in the city.

    The designers of all built landscapes struggle with materials, construction, weather, site particularities, and the passage of time. In the end, the continuous becoming of Landscape Urbanism may be more planning and literary trope than a guide to physical design. There are limits to the meanings languages of description confer on particular projects. Locations become meaningful over time because of the way daily life productively interacts with the specifics of physical forms and the way they are made. This process escapes the capacity of language to define it.


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    From a geographic perspective a landscape is the sum of all human activities that transform the environment. This definition includes the city/suburb and its associated parks, gardens, and other spaces. They are conceived as parts of the sum of all human activities on the land. It is a definition that understands both urban and landscape form as the result of on-going social, cultural, and economic processes. This essay has a narrower focus. Its subject is the role of designed landscapes—urban parks, gardens, tree-lined boulevards—in mediating differing relationships between urbanism and nature. Designed landscapes are places where the materials of the natural world—rock, earth, wood, water, and plantings—have been intentionally manipulated to physically embody and express cultural ideas about the nature of nature and its relationship to urbanism. In this essay these ideas of nature and their expression in physical landscapes range from an Italian garden designed to reveal the underlying order of nature (Lazzaro) to the morpholoical analysis of landscape ecology (Forman and Godron, Landscape Ecology, 1986). Our goal is to re-establish the mediating role of the designed landscape between a revitalized, humane, compact, and sustainable urbanism and a natural systems understanding of nature.

    Lecture at Cornell University, and private conversations.

    See especially, Lazzaro, C. The Italian Renaissance Garden: From the Conventions of Planting, Design, and Ornament to the Grand Gardens of Sixteenth-Century Italy. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1990.; Mosser, M. and G. Teyssot, Ed's. The Architecture of Western Gardens: A Design History from the Renaissance to the Present Day. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1991.; and Shepherd, J. C., and G. A. Jellicoe. Italian Gardens of the Renaissance. Princeton: Princeton Architectural Press, 1986. First published by Ernest Benn, 1925.

    See, Adams, W. H. The French Garden: 1500–1800. New York: Braziller, 1979.; Baridon, M. A History of the Gardens of Versailles, trans. Adrienne Mason. Philadelphia, 2008.; and Mariage, T., The World of Andre Le Nôtre, trans. Graham Larkin. Philadelphia, 1999.

    Reps, J. W. The Making of Urban America: A History of City Planning in the United States. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1965, p. 249. See also, Berg, S. W. Grand Avenues: The Story of Pierre Charles L'Enfant, the French Visionary Who Designed Washington, D.C. New York: Random House, Vintage Books, 2008.

    See, Alphand, A. Les Promenades de Paris, histoire—description des embellissements—dépenses de création et d'entretien des Bois de Boulogne et de Vincennes, Champs-Élysées—parcs—squares—boulevards—places plantées, étude sur l'art des jardins et arboretum. Paris, 1867–73. 1 vol text and atlas; Jordan, D. P. Transforming Paris: The Life and Labors of Baron Haussmann. Free Press, New York, 1995.; and Pinkney, D. Napoleon III and the Rebuilding of Paris. Princeton University Press, New Jersey, 1958.

    See, Alphand, and Plazy, G. Le Parc des Buttes-Chaumont, Flammarion, Paris, 2000.

    Newton, N. T. Design on the Land: The Development of Landscape Architecture. Cambridge MA, 1971, p. 245.

    See, Schuyler, D. The New Urban Landscape: The Redefinition of City Form in Nineteenth-Century America. Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986.

    See, Cohen, P. E., and R. T. Augustyn. Manhattan in Maps: 1527–1995. New York: Rizzoli, 1997.


    Schuyler, p. 5.

    See, Le Corbusier. The Radiant City: Elements of a Doctrine of Urbanism to be Used as the Basis of Our Machine Age Civilization. New York, Orion Press, 1967; Le Corbusier. "The city of tomorrow and its planning," Translated from the 8th French edition of Urbanisme. New York, Payson, 1928.

    See, Waldheim, C., Ed. The Landscape Urbanism Reader. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2006.

    Le Corbusier, Op. Cit.

    Forman, R., and Godron. Landscape Ecology, 1986.

    "Reason must be released from the chains of speech." Dedication to Ludwig Wittgenstein on the wall of Trinity College chapel, Cambridge.

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