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book review: Icons of 20th-Century Landscape Design

Ar070301099l2 My colleague Jay Dickenson was kind enough to review Katie Campbell's new book for Hewn & Hammered:

Katie Campbell, Icons of Twentieth-Century Landscape Design, Frances Lincoln Limited, Publisher, 2006

In her new work, Icons of Twentieth-Century Landscape Design, Katie Campbell presents significant landscape designs created during the past century that, she believes, challenged the accepted form, use, and meaning of created landscapes. Campbell describes traditional attitudes toward landscape design, at least before the twentieth century, as alternating between the poles of classical formality and romantic naturalism. Fittingly, each of the twenty-nine sites featured in Icons eschews this rigid classical/romantic dialectic.

As a whole, Campbell’s subjects share neither style, nor location, nor philosophy (though each of the works in Icons emerges from the Western tradition of landscape design). However, Campbell is able to group the sites found in Icons according to broad and sometimes overlapping themes, such as nature worship (Stockholm’s Woodland Cemetery, Wright’s Falling Water, or Portland’s Lovejoy Plaza) and environmentalism (Eggborough power plant); nationalism and anticolonialism (Brazil’s Ministry of Education and Mexican designer Luis Barragán’s Las Arboledas); artistic (the Barcelona Pavilion, Park Guëll, and Bentley Woods); and allegorical (the Kennedy Memorial and Salt Lake’s Spiral Jetty).

Yet the thrust of the book is not thematic. Campbell addresses each site individually through both written description and analysis and through visual imagery. Campbell’s writing is lively an accessible. And, in keeping with Icons’ “coffee table” format, the photographs and illustrations are colorful and, for the most part illustrative. My only complaint is that, in some instances, Icon lacks images sufficiently detailed to match Campbell’s precise analysis. For example, in describing Gaudí’s use of allegorical and ethnocentric imagery at Park Guëll, Campbell references “large stone spheres, suggestive of rosary beads,” and “a red and white band ... which suggests a cigar band — a whimsical reference to Guëll’s interests in the tobacco industry.” Yet, in scanning the full-page prints and inset photos that accompany the essay, one unfortunately finds neither cigar band nor rosary beads.

Campbell acknowledges that her selection of sites to include in Icons was necessarily idiosyncratic, and, certainly, Icons excludes other twentieth-century works that deserve to be called “icons” of landscape design. For this reason, the book is sure to provide grist for the expert to grind. Yet, Campbell’s writing is accessible and oftentimes general. The novice reader, unschooled in modern or contemporary art, philosophy, or design, will surely find Icons a richly educational read.