The Poetics of Gardens

Charles Willard Moore, Author, William J. Mitchell, Author, William Turnbull, Author MIT Press (MA) $80 (269p) ISBN 978-0-262-13231-2
An ambitious and highly idiosyncratic work, this offers an invaluable bird's- and worm's-eye view of gardensaround the world and over the span of human historyas highly-wrought artifacts and everyday dwelling-places. With erudition and uncommon imagination, the authors consider the history and anthropology of gardens, their evolving esthetic principles, their architecture, their place in philosophy and literature, and the purposes they have served in religion, deftly compressing encyclopedic findings in urbane prose. They discuss the raw materials of garden sites, provide a ``catalogue of compositional strategies'' for gardeners, define types of gardens in terms of form and function, offer a sweeping survey of cultivated landscapesfrom ancient Rome's to Walt Disney'sand conclude by summoning a pantheon of illustrious gardeners, thinkers and outspoken bystanders (Vita Sackville-West, Lucian, Frank Lloyd Wright, King Kong) to discuss, in a perceptive and madcap fantasy colloquy, some practical problems of design facing contemporary American gardeners. Moore, Mitchell and Turnbull view gardens as ``rhetorical landscapes'' to be ``read for content''; to them, ``A garden path can become the thread of a plot'' that leads us to the heart of a culture when the garden's ``devices of structure and figure and trope'' are analyzed. Yet their richly illustrated book is also a spirited travel guide, evoking the ``garden palace'' of the Alhambra and the ``anorexic palm trees of Beverly Hills, poking at a smog-bruised sky.'' They appraise horticultural marvels, but also those of civilization at large. Theirs is an exhilarating sourcebook, an exemplary refuge for the restless gardener's imaginationone to savor and ponder as an essential on the shelf. Moore is O'Neil Ford Professor of Architecture at the University of Texas at Austin; Mitchell is a professor of architecture at Harvard; and Turnbull is a founder of William Turnbull Associates, San Francisco, an architectural firm. (Nov.)
Reviewed on: 11/03/1988
Release date: 11/01/1988
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