Posts Tagged ‘book review’

REVIEWED BY MELISSA S. RAGAIN

FROM THE DECEMBER 2018 ISSUE OF LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE MAGAZINE.

 

In 2000, the German artist Reinhard Reitzenstein suspended a tree from a pair of abandoned hydroelectric towers in La Gabelle Park in Quebec. Hung upside down, the 55-foot spruce tree contrasts tragicomically with the immense structures beside it, as though they had seized the tree and subjected it to this humiliating inversion. This arresting image flips (quite literally) our expectations of the landscape, even a human-altered landscape like the escarpment of a hydroelectric dam, and dramatizes the clear-cutting that makes such sublime industrial monuments possible. Reitzenstein relies on those expectations in order to subvert them. The cultural baggage of landscape, both pictures of the landscape and the land’s design as an aesthetic object, is the ground against which a work like Transformer appears. The urgency of climate change and mass extinction has made it necessary for anyone who works with natural materials or images to rethink the historical conventions that govern our perceptions of the natural world.

I was choosing a new survey text for my course Contemporary Art and Ecology when I was commissioned to review Mark Cheetham’s new book, Landscape into Eco Art. To judge by the title and the array of evocative illustrations, it looked like a viable candidate to replace my go-to anthology, Jeffrey Kastner’s Nature (The MIT Press, 2012). Though Kastner’s book offers an excellent selection of short primary documents perfect for an undergraduate seminar, it lacks what many art history textbooks offer: the lure of chronology, the analysis of individual artworks, and an authoritative narrative to help navigate the last 50 years of ecological art making. And yet, as I thumbed through Cheetham’s Landscape into Eco Art, I began to realize that it was not a survey text. Neither was it the kind of fine-grained history of a single object or movement we have come to expect in contemporary art history. Other texts in the genre take the standard contemporary art historical model of diving deep into a subject only to pop back out of it again with a new perspective on the long history of contemporary practices. For instance, James Nisbet’s Ecologies, Environments, and Energy Systems in Art of the 1960s and 1970s (The MIT Press, 2014) tells a history of land art and systems thinking by tethering it to a lengthy analysis of Walter De Maria’s The Lightning Field (1977). Similarly, Suzaan Boettger’s Earthworks: Art and the Landscape of the Sixties (University of California Press, 2003) takes a wide-angle lens to land art in a chronological survey of the era’s greatest moments to shed light on the complex network of artists, gallerists, and collectors who motivated land art’s monumental minimalism.

Instead, Landscape into Eco Art might be more readily compared to work in environmental aesthetics, a subfield of (more…)

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REVIEWED BY JUSTIN PARSCHER 

FROM THE NOVEMBER 2018 ISSUE OF LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE MAGAZINE.

 

In their continual search for respect, recognition, and equal pay, landscape architects find themselves in a quandary. On one hand, they understand that credit attaches itself to authors, masters with distinct visions and styles, and are forever writing letters to the editor to assert that the city didn’t do it—the landscape architect did. They celebrate acting as project leads, not only because it validates their way of working, but because the project lead can safely be given final credit. However, having toiled so long in subsidiary roles, landscape architects are also mindful of the networks of expertise that actually form ambitious designs, particularly in the public realm. A chain of public officials, architects, structural and civil engineers, ecologists, lighting designers, and community members all contribute to the shape of the place, which is naturally also conditioned by social and environmental realities on the ground.

The urban historian Alison Isenberg’s Designing San Francisco is, among its many other virtues, a vital text for helping landscape architects think through this dilemma. Isenberg’s book focuses on (more…)

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REVIEWED BY KELLY COMRAS, FASLA

FROM THE JULY 2018 ISSUE OF LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE MAGAZINE.

Victor D. Gruen (1903–1980) was one of the most influential architects of the 20th century, a powerful visionary who combined social criticism, persuasive charm, ambition, and talent. Known as the father of the shopping mall, he envisioned a cure for the banality of postwar American suburbia and neglected city centers that profoundly altered the landscape of postwar city development. He suggested “shopping towns,” new community centers that would contain a rich mix of civic and commercial spaces and activities, and the introduction of pedestrian zones within the core of older city centers. Later in life, he criticized that his ideas had been co-opted by developers, commercialized by economic, political, and cultural forces beyond his control, which thereby emerged on the postwar landscape as an unintended archetype: the enclosed, inward-facing, single-purpose, multilevel, two-anchor-department-store shopping center.

Gruen has left us with an impressive number of writings about his work (including the well-known The Heart of Our Cities), and two pertinent books have tackled appraisals of his work—Alex Wall’s Victor Gruen: From Urban Shop to New City (2005) and M. Jeffrey Hardwick’s Mall Maker: Victor Gruen, Architect of an American Dream (2004). But Anette Baldauf’s new translation from German of Gruen’s dictated memoirs, Shopping Town, presents us with (more…)

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BY MIMI ZEIGER

A new biography of James Rose explores his difficult brilliance.

FROM THE AUGUST 2017 ISSUE OF LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE MAGAZINE.

“Words! Can we ever untangle them?” reads James Rose’s opening salvo in Pencil Points. Appearing in the definitive journal of modernist design thought, the landscape designer’s 1939 essay rejects preconceived ideas of formal or informal design and makes the case for an organic and materials-based approach—an argument approaching revelation at a time when Beaux-Arts methodologies held sway.

Reading the text today, Rose’s words cut through the decades, carrying with them equal doses of wit, creativity, and frustration with the status quo. An uncompromising designer from his time in and out of Harvard (he was expelled in 1937, later returned but never graduated) to his death in 1991, Rose is the subject of the latest volume of the Masters of Modern Landscape Design series published in association with the Library of American Landscape History and the University of Georgia Press. It’s the first biography dedicated to the landscape architect, who although a prolific writer throughout his career and author of four of his own books, has yet to receive the kind of canonical recognition bestowed on his Harvard classmates Garrett Eckbo and Dan Kiley.

As director of the James Rose Center for Landscape Architectural Research and Design—a nonprofit located at Rose’s Ridgewood, New Jersey, home—the book’s author, Dean Cardasis, FASLA, is well-placed to untangle the competing forces of Rose’s career. Few of Rose’s works survive in their original form, and a spare eight are presented as illustrated case studies—a fraction of the more than 80 projects produced in his lifetime. Much of the book is devoted to advocating for Rose’s achievements while trying to (more…)

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