I'm just barely into Greater Perfections: The Practice of Garden Theory, but the title alone scares me; gardening is not perfecting, it's interpreting, something which I'm coming to realize may be Hunt's ulitmate point. This title might be tongue in cheek, because even though he's trying to map out a solid, historically-grounded garden theory of the west, he's very concerned with issues of environment and how our perceptions of the natural world have changed radically in recent centuries; or how we believe landscape can only exist by being conceived and perceived by humans. Poor Mr. Hunt, caught in a quandary--to be or not to be a landscape architect in a greening world.
In his attempt to create a core definition of landscape architecture and theory, we come across this large chunk about place-making:
"Landscape architecture is, then, an activity of exterior place-making. This activity may include buildings within its remit; it may also look to pictorial art for inspiration, but it occurs essentially in the space BETWEEN buildings / architecture and paintings / landscape. It may include elements of what conventionally we call nature—in other words, organic materials like trees, shrubs, and grass and inorganics like water and rocks. Place-making is fundamentally an art of milieu; it creates a “midst” in which we see or set ourselves, places to be lived, hence its concern to environmentalists, whose business is with our environs or surroundings. The milieu involves not only inhabitants and users but the history of the place that is made or remade, the story of the site over time. Time and process lie at the very heart of landscape architecture and therefore, as we shall see in later chapters, accommodate themselves very readily to narrative. The stories of place-making engage innumerable narrative strategies and modes, for there are, after all, many sorts of fiction.”
I like how he sees a narrative in landsacpe, designed and not designed, how its meaning is essential only because of human interaction (now, if a flower grows and no one perceives it, is it still a flower?).
Milieu is, according to Augustin Berque:
1) The production of landscape is mediation of environment. Not just objective physical surroundings, but involves inscription on the site of how individual conceives of envrionment. Not simply a place made but a place we see as having already been made or is in process of being made.
2) Landscapes are combo of place maker and place user, and it is impossible to dinstinguish between these two.” Landscape comes into being as the creative coupling of a perceiving subject and an object perceived.”
Interesting. We can only have a landscape if we think about and experience it. Really? Ok, How about comparing gardens to poetry? Oh, we just have to read THIS:
"Gardens focus the art of place-making or landscape architecture in the way that poetry can focus the art of writing. Not everyone wants to write poetry, nor do its modes of expression suit every occasion or topic (people probably don’t use verse to make up shopping lists). But the poet’s formal and creative skills, technical resources, linguistic inventions, and (especially relevant to the highly atavistic art of garden-making) uneasy relationship with the demanding traditions of his or her art—all these make poetry among the most concentrated and demanding of literary expressions; this quality of compactness, concentration, is especially conspicuous in lyric poetry, where the scale is relatively smalls. The same claim can arguably be put forward for garden art, which of all forms of open space design draws on a richly constituted repertoire of effects, motivs, and traditions.”
Hunt discusses the three natures he sees at the outset of this treatise:
1st nature: Wild, undisturbed, unseen landscape. Not likely to find this anymore, but we try by making national parks, don't you know.
2nd nature: Agriculture, suburbia, cities, Nasca line in Peru
3rd nature: Gardens
Oh, how about this slightly sarcastic take on the sublime / wilderness vacations?
"Just as a highway or airplane… physically connects them to their preferred “wilderness,” so our very ideas of that sought after “other” nature link it to the rest of our experiences. We come to terms with first nature and explain our encounters with wilderness by talking of wonder, awe, fear, or distaste. We see it as divine, the nature of the gods; or we excoriate it as hostile territory and mask it off, as in some medieval representations; or we are more ambiguous and accommodate it philosophically, for instance, by labeling it the sublime. The switch from locating the sublime not in rhetorical productions but in landscape during the 18th century may be explained as part of an effort to make acceptable without diminishing the newly available experiences of wild European scenery. Tourists in first nature could translate their wonder, awe, and fear into a shared commodity, that in its turn became part of their cultural second nature and was occasionally translated into designed landscapes.”
Damn nature as commodity. Go green, people, buy green windex and drink green beer, you self righteous consumers. In fact, get a fungal disease and look green. Turn moldy.
Finally, I especially like this bit about places being spiritual without being distorted by religion, or our tainted experiences of it--or, that gardens somehow, perhaps, provide more divine access, or are simply more divine, than anything else we've culturally constructed.
"The sense of sites as ineluctably special continues to be part of contemporary human experience. It is an instinct that does not belong exclusively to what we would call “religious” people. This may raise the question of whether such privileging of place transfigures a site into first or third nature—does it make it divine territory or something like a garden? It can presumably be either or both: if some deliberate and formal intervention is attempted (i.e., invoking forms not available on site), then it certainly aspires to landscape architecture. A garden has the status for some people today of a sacred spot. The passions aroused by a dedication to the natural environment and / or by the activity of gardening suggest to how fundamental and “religious” an experience each of these activities gives access. Much modern place-making calls up a deeper sense of the numinous than we generally care to acknowledge, and it brings to the recognition of something special in a place a far greater wealth of cultural resources than we have so far encountered in the [second nature] aboriginal pole, the Ottoman tree, or even geoglyphs and songlines."
Well, on to the other 200 pages. I bet you feel like you just read all 250 pages of this garden theory, don't you, IF you made it this far....