Histoire culturelle de l'Europe

Joost Emmerik et Saskia de Wit

Longing for a landscape lost



Dans la métropole contemporaine, le paysage – jadis le contrepoids « vide » de la ville – est progressivement intégré à un champ de fragments, un environnement instable et dynamique dans lequel les éléments de la ville se réorganisent en un territoire urbanisé sans limites. L’ancien « dehors » étant désormais absorbé par l’urbanité et le paysage en train d’être évincé, le désir ardent du paysage devient une urgence collective, une réaction naturelle à ce qui est en train de disparaître. Il y a un besoin de nouveaux espaces extérieurs, d’évasions temporaires ; les jardins publics peuvent répondre à ce besoin. Ils constituent des espaces en dehors du réseau de circulation et des principales structures urbaines, des refuges éloignés du domaine public, des « espaces marginaux », recoupant les théories et les pratiques de l’urbanisme contemporain et faisant intervenir les fonctions sociales et écologiques des « espaces verts » et des espaces de loisirs « naturels ». Leur seuil et leur clôture leur permettent d’être des représentations du paysage et de la nature en tant que catalyseurs de la contemplation, de la mémoire et de la mélancolie, exprimant le désir d’être connecté à la nature, de faire partie de quelque chose de plus grand que soi. Dans leur référence au paysage, des exemples tels que le jardin du cimetière de Brion (Carlo Scarpa & Pietro Porcinai 1969-1978, IT), le jardin de la Bibliothèque Nationale de France (Dominique Perrault et Erik Jacobsen 1988-96, F) et l'Observatorium Nieuw-Terbregge (Observatorium 2001, NL) ont pour mission d'évoquer les souvenirs et les sentiments d’un passé révolu, d’un paysage rempli d’associations, de fantômes, de reliques de ce qui n’existe plus, ainsi que d’un avenir inconnu.


In the contemporary metropolis, the landscape – once the ‘empty’ counterweight of the city – is gradually being incorporated in a field of fragments, an unstable, dynamic environment in which the elements of the city re-array themselves into an unbounded urbanised territory. With the previous ‘outside’ now absorbed in the realm of urbanity and the landscape being ousted, the longing for landscape becomes a collective urgency as a natural reaction to that which is disappearing. There is a need for new outside spaces, for temporary escapes ; public gardens can provide for this need. Public gardens are spaces outside the network of movement and main urban structures, places of refuge, at a distance from the public domain, ‘marginal spaces’, cutting across theories and practices of contemporary urbanism involving the social and ecological functionality of ‘green spaces’ and ‘natural’ leisure resorts. Their threshold and enclosure allow them to be representations of landscape and nature as catalysts of contemplation, memory and melancholy, expressing a longing for being connected to nature, to be part of something larger than oneself. In their reference to landscape, examples such as the Brion Cemetery Garden (Carlo Scarpa & Pietro Porcinai 1969-78, IT), the garden of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France (Dominique Perrault & Erik Jacobsen 1988-96, F) and the Observatorium Nieuw-Terbregge (Observatorium 2001, NL) have the agency to evoke memories and feelings of a past that no longer exists, a landscape filled with associations, ghosts, relics of that which is no longer there, as well as of an unknown future.

Texte intégral

1One of the qualities of gardens is that they can be places of direct experience and practice, and at the same time evoke and refer to different places, to specific or mythical landscapes. If both aspects are expressed in their design, they can act as liminal places between the real and the imagined, emphasising « the poignancy of passage, the melancholy of that which is near yet lingers on the edge of the unattainable1 ». Gardens have always referred to landscapes : medieval gardens referred to the Biblical Eden, Renaissance gardens to the mythical natural landscapes of the Antiques, English landscape gardens to the ideal Arcadian landscapes of Greece and Italy, mid-century Danish gardens to the agricultural Danish landscape, to name a few. In our contemporary metropolitan landscape the role of landscape has shifted and diminished. The diminishing of the open landscape evokes a sense of loss, of longing, to what was there before, and thus, we suggest, the potential of the garden to recover this loss, has only gained value.

2That what is considered the landscape – once the ‘empty’ counterweight of the city – is gradually being incorporated in the field of fragments that constitutes the contemporary metropolis, an unstable, dynamic environment in which the elements of the city re-array themselves into an unbounded metropolitan territory. Because nowadays virtually everyone is connected to everyone through digital and physical infrastructure, we can be urbanites without living in the confines of the city, and the open landscape that doesn’t appear to be urban at all – the original antithesis of the city – has become as much part of the metropolitan territory as condensed city centres, suburbs and industrial areas.

3This disappearance of clear boundaries brings along a sense of insecurity, and along with exhilarating new possibilities, a longing for landscapes lost. As the Finnish architect Juhani Pallasmaa observed, « melancholy is the recognition of the tragic dimension within the moment of bliss. This mental state combines happiness and sadness, understanding and bewilderment, into a heightened experience of being. Melancholy is the sorrow accompanying the comprehension of limits2 ».

4With the previous ‘outside’ now absorbed in the realm of urbanity and the landscape being ousted, the longing for landscape becomes a collective urgency, as a natural response to that which is disappearing. The rationalization of the landscape, for example, goes against the grain with many people ; the contemporary landscape has often become too commonplace to tempt us mythically and the landscapes that can evoke these feelings are physically too far away from our living realm. As anthropologist and philosopher Ton Lemaire described in Binnenwegen [Inner Roads], the spirit of modernity makes its mark on a landscape that is becoming increasingly uniform and in which soulful and historically laden places are replaced by generic non-places. It is as if the contemporary metropolitan landscape searches again and again for ways to recover the mythical spaces that have fled for its noisy rise ; as if reason tries to catch a glimpse of the myth that it has destroyed by its coming ; as if urbanites need a touch of exoticism to endure their lives3. Thus, within the contemporary metropolis there appears to be a need for new outside spaces, for temporary escapes that trigger memories and associations of the open landscape. Places where « landscape design is employed to recall this lost base4 ».

5Public gardens specifically, have a sociological dimension besides those pertaining to cultural history, landscape architecture and urban politics. Where the park functions as an ambivalent anonymous space for a multicultural audience, the public garden has a more specific meaning, with a particular ambiance. Just as private gardens, they are not freely accessible : they include a physical, and/or mental threshold, and « the individual has to submit to rites and purifications. To get in one must have a certain permission and make certain gestures5 ». However, unlike in private gardens the user is a different person than the maker, and the intentions of the maker do not necessarily reflect those of the user. Thus, public gardens are particularly interesting, since they solely rely on how much the physical design is capable of evoking certain meanings, narratives, images for a visitor who might not be aware of the intended ones. The public garden is a generator for different interpretations. They can act as spaces aside of the public domain of daily life, while relating to their surroundings at the same time. By escaping the metropolitan condition, taking a distance to reflect, places without demands on the person to buy something, to do something, to take action. How can contemporary public gardens be spaces of melancholy, evoking a mythical landscape, and thus offering places to remind us of our own mortality, the ephemerality of life and the hegemony of nature ?

6We have selected three cases of contemporary public gardens that might shed a light on this question : the Brion Cemetery Garden in the Veneto, the garden of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France in Paris, and the Observatorium Nieuw-Terbregge in Rotterdam. A narrative of reflections on landscape and landscape representations, ghosts and ruins will be used as a lens to compare them. At first sight, apart from all three being public gardens, the cases don’t seem to have much in common. In many ways the baroque and fragmented quality of Scarpa’s work can be regarded as an opposition to the structured, rational quality of Perrault’s, and the refined and almost exaggerated attention to detail of both seems opposed to the coarseness of reused motorway materials of the Observatorium. What they have in common is that all three consciously and explicitly elaborate on interpretations of the theme of the ruin as the evocation of melancholy par excellence, as well as the reference to landscapes that are ‘lost’ in one way or another. It is exactly their different expression of both themes that make it worthwhile to compare them. The one is a representation of the ruins of long gone and distant landscapes, the second a fragment of a landscape distant in space but not in time, the third appears to be a ruin of the motorway landscape it looks out on, reflecting on a possible future.

The ghost of a place

7The connection between landscape and melancholy (with an emphasis on the feeling this combination evokes) was brought forward in the Romantic idea of the spirit of place, the genius loci : the ghost that is rooted in a place but is not physically present. The notion of ghosts belonged to the Romantic paradigm that had the subjective experience at its core. The 19th-century author of supernatural fiction Vernon Lee wrote :

The ghost […] is the damp, the darkness, the silence, the solitude ; a ghost is the sound of our steps through a ruined cloister, where the ivy-berries and convolvulus growing in the fissures sway up and down among the sculptured foliage of the windows […]. Each and all of these things, and a hundred others besides, according to our nature, is a ghost, a vague feeling we can scarcely describe, a something pleasing and terrible which invades our whole consciousness6.

8Here the ghost is not only in the landscape, it is the landscape ; no separation exists between ghost and place, and we have a bodily response to it ; it affects us in the moment. This « substrate of potential bodily responses7 » that resides in a location connects the material realm of the natural, of the physical landscape, to the ephemeral plane of the supernatural. Moreover, any spirit is also linked to the past. Layers of memory and action are embedded in the landscape alongside the layering of the earth’s history in stone.

9Thus, the idea of the ghost is relevant not because of its Romantic reference to the supernatural and otherworldly, but because it is (also) exactly the opposite : the physical reality of a place, which evokes a bodily response because of its sensorial qualities, as well as because of the memory of its past states. It is this combination of strong sensorial qualities and perceivable, but imperfect, traces of the past that might evoke a sense of melancholy. Gardens can be a reference to something else, something lost, while at the same time being contemporary, affective places, that evoke a direct physical, bodily response : inviting for both perception and action.

Fragments of lost and faraway worlds

10This liminal condition between the tactile, sensorial and physical here and now, and the evocations of a mysterious past exists in the cemetery garden for the wealthy Brion family in the broad plain of the Veneto at the foot of the Asolo hills, the foothills of the Alps. Here lies the village of San Vito between cornfields and vineyards, where Giuseppe Brion was born and wanted to be buried. When Giuseppe Brion died in 1968, his family bought a large, L-shaped piece of land of two hundred square metres around the existing cemetery in which to house his tomb. Next to the Brion family, Carlo Scarpa, who died in 1978, is buried here as well, in his own work.

The Brion Tomb and Sanctuary

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by Carlo Scarpa. Montage of fragments with precisely choreographed view towards the town church.

Joost Emmerik, 2016

11One could argue that any cemetery is a place of melancholy, but it is mostly a place of sadness and grief. The exuberance of the Brion Cemetery Garden expresses a joie de vivre, and it is exactly this contradictory combination of joy and sorrow, which cause this mixed sensation of melancholy. « The realization that architecture mediates between these two realms [of life and death] is soothing, but, at the same time, the presence of death evokes a sense of melancholy8 ». The garden, designed by the Italian architect Carlo Scarpa in collaboration with the landscape architect Pietro Porcinai, was conceived as an endless work and intended to interpret the time of maturation. Like many of Scarpa’s designs the design took years to complete, evolving in close participation with the client. As Barbieri and Mazzariol qualify Scarpa’s architecture, the resulting work remains open, as a palimpsest to which he could add9. Scarpa said about the cemetery garden : « I consider this work, if you permit me, to be rather good and [something] which will even get better over time10 ».

12The cemetery garden is attached to the existing village cemetery, and the ensemble lies in a sea of maize as if it is an island, and is linked to the village by a long cypress-lined avenue. The avenue continues as the main pathway in the grid of the existing cemetery, with the entrance to the garden as its end point. Within this massive concrete entrance portico narrow steps to the left of the axis lead down to the garden, where the axial structure immediately dissolves into a labyrinthine system of paths.

13The nebulous metropolis of the Veneto consists of a network of many small towns and cities and despite the still rural atmosphere, the city is never far away. This is also reflected in the garden, where fragments of the city appear among the multiple images of nature, consisting of the bounding concrete walls, within which buildings and cypress trees rise like church spires. ‘Streets’ link the buildings, with a ‘square’ for the chapel and a garden behind it. At the same time the garden contains an assemblage of images that evoke the natural landscape ; miniature gardens represent the Arcadian landscape and create points of rest in the architectonic labyrinth. A bosco, a grotto, a hidden garden, a flower-speckled meadow and a reflecting pool are connected by precisely choreographed views to the surrounding agricultural landscape : over the walls, in between buildings, through windows and along the entrance pathway.

The Brion Tomb and Sanctuary

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by Carlo Scarpa. The reflecting pool with a view over the wall to the surrounding landscape.

Joost Emmerik, 2016

14In the garden a chapel, a family vault, a tomb with an arched concrete canopy and a water pavilion identify four distinctive parts. It is a silent place of remembrance for those who died, a space where the living can express their grief, as well as an exuberant inducement for reflection on history and time, on place and the world. At the same time it is intended for the villagers as a place for picnics and playing games. Scarpa made the former private burial ground public and created « a public open space for the little town11 ». He saw his cemetery as civic in nature, as a place for picnics and play as well as for meditation on the great questions of life, death, nature, and society12.

15Each part in itself is composed as a montage of fragments, with excessive and exaggerated details and proceeding by means of breaks and conflicts, eluding the completeness of any ordering or systematic arrangement. These juxtaposed fragments relate to the whole from which they emerge as well as to their new context, the montage of which they have become part. Thus, a multiplicity of meanings emerges with the juxtaposition of fragments and opens horizons for possible interpretations. Both the openness in the design process, adding new elements over time, and the openness in the design, allowing the imagination to make its own connections and interpretations, give the garden the presence of a ruin : an image of transience, as well as of timelessness – eternity. This reference to ruins is deeply ingrained in Scarpa’s work and way of working, a reference nurtured by his long period in Venice, with its inevitable decay and dereliction13. As in a theatre the garden introduces numerous cultures from all over the world, and ancient civilisations from back in time, containing allusions to history and geography, to Venetian, Roman and Byzantine civilizations, to Mediterranean and Japanese landscapes. The various images are held together visually by the uniform materiality of concrete and grass, and spatially by the sturdy reinforced concrete boundary wall, within which each fragment finds its position in relation to its neighbour, to the wall and to their specific view to the surrounding landscape. Each place is linked both to cosmopolitan images and to the landscape, resembling both city and garden. These traces of time, with their inevitable sense of ruinosity and decay, sit at the intersection of temporal and spatial liminality – the passage from one domain into another, from life into death, from past into present, from imaginary into real landscapes, a mixture of tragedy and joy.

16The labyrinthine composition of the Brion Garden, with its fragments of stairs, water-elements and walls, partly overgrown with ivy, unmistakably has a ruinous quality. Moreover it makes it impossible to overview the garden, but invites the visitor to ramble, to move, to feel his muscles by moving up and down on stairs and ramps, to touch the water and the stones, invited by the glittering mosaic tiles and wondering about the contrast with the rough concrete, in short, evoking a direct bodily response. The way the composition joins the incongruous components into a new whole, connecting the present landscape, visible over the wall, to fictitious landscapes of an Arcadian past, life to death, joy to sorrow, creates all the conditions of a place suspended in time, a liminal garden as a place of melancholy.

A frozen fragment of nature

17Unlike the Brion Cemetery Garden as an archive of imaginary places, the garden of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France in Paris provides a single, unified image. The garden is a fragment in itself, as a reference to another, real space. Opposed to the imaginative collage of fragments in the Brion garden, this is a meticulous reproduction of a real fragment of a forest, seemingly true to nature, that evokes the confusing double reference to both the forest from which it originates, and to the library, where it resides. The library suggests to be constructed around a piece of pre-existing forest with its natural processes of growth and decline, consciously unarranged : nature as a component of the metropolis.

The inclusion of an ‘inlaid’, sunken garden rounds off the symbolic siting of the project, offering a quiet spot away from the fuss and bother of the city. Like a cloister, this tranquil, unruffled space will invite contemplation and a flowering of intellectual endeavour14.

18The library was designed by Dominique Perrault (1996), who enlisted landscape architect Erik Jacobsen to realise the garden.

Bibliothèque Nationale de France

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The library suggests to be constructed around a piece of pre-existing forest.

Saskia de Wit, 2008

19The building is located on the left bank of the river Seine near the Tolbiac bridge in the thirteenth arrondissement. It forms the centrepiece of a renovation programme to revitalize a rundown area that was originally used by railroads and abandoned factories and warehouses. They are replaced by offices, social and private housing, cultural centres and a new university. The position and design of the library exemplifies the claim of Perrault, in response to the increasing complexity and density resulting from the continuous transformation of the metropolitan landscape, that architecture can no longer function on its own, but should be used to define specific territories. To achieve this, the library was built around a garden, conceived as an urban space in the sequence of large urban voids along the river Seine : Place de la Concorde, Champs de Mars, Invalides. In the past these large urban spaces marked major changes in the urban structure, development cores as open spaces contrasting to the dense urban mass they bring about. « The greatest gift which it is possible to give to Paris today, would be an offer of space, of emptiness : in a word, an open place, free and moving15 ». Although in space, image and (lack of) programme detached from the urban context, the grand gesture of the void transcends its own location, and it becomes both a core for large-scale developments (time) and a beacon in the urban lay out (space).

20The simplicity of the design is enhanced by an explicit symmetry around the open core, which is set in a large podium with four 25-storey L-shaped towers arranged at the corners. The podium is set at a horizontal plane, connecting the library to the sloping grounds of the river valley. At the side facing away from the river, the podium touches the ground ; the stairs at the other three sides connect the podium to the valley. The design is based on the concept of the cloister, with all reading facilities looking into the inner garden through glass walls.

21Although itself inaccessible, the garden – like the Brion garden – invites the visitor to move : « an initiatory itinerary proceeding away from the hubbub towards hush, away from consumer information towards the date required for selecting books – a walk that plunges the reader into a journey of exploration into the knowledge and learning of humankind16 », as Perrault described it. Approaching from the densely-built urban area, the library remains hidden from view, but at the riverside its high towers announce the building from afar, their collective shapes suggesting the shape of the hidden garden inside. Monumental stairs provide access from the street to the podium, from here one reaches the escalators in order to descend halfway down into the sunken garden. At that point a platform, like a balcony overlooking the garden, accesses the library. Going up in order to go down makes the experience of entering the library into a conscious journey, a carefully staged procession with different phases and a clear purpose – the gaining of knowledge in the books of the library – emphasizing the sacred character of the library. The route is like a narrative, for which visual and kinaesthetic clues provide the sentences : the steepness of slopes, steps, entrances, and vistas. The climax of the procession is the garden. Coming from the street, the podium hides the garden from view, so that once the podium is climbed, the garden comes as a surprise. At first the garden was conceived to be accessible, and bridges would cross the space. It was executed however, as an inaccessible space, and this inaccessibility enhances a sense of melancholy, of that which is near yet lingers on the edge of the unattainable.

22In the garden everything is subordinate to the dominating image of a primordial forest, framed in a box with a clearly defined size and shape. This image is achieved by transplanting 250 mature Scots pines (Pinus sylvestris) from the Fôret de Bord in Normandy, trees that had had the chance to grow for over 40 years in their natural form. Oaks, birches, and beeches from nurseries complemented the pine trees, on a carpet of heather and ferns. The transplanted trees give a sense of timelessness to the garden, suggesting the building to be built around this piece of forest.

23Outside the garden, sitting on a chair to read a book with a view on the garden, a multitude of spaces and locations incongruous with each other exists. The trees obscure the view of the facade on the opposite side, suggesting an unbounded landscape space. The visitor however, stays outside the space, separated by a glass facade, without further sensory stimuli to enhance the sense of landscape space, as if it is a fictional landscape that is conjured up by the book he is reading, a fragment of reality like a ruin of the real forest it is taken from. The natural landscape and the man-made library merge, like a ruin merges with the nature that is slowly taking over, a merging that evokes a melancholic longing for something that cannot be quite grasped but seems to be getting lost. The merged image of garden and library by means of « collage, wrapping, cut-up, enshrinement, inclusion, disappearance17 » as Dominique Perrault sums up, is a manipulation of reality that consciously infuses the architecture with a ruinous quality, and evokes the presence of nature in culture in the way Ton Lemaire described ruins : it is culture that returns to nature, against which it was raised as protection18.

24So here again, it is the appearance of the garden as a fragment of something bigger and elsewhere that gives the space its ruinous quality. Even more than in the previous example, the interaction between nature and culture has been taken to the extreme : an explicitly, clean-cut cultural expression that gives the floor to a seemingly wild natural landscape. Another contrast, that between the route that is instigated by the garden, followed by the disappointment of that same garden to be unattainable. It is so close and yet so far, which makes the idea of a walk under the pine trees even more attractive. The bodily experience of being in the climatized library is opposed to the bodily experience that the view evokes: that of the soft forest floor, the rain, the hard pine branches, the irregular patches of light and shade. Seeing this and not being able to feel it, only to imagine what it would feel like creates a sense of melancholy as the « the sorrow accompanying the comprehension of limits19 ».

A reverse ruin

25As a reverse ruin and a garden at the same time the Observatorium Nieuw-Terbregge, a public garden just outside Rotterdam in the Netherlands, has the curious property of being in relation with the surrounding urban landscape and yet contradicting it. The artist group Observatorium created this garden on a noise barrier that separates the housing estate Nieuw-Terbregge from the adjoining motorway, connecting the separate worlds of suburban quiet and motorway speed and noise20. They define their work as « points, in which you can see a reflection of the environment, as though in a distorting mirror21 ». The majority of their works are built objects in public space, to be colonised by the public. These works attempt to provide a focus that invites people to look inwards or just outwards, towards the surrounding landscape, to shed their daily preoccupations and invite them into action or contemplation.

Observatorium Nieuw-Terbregge

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The garden is set on a dike between the A20 motorway and a housing estate.

Observatorium, 2002

26Nieuw Terbregge was a leftover space of farmland and meadows between the A20 motorway and the small River Rotte, that was transformed into a low-density housing estate from 1999 onwards. An embankment of two kilometres long, 60 metres wide and twelve metres high, holding storage for contaminated sludge from the Port of Rotterdam, separated the grounds from the motorway. Its size was dictated by the economics of sludge storage ; the size of the housing estate was dictated by the size of the barrier that now protects its residents against the pollution and noise of the motorway. In 2001 a public park was created on the noise barrier, designed by the urban planning department of Rotterdam. The profile of the noise barrier has been adapted to accommodate the park, with a wide, flattened top, sheltered from the motorway by a higher ridge. To the west are plantations, opening up to the east to a cluster of sports fields. In the middle part fields and plantations alternate, and here the garden was conceived, folded over the crest of the dike.

27The garden consists of an open space, framed by an exhibition pavilion, a viewing point, and a gabion wall. The exhibition space opens up towards the garden like a gallery. The viewing point opens to the sky, like a catwalk. Not only in location and spatial form, but also in materiality the garden connects the separate worlds of motorway and suburb. Suburban features – garden, home, window, staircase – were projected onto the dike and constructed with the materials of the motorway : the slope is covered in floes of recycled asphalt, creating irregular stairs, and the constructions are made of crash-barriers. The original meaning of the asphalt and the crash barriers is lost; the garden is like an abandoned ritual place where the content of the religion has been lost. Hence, the garden contains poetry and space for reverie.

28While the garden slopes down towards the toe of the noise barrier, the projecting frame of a building – offering views of the traffic jams on the busy A20, the motorway junction Terbregseplein, and the skyline of Rotterdam – betrays the existence of the housing estate behind the noise barrier to the motorist. « The structure confronts unsuspecting residents behind the noise barrier visually with the spoils of the motorway that they would rather be spared, though they use it to get to town every day nevertheless22 ».

29The underlying reclamation polder landscape (a small corner of the Prins Alexanderpolder), with its grasslands, ditches and windmills, has been eradicated by the motorway, the estate and the embankment, which in its turn has been disguised into a suburban park. The garden, lower than the top of the embankment, reveals the nature of the embankment, suggesting the grass cover has been removed, exposing the landfill material underneath. Viewed from the motorway, the garden refers to nature in two different ways. The manmade waste material of the asphalt floes has a strong natural appearance, referring to solidified waterfalls, avalanches, or lava flows. Over the year slowly the weeds start filling the cracks, turning the abstraction of the asphalt floor into a flowery mead, to be removed all at once, after which the cycle starts over again.

30The floor of the garden follows the contours of the embankment, folded over its crest. At one side of the dike the garden is quiet and partitioned off from its immediate surroundings, while the other side is noisy and visible for the 300.000 passing vehicles a day. The contradiction between the idyllic garden and the roughness of the motorway is contained within the framework of an orthogonal system, where length, width and height are all in harmonic proportions to each other. The two horizontal volumes framing the garden are folded upward and downward to form pavilion and belvedere. The pavilion is shifted towards the housing estate, the viewpoint towards the motorway, extending horizontally from the crown of the dike, to provide orientation and allow a spectacular panorama on the flowscape. The form of the dike was exploited to create many contrasts in one space: quiet and noisy, sheltered and exposed, inward and outward, horizontal and vertical. The garden is a moment of standstill, recording the speed of the flowscape, of the passing cars, but also of its continuous transformations. While the context keeps changing, the garden remains.

Observatorium Nieuw-Terbregge

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The garden is constructed with the materials of the motorway.

Observatorium, 2002

31The artificial ruin of the Observatorium has an effect comparable with memento mori motifs. Where in the paintings of Casper David Friedrich and his contemporaries the vastness of natural elements like sea, mountain or sky evoked these feelings, in the case of the Observatorium it is the overwhelming size and the alienation of the motorway that makes us humans feel small, ephemeral and subject to forces beyond our control. The contemporary ruin also has another effect : « Ruins allow us, visitors, to see the present as a future past23 ». The Observatorium – a fixed construction in a dynamic environment – functions as a preview into an unknown future beyond our human lives where the motorway is no longer in use or maintained. It brings to mind the future decay of what we currently see.

32The visual appearance of the garden is an unambiguous reference to the urban landscape of the motorway, but the bodily response to the floes of asphalt gives a very different signal : that of negotiating a natural, mountainous landscape, where one carefully has to seek one’s footing. This garden presents many dual messages : nature and culture, the earthly presence of the here and now and the reference to future decay, alienation and banality, fun and contemplation. This in-betweenness, falling outside the clearly classifiable, the passing from one domain into another, characterises the state of melancholy as the apprehension of limits.

Artificial ruins in the margins of the programmed city

33Most urban green spaces (private gardens, parks, city gardens, botanical gardens, playgrounds) are fully programmed, corresponding to the hard lines of urbanity. They have defined programmes and require specific abilities from their visitors, physical or social ones, but always the same, « increasingly sophisticated and prepackaged, spectacular ‘pseudo-situations’ that falsely promise liberty of choice and action […] designed public spaces that may seem, at first glance, to be looser than they actually prove to be when used24 ». Where in the traditional city ‘outside’ meant the ubiquitous natural landscape that surrounded the ‘inside’ of cultivated cores, in the ubiquitous metropolitan landscape nature is pushed back to some protected wilderness cores. Outside doesn’t seem to exist anymore.

34Places outside do exist, though, in gardens such as the ones discussed, accessible for anyone, yet removed from the urban flows. Not far away, at the edges of the civilised world, but nearby, in the margins of the metropolitan landscape, places of refuge at a distance from the public domain and aside from the network of movement and from main urban structures, hidden behind walls, screens or buildings. Gardens can be such places outside, places of resistance. Here the quality of outside can be celebrated, in places « foreign to the urban system, mentally exterior in the physical interior of the city, its negative image, as much a critique as a possible alternative25 ». They are disjointed from the spatial structure of the programmed city, from function and direction, from the regulated space of society, from the generic reality of the metropolitan condition, from the ‘everywhere’.

35The garden has, and always had, the power to thrive outside existing formal structures. In an essay discussing the Jardin de Julie, the fictional garden in Rousseau’s La Nouvelle Héloïse (1761), the French philosopher Louis Marin emphasised the quality of the garden as a marginal, disjointed space, a configuration that eludes normative expectations as far as function and direction are concerned. The garden can be viewed as a traverse, cutting across the rigidity of contemporary urbanism that involves « green spaces » and « natural » leisure resorts :

You who construct gardens, no longer make parks, or green spaces; make margins. Do not make leisure and game terrains; make places of jouissance, make closures which are openings; do not make imaginary objects, make fictions26.

36What seems to be a margin in the urban tissue can prove to be a meaningful space upon entering; what is closed off from the public gaze, can become an opening onto the landscape with all of its memories and associations. The meaningfulness of these « liminal enclaves between outside and inside, town and country, social space and private space27 » lies in their potential to evoke both playfulness and sorrow. Their liminality between the metropolitan landscape and the ‘outside’ between culture and nature is derived from the physical and representational qualities these gardens have, much alike those of ruins, as the discussed examples illustrate.

37In his 1919 essay Die Ruine, Georg Simmel described the ruin as an expression of the power struggle between the will of the human spirit and the natural processes, as discussed by Ellen Braae :

In the ruin, what is missing and destroyed is replaced by something else ; the remnant is unified with nature as it takes the place of what is lost and a new characteristic whole is created. This displacement where nature strikes back so to speak at the man-made, contains both a comic tragedy and an element of melancholy28.

38Ruins have been a major theme in gardens over the centuries and the interest in ruins has deep cultural implications. We are culturally conditioned to historical awareness and are particularly attentive to time and temporality. Contemporary awareness can be seen as an interest in the aesthetics of decay, similar to the Baroque use of ruins as a motif. During the Baroque allegories were objects of a static reading strategy. The prevailing vanitas motifs – including ruins – had a memento mori function to remind us of our own mortality, the ephemerality of life and the hegemony of nature. Also, in the ruin, as all the secondary elements had faded and disappeared, the architectural structure and the main principle of the architecture became starkly visible. During the XVIIIth century another paradox was added to the value of ruins : on the one hand the ruin is an image of decay and transience, on the other it represents timelessness – eternity. Hence, it is associated with permanence and impermanence, with the presence and absence of time. In the picturesque garden the incomplete and random were juxtaposed in humorous, complex and changing compositions ; the ruin’s special attraction was that it was incomplete and could only be completed by an act of the imagination.

39Today, we attribute value to the ruin for its ‘ruinosity’ rather than for being a motif referring to the past. Tim Edensor writes how ruins « function like Rubin’s vase/profile illusion, allowing the viewer to see the intact object and its disappearance at the same time29 », provoking melancholic contemplation, as the beholder mentally reconstructs that which is no longer whole. The ruinous denotes oscillation, change, devastation, decay and a never-ending project, and – like the montage of fragments of the Brion Cemetery Garden – it offers freedom of interpretation and possibilities for constructing new parts and wholes30. Ruins are liminal spaces. Having lost their function they stand outside society, outside daily life and at the same time in a relationship with the real space of society.

40The contemporary gardens discussed here have a ruinous quality without being ruins, appearing as fragments of both the reality of the metropolitan landscape and the imaginary landscapes of an ideal nature, fragments that « tremble at the threshold between wholeness and partialness; [engaging] the mind in imaginative reconstruction. […] Delicate, yet persisting in time and space, fragments, ruins, as pieces of a whole, are suspended within the ambivalence of melancholy31 ». The bodily response that these gardens evoke places them in the reality of everyday, and it is just this bodily response which makes their reference to past realities, to distant landscapes so haunting and real. The everyday and the extraordinary, the inclusive and the hidden, the joy and the tragedy, the dual emotions that characterise melancholy, come together in a way that only gardens can offer.


1  Jacky Bowring, Melancholy and the landscape. Locating Sadness, Memory and Reflection in the Landscape, Londres, Routledge, 2017.

2  Peter MacKeith (éd.), Encounters 1. Architectural essays, Helsinki, Rakennustieto, 2012, p. 316.

3  Ton Lemaire, Binnenwegen, Baarn, Ambo, 1988, p. 67, 123.

4  Wouter Reh, in an interview with the authors (11-10-2016).

5  Michel Foucault, « Of Other Spaces », in Jane Collins / Andrew Nisbet (dir.), Theatre and Performance Design. A Reader in Scenography, Londres, New York, Routledge, 2012, p. 79.

6  Vernon Lee, [1898], « Faustus and Helena. Notes on the Supernatural in Art », in Catherine Maxwell / Patricia Pulham (éd.), Hauntings and Other Fantastic Tales, Peterborough ON, Broadview Press, 2006, p. 310.

7  Patricia Clough / Jean Halley, The Affective Turn. Theorizing the Social, Durham, Duke University Press, 2007, p. 2.

8  Peter MacKeith, op. cit., p. 317.

9  Giuseppe Mazzariol / Giuseppe Barbieri, « The life of Carlo Scarpa », in Carlo Scarpa, the complete works, Milan, New York, Electa / Rizzoli, 1984, p. 14.

10  Canadian Centre for Architecture, Carlo Scarpa Architect, intervening with history, Montréal, The Monacelli Press, 1999, p. 125.

11  Ibid., p. 129.

12  Ibid.

13  Giuseppe Mazzariol / Giuseppe Barbieri, op. cit., p. 11.

14  Francine Fort (dir.), Dominique Perrault, Zurich, Artemis, 1994, p. 62.

15  Daniel Renoult, « The Bibliothèque Nationale de France. A National Library for the 21st Century », in Terry D. Webb (dir.), Building Libraries for the 21st Century, Caroline du Nord, McFarland, 2000, p. 231-251.

16  Francine Fort, op. cit., p. 63.

17  Dominique Perrault, Des natures, Lucerne, Edition Architekturgalerie, 1996, p. 8.

18  Ton Lemaire, Filosofie van het landschap, Schoten, AMBO, 1970, p. 166.

19  Juhani Pallasmaa in Peter MacKeith (éd.), op. cit., p. 316.

20  Observatorium is a collaboration between four artists (Geert van de Camp, Andre Dekker, Lieven Poutsma and Ruud Reutelingsperger) aiming to create relationships between art, landscape and society.

21  Geert van de Camp, in « Introduction to Big Pieces of Time », by Observatorium, Rotterdam, 010 Publishers, 2010, p. 14.

22  Christian Welzbacher, « The public side of the private – and vice versa », in Big Pieces of Time, by Observatorium, Rotterdam, 010 Publishers, 2010, p. 84.

23  Ton Lemaire, op. cit., p. 166. (« Ruïnes staan ons, toeschouwers, toe om ons heden als toekomstig verleden te zien »).

24  Patrick Barron / Manuela Mariani, Terrain Vague; Interstices at the Edge of the Pale, Londres, Routledge, 2013, p. 1.

25  Ignasi de Solà-Morales, « Terrain Vague », in Manuela Mariani / Barron Patrick (dir.), Terrain Vague. Interstices at the edge of the Pale, Londres, Routledge, 2014, p. 26.

26  Louis Marin, Lectures traversières, Paris, Albin Michel, 1992, p. 87.

27  John Dixon Hunt, « Come into the Garden, Maud. Garden Art as a Privileged Mode of Commemoration and identity », in Joachim Wolschke-Bulmahn (dir.), Places of Commemoration. Search for Identity and Landscape Design, Washington, Dumbarton Oaks, 2001, p. 20.

28  Ellen Braae, Beauty redeemed; recycling post-industrial landscapes, Riskov, Ikaros Press, 2015, p. 182.

29  George Steinmetz, African Air, New York, Abrams, 2008, p. 232.

30  Ellen Braae, op. cit., p. 176-189.

31  Jacky Bowring, op. cit.

Pour citer ce document

Joost Emmerik et Saskia de Wit, «Longing for a landscape lost», Histoire culturelle de l'Europe [En ligne], Prochains numéros, Jardin et mélancolie en Europe entre le XVIIIe siècle et l’époque contemporaine, Jardin et mémoire : préserver, partager, transmettre,mis à jour le : 12/11/2019,URL : http://www.unicaen.fr/mrsh/hce/index.php?id=1343

Quelques mots à propos de : Joost Emmerik

Joost Emmerik, MSc, is an independent garden designer and researcher. He studied architecture and urban design at the University of Technology in Delft (NL). Since his graduation in 2004 he has been working in the domain of garden and landscape architecture, working amongst others at West 8 Urban Design & Landscape Architecture and Karres + Brands Landscape Architecture and Urban Planning. Emmerik is visiting lecturer at Technical University Delft and member of the Talent Development Advisory Committee of the Creative Industries Fund. Currently he is working on several private gardens and a research on the representation of the larger landscape within the enclosed space of the garden.

Quelques mots à propos de : Saskia de Wit

University of Technology, Delft

Saskia de Wit, PhD, is landscape architect and assistant professor at the University of Technology in Delft. She studied landscape architecture at Wageningen University and architecture and urbanism at the University of Technology in Delft (NL). She worked as a designer at Jacobsen Landscape Architects (Cheltenham UK), at the Department for Urbanism and Housing in Rotterdam and leads her own office Saskia de Wit tuin en landschap (Amsterdam NL), with realized works in the Netherlands and Switzerland. She organised seminars and lecture series, and has been a member of several juries. She has published The Enclosed Garden (co-author Rob Aben ; 010 Publishers, 1999), Dutch Lowlands (SUN publishers, 2009), Hidden landscapes - the metropolitan garden and the genius loci (Architectura & Natura 2018) and other books, papers and articles on landscape architecture.