After half a century of describing landscape history as an emerging discipline, it is safe to say it has arrived. The recent series of Berkeley/Design/Books is evidence of the transition from fledgling discipline to one expanding the histories of built environments. The series specifically argues for the importance of reassessing the narratives of modernism in architecture and landscape architecture by investigating a diversity of regional responses to landscape and culture. Edited by Marc Treib and published by William Stout Publishers with the College of Environmental Design at the University of California Berkeley, the series explores the regional modernism of California's Bay Area architects and landscape architects.
The series was launched in 2004 to promote critical scholarship on subjects drawn from the Environmental Design Archives (EDA) at Berkeley. The series builds on fifty years of scholarship on architectural modernism in California, beginning with that of Esther McCoy and continuing with publications by Richard Longstreth, David Gebhard, and Thomas Hines among others.1 Modernism in landscape architecture in California, however, has not had the same attention. David C. Streatfield's book California Gardens: Creating a New Eden (New York: Abbeville, 1994) offered a survey of the history of landscape design, however, the focus was on the country estates. One of the first books to fully engage modern landscapes was Treib's collection Thomas Church, Landscape Architect: Designing a Modern California Landscape (San Francisco: William Stout, 2003). The Berkeley series furthers this project by describing a regional modernism not easily defined, while simultaneously offering a flexible framework for investigations into the practice and reception of landscape architecture.
Each book in the series offers a distinctive perspective on its topic, while the series as a whole suggests alternative ways to write and teach design history, particularly that of modernism. Diane Harris's Maybeck's Landscapes: Drawing in Nature identifies a notable gap in the scholarship on this major California architect: the influence of landscape on his design process. Bernard Maybeck was the only architect in northern California considered in McCoy's Five California Architects, and was then later the focus of work by scholars including Kenneth Cardwell and Sally Woodbridge.2 Harris's book proposes an alternative critique of his design work, not as beautiful objects but as work "noteworthy for its consistent engagement with landscape and for the clever and thoughtful means by which he integrated buildings and gardens, site and structure" (14). Harris's claim that Maybeck's "building and landscapes must be examined together" is then argued not merely as an alternative perspective but rather as an imperative if we are to assess his work seriously (13). The book is organized to emphasize the means by which Maybeck engaged landscape——from courtyard plans to green walls and foundations to water and color. Harris describes how Maybeck designed his architecture to respond to the landscape in specific and particular ways. The Senger residence in Berkeley (1907) draws on art, architecture, and landscape, as reflected in the placement of a painting of redwood trees opposite a glass door through which a group of California redwoods is viewed (62––63). In Maybeck's giant pastel drawings for San Francisco's Twin Peaks proposal (ca. 1930) the thrill of the steep topography takes one's breath away. Landscape was a primary concern for Maybeck and, as Harris persuasively asserts, it sometimes took precedence over buildings.
The second in the series is Marc Treib's The Donnell and Eckbo Gardens: Modern Californian Masterworks. According to Treib, the Donnell Garden by Thomas Church (Sonoma, California, 1948), and Garrett Eckbo's Alcoa Forecast Garden (Los Angeles, 1959) "proclaimed a new era and above all a modern lifestyle" (xiii). He argues that these are the masterworks of midcentury landscape modernism, and perhaps of the entire twentieth century, although the need for such contentions is debatable. Treib offers a "cultural and landscape design matrix" of the two garden designs illustrated by over 150 images including plans, sketches, and photographs (ix). While the two gardens are the focus of individual essays with separate endnotes, the general organization of each is similar enough to allow the reader to draw comparisons. Treib begins by placing each design in the larger milieu of the landscape architects' work and of contemporary California culture. Drawing on an array of documents, he meticulously describes the design process. Because "[a] garden, like any landscape, is a dynamic entity . . . and the processes of change that shape it after 'completion' remain relevant for a more comprehensive appreciation of the design," he also addresses the reception of the projects in the five decades since construction (ix). The Donnell garden remains as designed, while the Eckbo garden essentially disappeared by 1988. The two histories provide case studies of not only two masterworks but of landscape modernism as it has been received, interpreted, and narrated in the second half of the twentieth century. Given the richness of the discussions, it would have been instructive to have a concluding essay in which the trajectories of each essay were further addressed. Nevertheless, as place biographies, these essays contribute significantly to the discourses of modernism and landscape, and also to those of historiography, interpretation, and preservation.
Modern Public Gardens; Robert Royston and the Suburban Park by Reuben M. Rainey and J. C. Miller focuses on the public sphere in landscape architecture. The authors position Royston's work within the histories of park design and theory and the dramatic growth of the suburbs, as well as contemporary practice in the Bay Area. Royston's designs for private and public clients drew on explorations of form and space in modern art while carefully responding to human use and function. He was particularly interested in movement, noting that "just like in dance . . . you begin to see things in terms of structural dimension and movement" (58). Landscape modernism is thus is identified in the public park, even in the suburban park. Rainey and Miller address the changes and continuity of the parks, bringing the discourse into contemporary discussions and suggesting that Royston's parks "deserve to be a part of today's discussion of park design given their proven strengths" (141) as recreational spaces, public places, and beautiful gardens and landscapes.
The fourth, and longest, book in the series offers the first monograph on Joseph Esherick, focusing on his residential designs. Esherick, an architect firmly rooted in place and time, developed a range of project types, sites, and clients without ever becoming merely repetitive. Treib organizes his discussion by Esherick's design approach to examine his process and responses——a method of analysis that allows the reader to reevaluate what might appear awkward at first glance, but is shown to function particularly well, or to respond to the site or budget in a remarkably efficient manner. The only project to be the sole subject of a chapter is the Sea Ranch (1965), a community of second homes 120 miles north of San Francisco, designed with George Homsey of the Esherick office, the firm of Moore Lyndon Turnbull Whitaker, and Lawrence Halprin as landscape architect. Treib's ability to write across the disciplines of architecture and landscape architecture provides an excellent model for scholars of the design disciplines. He aptly discusses architectural conceptions of space, topographic and environmental characteristics of site, details of construction, and botanical names of plant materials. This monograph, while centered on an architect, enhances discourse on the intersections of architecture and landscape and the role of such overlaps within modernist practice; it also suggests potential for contemporary design practice.
Waverly Lowell worked on all of the above books as curator and archivist at the EDA, however, her most recent contribution to the series is as the author of Living Modern: A Biography of Greenwood Common. Although initiated in 1962 by William Wurster, dean of Berkeley's College of Environmental Design (1950––63), the development was ultimately the product of the homeowners who shared a belief in a modern lifestyle supported by modern design that was linked to the landscape. As a community of professionals, primarily academics, residents worked with eight architects and a smaller number of landscape architects, including Lawrence Halprin, who was the designer of the central community space (also referred to as the Greenwood Common), as well as four of the home gardens. Other gardens were designed by landscape architect Geraldine Knight Scott, by architects Donald Olsen, Henry Hill, and Howard Moise, and in some cases by the clients themselves. The designs provided privacy for every house and garden in addition to easy access by foot or automobile. Lowell takes the reader through the development of each project with an avid attention to the details of siting, emphasizing the relationships of the parts to one another. This book suggests how diverse designers in the Bay Area actively participated in the development of a regional modernism. More so than with any of the other books, one gets a sense here of what it was like to live in a California modernist house and garden in the 1960s.
The Berkeley series narrates a history of Bay Area design that is seen as contributing significantly to the development of landscape modernism. It documents a rarely acknowledged domain of design practice grounded in regional approaches that evolved over time. Regionalism here is seen not merely in form or materials, but in engagement with ecology, function, aesthetics, and culture. The projects addressed in this series contributed to a critical regionalism grounded in place, culture, and time. The books take up many questions about modernism and regionalism.
A key contribution of the series is its integration, in both content and presentation, of architecture and landscape architecture. The integration of the two informed the selection of the designers who were studied and shaped the language used to describe and analyze their work. Greenwood Common is both landscape and architecture and the narrative by Lowell acknowledges both as key players in a series of choreographed duets. The monographs on Maybeck and Esherick are in large part about how their work integrated the disciplines. Harris argues "instead of the traditional conception of architecture as figure and landscape as ground, Maybeck frequently treated both as equally figure. Only empty space became "ground" (72). Esherick's "appropriate design" reveals a similar approach if distinctly different results. Comparable explorations can be identified at different intensities in the work of Eckbo, Church, and Royston. A language of design emerges that suggests a framework for future critiques of the built environment.
What directions will the series take in the future? The list of archives held by the EDA is impressive in its length and breadth. It includes the work of many women, some of whom are well known, such as Beatrix J. Farrand and Gertrude Jekyll, and others who are known primarily within the design community, such as Mae Arbegast. The list features significant teachers, including Katherine D. Jones, Leland Vaughn, and Geraldine Knight, who influenced generations of students. Planned volumes on Knight and Jekyll, both significant shapers of contemporary practice, will remind us of the presence of women as professionals and teachers in the Bay Area. The Berkeley series has posed questions about modernism and it relationships to the landscape and architecture of a specific place, a regional modernism. Any one of the books suggests additional questions that might be investigated with a similar depth and craft, and together the series argues to be expanded in the future. The design and history disciplines need far more scholarship of this breadth and depth.
The noteworthy designs of these books aim both to provide the necessities and nurture the pleasures of reading and research. Series editor Treib contributed his signature craftsmanship to the composition, jackets, and inside materials. The 8-by-10-inch format, with book lengths running from 172 to 262 pages, fits easily on the shelf and in the hand. The abundant black-and-white and color illustrations include original plans and sketches as well as an array of archival and recent photographs. Each image is beautifully printed on good paper and clearly captioned, with the exception being that Marc Treib's photographs are not dated; as he has been photographing sites since the early 1960s, this oversight is regrettable. Each book includes endnotes, an appropriate list of selected sources, and an adequate index. Waverly Lowell provides an overview of the featured archival collection. In sum, the books are a pleasure to hold, read, and reference.
Expanding disciplinary boundaries, this series substantially contributes to current histories of built environments while suggesting innovative approaches to future research. The individual books provide potential models for how scholars might engage archival materials by considering relationships between designers and clients and the reception of designs and places over time. Such research deepens discussions of history and, perhaps more significantly, challenges how we teach and practice design. The series should be on the shelf of any historian of American built environments as well as that of any architect or landscape architect interested in how the disciplines have come together to enrich a sense of place and to create homes and gardens for living.
Esther McCoy, Roots of California Contemporary Architecture: Irving Gill, Greene & Greene, Bernard Maybeck, Richard Neutra, R. M. Schindler, Frank Lloyd Wright (Los Angeles: Municipal Art Commission, 1956), and Five California Architects (New York: Reinhold, 1960); Richard W. Longstreth, On the Edge of the World: Four Architects in San Francisco at the Turn of the Century (New York and Cambridge: Architectural History Foundation/MIT Press, 1983); David Gebhard, A Guide to Architecture in San Francisco & Northern California (Santa Barbara: Peregrine Smith, 1973); and Thomas S. Hines, Richard Neutra and the Search for Modern Architecture: A Biography and History (New York: Oxford University Press, 1982).
Kenneth H. Cardwell, Bernard Maybeck: Artisan, Architect, Artist (Santa Barbara: Peregrine Smith, 1977); Sally Byrne Woodbridge, Bernard Maybeck: Visionary Architect (New York: Abbeville Press, 1992).