The Garden on the Moors

I believe that all great gardens share the mythic qualities that John Hanson Mitchell describes.

The secret garden is a walled garden on the Yorkshire Moors. On a winter’s day a robin leads a lonely Mary to a thick curtain of ivy hiding an ornate, solid locked door. She finds a beautiful heavy key on her midnight wanderings through the manor and heaves the door open into a tunnel of dead thistles and branches. The end of the tunnel opens out into a scene of towering cold stone walls and leafless trees, still black ponds, great archways, stone faces smiling in the quiet and a swing stirring in the wind – the same swing that Mary’s mother and aunt are sitting on in a photo she keeps. She glimpses a speck of green at her feet and pulls away the dead plants smothering it. She gives it room to breathe and feel the sun, and decides that she will bring this garden back to life. She asks her uncle for ‘a bit of earth’ – she can’t tell him which bit as it was locked because the garden was his wife’s and she died falling from the swing. Mary shares her secret with Dickon, the boy who befriends wild creatures, and he shows her that the garden is not dead but ‘wick’ – it is still growing green inside. They turn the soil and throw seeds wildly – ‘blue flowers, pink flowers, yellow flowers, purple flowers, cornflowers, foxgloves, any kind we want!’ The ground cover grows green, crocuses push their heads up and butterflies emerge from their chrysalides, bluebells and buttercups make thick carpets, irises and roses unfurl. Dickon and Mary bring her wheelchair-bound cousin, Colin, to see the garden in its glory, with gentle foxes and geese following in their wake. They carry him down pergola-covered steps splashed with light, to an opening where the arches now throw down curtains of flowers and only the sun and swirling petals can be seen through them. A dove sits atop the smiling statue, a fawn wanders near, the robin feeds its chicks and there are roses everywhere. Mary and Dickon help Colin learn to walk and use a magic fire dance to summon his father home. When he arrives, the three are out in the garden playing blind man’s bluff and he finds his son walking and laughing in the garden his wife once loved.


Forming Units

I wanted to use the overall shape of the assembled net, rather than just one part of it. I tried a number of times to create a 3D form that could interlock at least partially with itself, but in the end I had to give in and simplify it. Rather than use a form that would have different surface areas on the two opposite faces, I decided to start with a 2D shape and make it 3D by extruding it uniformly, so that the two opposite faces would be identical. I played around with the ‘dinosaur-footprint’ shape until I worked out how to draw it so that it could have a fully interlocking configuration. It is essentially five sides of a regular octagon, lines of equal lengths at 45 and 90 degrees. As can be seen from the diagram, the horizontal line ‘A’ relates to the other two horizontal lines by being double their length, so that they can line up together beneath it. The 45 degree lines ‘B’ could be any angle and length, provided that the lines ‘C’ are the same, so that they can line up.

Having created the 2D shape, I created a net on card so that it could be folded and glued to become a 3D form, but with one of the large faces left open. I lined the inside with clingfilm, so that the card would not getting soggy and could be reuse, and pressed damp tissue into the hollow. I left this to dry and repeated three more times. The four bricks produced are wonderfully strong, and heavy enough to stack together with a fair amount of stability. I was also pleased to find that the papier mache construction had the effect of slightly roughening the edges, so that where the bricks met, the shadows produced really interesting chasm-like textures.


Globalisation in the 18th Century

According to G. and S. Jellicoe, there are a number of design motifs that Oriental and Occidental gardens shared during the 18th Century. I would categorise these under two main rubrics: a) Symbolism and b) The Elevation of Nature in Man’s Estimation.

a) Symbolism – this includes allegory and metaphor. These are found in Chinese gardens, where, for example, water and rock represent mutability and immutability respectively. The features of the garden come together to ‘represent…a natural and wild View of the Country’ (letter by Father Attiret, in Jellicoe, 1975, p 225). Although the West also began to include symbolism in its gardens at this time, it was qualitatively different from that found in Chinese gardens – indeed, ‘Imitators did not appreciate that the spirit of the traditional Chinese garden was one of symbolism’ (ibid., p 223). The type of representation to be found in English gardens had less to do with a philosophy of the earth, and more to do with story, allegory and metaphor. Stourhead takes the visitor on a journey through the human life, from birth to death, and Painshill tells ‘the story of past civilizations and their place in the great wilderness of nature’ (ibid., pp 240-242).

b) The Elevation of Nature in Man’s Estimation – Chinese gardens placed buildings and their layouts in ‘a geometrical design totally subordinate to natural landscape’ (ibid., p 224): they might be said to be in, rather than on, the landscape. In describing the English School, Jellicoe explains that in the 18th Century, ‘Nature was no longer subservient to man’ and that ‘irregularity rather than regularity’ was what designers now strove after (ibid., p 233). The use of the ha ha came from the new maxim that ‘all nature was a garden’ (ibid.), and the lakes and riverscapes at Chiswick House and Rousham (ibid., p 236) reminiscent of the Chinese lake gardens express the ability of nature to be chaotic – for after all, nothing is more untameable and unpredictable than water, which humans cannot inhabit and which may without warning even invade and destroy their habitations on land.

The two categories are on the one hand mutually exclusive, since symbolism is something created entirely in the human mind. There is no allegory in nature – all nature simply is itself. There is falsehood and deceit in nature – the eye patterns on a moth’s wings, or the trickery of a squirrel that buries a nut in plain view and then reburies it elsewhere when no other creatures are watching – but there is no representation, only pretense.

On the other hand, it is exactly this dichotomy of the unreal and the real that the Chinese gardens synthesise, by using nature to represent itself. I’m not sure whether I think this is beautifully poetic or a tremendous conceit. It is like carving a tree out of wood.

André Le Nôtre and the Plane


André Le Nôtre ‘places objects on a plane not to glorify the object but the express the plane itself. And however enriched with patterning and planting, the plane remains taut’ (Walker and Simo, 1996, p 66). Although Le Nôtre designed the gardens at Versailles, I am not sure whether or not he is responsible for placing Jean-Baptiste Tuby’s Fountain of Apollo in its position at the head of the Grand Canal. Regardless, it is a wonderful example of the concept discussed by Walker and Simo above. Whilst the fountain sprays, the sculpture surges and crashes through the water. When still, however, the surface of the water truly is this ‘plane’ that the object is placed upon (or through), and all the reflections of the sculpture and the trees serve to frame the plane and emphasise its tension.

Enzo Anea’s Tree Museum could be a contemporary example of the same concept. Not only the plane of the stone walls, but also that of the manicured lawn are picked out, magnified and given presence by the trees that are ‘placed’ upon or next to them, planted or potted. Thus this space can be called a Tree Museum and not only an arboretum. Without the trees, the lawn would be mere ground upon which the stone walls as objects were placed. With the trees, the lawn becomes a surface, something that has more of a sense of perpendicular connection to the walls, which are now no longer objects (the trees have assumed this role) but areas, albeit vertical ones. In Walker & Simo’s concept it is the two dimensional, the surface, the area that takes precedence over (and is given its precedence by) the three dimensional, the object.

Scientific Method & Inspiration

If drawing/modelling in design process is about testing and hypothesizing, is it like or unlike scientific method? Yes, certainly. Scientific method begins with a question or problem, uses research to formulate a hypothesis, and follows this with a series of trial-and-error experiments which are then analysed to come to a conclusion. Drawing and modelling can happen at any stage in the design process, indeed for Renzo Piano they should happen at all stages (Robbins, 1994). They should be used to identify the question or problem, as vehicles for research, for experimentation, for analysis and to represent conclusion. Drawing and modelling are the pictorial equivalent of verbal propositions, mathematical equations, graphs, charts and diagrams. They are appropriate alternatives of these scientific tools when used in architectural design. The natural sciences require other tools because the scientist experiences their content with the mind. Architectural design requires tools that represent pictorially because the architect experiences the elements of his or her task with the senses, and the sense of sight in particular. Of course architects also have rational thoughts and ideas about their work, just as scientists can sometimes see the cells or molecules or effects of magnetic fields  that are the object of their work – rarely, if ever, can anything be experienced or understood purely with the senses or purely with the mind, though that is a debate for philosopher or shaman.

The inspirations that have informed my project work in studio have not so far come from the readings, but from the materials themselves that we have been using. I feel that, apart from making the plasticine island, the tasks have been less about creativity, concept and purpose, and more about listening to the materials, and allowing them to help us explore their use. Of course this does involve creativity, concept and purpose, but on a much more subconscious level, where the doing reveals the concept rather than the concept guiding the doing. It is like the phenomenon of automatic writing, where a person clears their mind while moving a pen randomly across paper so that words appear that they did not consciously intend. Like a graphologist studying the personality of my handwriting, perhaps some psychoanalyst somewhere could read my models and tell me things about myself and the conflict between my conscious and subconscious that even I did not know. I’m not sure I believe that, but maybe the analyst of my models would be able to tell that too.

TED Education Talk

His thoughts fall neatly into patterns now.

Each seeks its cubby hole and there it lies

As solemn as a little pullet egg,

Ready for market, sorted as to size.


Once on a time, long ago and far away,

Fire smoked and kindled. Thoughts whipped a gale.

Ideas kept on dropping from his lips

Like toads and diamonds in a fairy tale.

– Inez George Grindley –