Book review: PIET OUDOLF, LANDSCAPES IN LANDSCAPE, Author: Noël Kingsbury

Hummelo (Netherlands) is enriching the world with the most beautiful gardens and parks (think local act global!). The book covers them according to size starting with 350 m2 (Sneek) to 25,000 m2 (Nantucket Island USA).

The title is right on the mark, the gardens are isolated and idealized parts of nature (landscape): they give us a glimpse of what an earthly paradise might look like but unfortunately, the stark reality is very different. In this sense, the gardens are a delight as a means of escaping reality into a green aesthetic dream, with nature as an overwhelming fantasia.

All the projects of a biotopic city are, as concepts, actually very important because of the search for vegetation that best suits the location and climate. Winter scenes within the image of a green city obviously play a role in Oudolf's clear approach, it's feels and looks completely natural for someone who has an eye for it. As with Patrick Blanc the design finds its roots in his knowledge of plants, as is stated in the introduction of the book: "Oudolf brings together botanical, socio-botanical and artistic / aesthetic principles forging a whole". The term "compositional ecology" is herewith introduced, a natural image that is free and unconstrained.

It has been posited that he is a trend breaker, after the modernist garden design of Mien Ruys and Karl Foerster, eliciting from the viewer a desire for nature in a condensed form creating a new reality. They appeal, in reading the introduction, to our longing for meaning and purpose. This trend is called the New Perennial Movement ' in which Oudolf and Henk Gerritsen are the foremost representatives.

One often see severely clipped hedges, not only in his own garden in Hummelo but also is in the published projects. Apparently the paradigm shift to more natural designs does not always succeed, the austerely cut hedges and pillars standing as sentinels of an ancient regime among the colorful and undulating new nature swaying in the wind. The mixture of green and red in the biotopical aspect is more related to urban projects.

Those that are shown:

* The garden of the Venice Biennale in 2010, where Oudolf  mixed green with remnants of old depots and naval shipyards was realised;

* the reallocation of water treatment ponds in gardens in Essen

* The planting of the High Line in New York, mistakenly named as the first artificially overgrown former railway construction.

Remarkably, the beautiful garden at the Van Abbe Museum in Eindhoven has been excluded which, together with the development of nature along the flowing banks of the Dommel provide an oasis in this company town. The published data on the project in New York City (11,000 m2) is significant. The cost of the first completed phase totaled $152,000,000 and the existing vegetation and soil had to be removed again after Oudolf selected native plants. The casual natural growth, now removed, turban greening in an industrial setting has been replaced by a high-end design with Piets’ greening. Despite the slots in the granite pavement from which semi-natural green stones should appear, it is clear that this is a simulacrum of: a green upholstery for a luxury hiking trail. As a consolation to the urban dominance this is not a bad choice.

In closing here is a quote from the book: "he's got away from the soft pornography of the flower.” It’s humorous that on the back of the book there is a portrait of Oudolf behind a foggy window: a steamy window! And the most characteristic detail in this winter scene are the seeding boxes that were photographed in the Oudolf gardens. Curious about how the plan for the two wastewater treatment ponds in Essen (Bottrop) and their placement, mentioned above, I went and took a look. It was not entirely convincing. One basin has been converted into a swimming pool, populated with thousands of goldfish(!). The other pool is filled with earth and decorated with a great deal of pavement and stairs. Betwixt and between are Oudolfs plants. Of all the fantasticly rich and heavenly nature that many of his projects comprise, there is none of that magic here. The mixture of various plant species is not harmonious and looks more like a spontaneously created wild garden.
However, what certainly plays a role here in the architectural design is the fact that the plants only rank second place. The layout of the site between the two basins is aesthetically inadequate and has no character that suits this particluar situation. Even though the conversion of these ponds is a good idea in their function as a rest stop on cycling routes, the result is, unfortunately, not something for cycling. The blending of technology and green, as described later on, in the Zollverein works fantastically, it has not led to a new symbiosis.

 

Editor Terra Lannoo BV, ISBN 9789089892850. Original Issue: Piet Oudolf Landscapes in Landscapes, 2010, Dutch edition 2011.