Modern Hortus Conclusus: the Serpentine pavillion 2011

The rigour, geometry, spiritual and, to a degree, romance filled imagery of the pre-Renaissance and Renaissance italian painting tradition, seen below in Fra' Angelico's  Annunciation in the Convent of San Marco, Florence, are key elements in the  establishment of the cultural and physical identity of the 'hortus conclusus' or enclosed garden.

The pavillion at the Serpentine, built in the summer of 2011 and widely circulated, is such a form, an enclosure that links back to the original philosophical and spiritual meaning.

Showing a mute, sombre exterior, it becomes, physically and metaphorically, the container, the body, opening to reveal a centre filled with tranquil warmth, glow and serenity.

The structure, designed by Peter Zumthor, is complemented by an interior garden by Piet Oudolf, featured also on this blog for his gardens at the last Venice Architecture Biennale.

Here are some images to enjoy and reflect on, as an opportunity to develop a more continuous relationship, physical, emotional and intellectual with the interior green spaces that we could begin to integrate in our working and domestic lives.

Images copyright: Oscar Ferrari.

The planting experiences and individual approach of Oudolf is beautifully imaged and explained in Thames and Hudson's 'Oudolf Landscapes in Landscapes', 2011.

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Carlo Scarpa & Fernando Caruncho- water

In this post- we're having a short break in the next couple of weeks - I would like to speculate on connections between the architect Carlo Scarpa's and the garden architect Fernando Caruncho's use of water. This is prompted by an interesting post by an architecture student at Curtin University, Australia, blogging at architecture moves us. I am indebted to him for the use of the images below:

Here is his quote:

Born as Venetian, water is one of the greatest elements of Carlo Scarpa’s architecture. The cemetery is carved with a series of everflowing canals; sometimes flowing aside the path and sometimes within a pond surrounding the steps and pavillion.

This put me in mind of Caruncho's equally impressive, but more positive and sundrenched water parterres, large and reflecting to Scarpa's minimal but exquisitely detailed.

S'Agao garden
Caruncho garden

And in turn, there is something about how both these men imagine and build with water which reminds me of Calvino's meanderings in recollecting the city of venice...

"Kublai Khan does not necessarily believe everything Marco Polo says when he describes the cities visited on his expeditions, but the emperor of the Tartars does continue listening to the young Venetian with greater attention and curiosity than he shows any other messenger or explorer of his." So begins Italo Calvino's compilation of fragmentary urban images. As Marco tells the khan about Armilla, which "has nothing that makes it seem a city, except the water pipes that rise vertically where the houses should be and spread out horizontally where the floors should be," the spider-web city of Octavia, and other marvelous burgs, it may be that he is creating them all out of his imagination, or perhaps he is recreating details of his native Venice over and over again, or perhaps he is simply recounting some of the myriad possible forms a city might take.

Quote from review for Invisible Cities,

Happy summer break, see you at the beginning of September.

Residential landscapes and eco-design

The question of the positive impact of  building and landscaping practices with relation to renewables is generally discussed when talking about buildings, architecture and energy technology. It has been less of a concern when planning and designing gardens. This post looks at the ideas explored by Howard Liddell, of Gaia Architects, Edinburgh in his book Eco-Minimalism, RIBA Publishing, in particular Shelter Planting and biodiversity.

Liddell writes that " many projects experience , during late cost cutting, the removal of landscape elements once they get towards the end of the site operations. Suddenly, trees and bushes do not get planted because they are seen as "amenity planting", that is, non essential decoration.

However, vegetation (or the lack of it) can have a very significant impact ..... on the energy performance of a building.

Trees and shrubs can shelter buildings from prevailing and chilling winds, with a resultant reduction in heat loss as a benefit.

...of course these items can have amenity value - but with a practical (and calculable) economic benefit, they are less likely to be omitted during belt-tightening  cost exercises."

On biodiversity,  a simple rule and challenge: " The city of Berlin has a 50 per cent rule for new developments, whereby half the built-up footprint of any site has to be biodiverse - it can be "greenscape' (gardens, etc) or 'bluescape" (ponds, etc)."

These proposals can be applied to all of our planning, design and execution of exterior spaces: they remind me of one of the most successful, livable, recent UK developments, Accordia in Cambridge.


Integrated modern landscapes

As the weather turns warmer and we begin to think of letting the outside in, and viceversa, we are looking at iconic and contemporary projects that integrate the house within its landscape, a central feature of the esterni approach. There are examples of entrance gardens, in the work of Vladimir Sitta, and modernist inspired new build projects, where thought is given to the porousness of inside and outside.

Canoe Reach, Brisbane, Australia

Canoe Reach, a private residence on the Brisbane River, Australia, by Steendyk Design Studio, has an impressive fifty five thousand litre underground rainwater tank that captures water from the roof and grounds for the garden reticulation system. The residence features natural cross-ventilation throughout with the use of single-depth rooms. The parasol courtyard roof opens on three sides to expel hot air, and ventilation slots located at the back of the central courtyard ventilate the garage below. The single-pane glazing of the pavilion is tinted and treated to the equivalent of double-insulated glass, and retractable external blinds protect the west-facing façades. The result is a residence that employs architectural detail to define spaces and engages the senses.

Modern courtyard by Rob Steiner

Gunlogsson residence, Denmark, 1958.

Modern garden design: Bob Irwin's garden at the Getty

I have always been a fan of sunken gardens, and in the Getty garden in California there is a seriously ambitious sunken pool with a planting of azaleas in the manner of a water parterre. As a fine artist, Irwin's challenges were initially to marry the layout and public access of the garden with the existing Meyer building and then to learn how to paint in horticultural terms (there were years of trips to investigate plants combinations))).

The book that documents this project - in the links on the right- reports many interviews between the artist and the teams that helped him achieve his vision.

I was struck by this one quote, which talks about how Irwin dealt with the intimacy of colour and pattern in flowers in such a complex architectural space.

" How do you go from such a surround (building)? I started thinking about starting from geometry, from geometry to pattern,and pattern to texture: from the buildings out to the flower (petal, stalk)".

There is a specific sense of history in this garden, a modern aesthetic of materials, steel, stone, water, that perhaps tracks back to other more classical, yet strongly linked forms..see if you agree...

hadrian's villa, tivoli. Source:

To see more and to have a list of plants relating to the whole garden check out this good blog post by VULGARE, there's great photos and nice layouts...