Book Review—The Inspired Landscape: Twenty-one leading landscape architects explore the creative process

Author: Susan Cohen (Timber Press, 2015)

The Inspired Landscape tells the stories of projects by twenty-one world renowned landscape architects, exploring the various sources of inspiration for landscape designs. Alphabetically organized, author Susan Cohen chooses not to arrange the projects thematically, although common thematic sources of inspiration exist.

Agricultural pasts inform Kongjian Yu‘s and Stephen Stimson‘s respective campus designs for Shenyang Jianzhu University and the University of Massachusetts, the role of water in the desert is translated in Christine Ten Eyck’s Capri Lounge Garden in Texas and Shlomo Aronson‘s Kreitman Plaza in Israel, and pattern & form in art inspired Cornelia Hahn Oberlander and Sheila Brady‘s designs for areas of their respective Van Dusen Botanical Gardens in Vancouver and Native Plant Garden in the New York Botanical Gardens.

Cohen tells poignant and simple stories of inspired moments, each 4-6 pages long and augmented with carefully selected photographs of the finished landscape designs next to images of their sources of inspiration and process sketches. It is a valuable and succinct resource on each of the featured projects and provides rare insight into the design process of several practices around the world.

My favourite example is the story of the MoMA roof garden by Ken Smith, who photocopied a pair of his wife’s baggy bright orange camo pants as part of the design process to develop concepts of camouflage and artificial materiality for the garden design. The book focuses on the ability of strong ideas and concepts in a design and on a designer’s perspective, rather than attempting to identify other conditions – such as the relationship to the client, for example – as the main driver behind the projects.

These project profiles remind us that inspiration is everywhere—from our personal histories, to other art forms, to scientific processes, to stories of place. After all, design is an art form, and the ability to carry a strong, clear idea from conception to construction is an act all of the landscape architects featured can be commended for. These new stories of inspiration and design bring new meaning to the places they occupy, and places with stories are the ones that often stand the test of time.

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If you want more information on The Inspired Landscape, visit the Timber Press website.

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Shelley Long is a landscape designer interested in cross-disciplinary collaboration in environmental design, Canadiana, and placemaking through spacemaking.

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