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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

Talking Landscape Architecture: An Interview with Marc Treib

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Marc Treib. Photo Courtesy of Alyssa Schwann.

Anne Whiston Spirn once described landscape as “...a language derived from the core activity of landscape architecture: artfully shaping, from garden to region, to fulfill function and express meaning.” As such, landscape architecture is a particularly important cultural product and Spacing Vancouver Editor-in-Chief Erick Villagomez recently had the chance to chat with prolific writer on modern landscape architecture Marc Treib to talk about modern landscape architecture, how he started writing, and his recent experience with Canadian works.

EV_Thank you for chatting with me, Marc…this has been a long time coming. But before we get deeper into our chat, do you mind sharing a little information about yourself and your history, for those who might not know you?

MT_Thank you for your interest in my work, Erick. I was born in New York City but spent my high school years in the Miami area before studying at the University of Florida, where I received a professional undergraduate degree in architecture. I really didn’t like Florida very much, especially the heat and humidity, and after graduation, I was fortunate in receiving a Fulbright fellowship that allowed me to spend a year in Finland. Although the grant was ostensibly for graduate studies in architecture at the new Alvar Aalto-designed Otaniemi campus of the Helsinki University of Technology outside Helsinki, I also worked in the ceramics studio of the art school, which then shared the same building as the Atenium art museum in the city center.

That year in Finland was a pivotal one for me, which challenged me to deal with having no one telling me what to do and when to do it, while living in a foreign language I didn’t understand. It also exposed me to a far broader view of art and design, and the artists and architects who made them. As the Vietnam War was raging—a war for which I had no sympathy—to qualify for a deferment I applied to several graduate schools. Although accepted at all of them, for various reasons I selected the University of California, Berkeley, primarily because I had never been to the West Coast. I thought I would stay for a year and then head to Sweden, where my Finnish girlfriend was already working, and where they were granting asylum to Americans.

EV_Do you mind telling me a bit more about your experience at Berkeley? It’s a school, as you know, that has a long-standing history with architecture, landscape architecture, and planning. I have many Berkeley faculty and alumni to thank for half my library!! [Smile] With such an incredible lineage, I’d love to get a sense of the program over your time there.

MT_The master’s program at Berkeley at that time was all about design methods and sociology, subjects for which I then had absolutely no sympathy. My real interests were, and still are, in designing and making, so I also took courses in ceramics and worked in the glass studio for the entire year. As a result, I got a second master’s in design, but that was more or less by accident. In addition to tending to these various interests, I had been helping a handful of friends in the graduate program, none of whom had a background in architecture or design. I “taught” them drawing, critiqued their designs, and regaled them about my architect heroes. Looking back, I have to admit that these efforts were probably more about showing off than any expression of altruism. [Laughter]

Anyway, as the year came to an end, soon before I thought that I would soon be off to Sweden, the head of the department called me to his office. Although I feared he was going to tell me to back off and let the professors do the teaching, the reason for his summons was just the opposite. In fact, he had heard about what I was doing, appreciated my efforts, and offered me a tenure-track teaching position. There were no searches, no submissions of materials, no faculty discussions—just the offer.

That would never happen today, of course. I declined, however, saying the army was after me, and that once I had my degrees, I was off to Scandinavia. It was at that fateful moment that he told me I would get an occupational deferment if I was teaching at the university level; the army would back off. I immediately asked to see the contract and signed it soon thereafter.

That was the start of my academic career, a career for which I had absolutely no preparation other than having been forced to take a bunch of architectural history courses as an undergraduate. My principal assignment in the early years was teaching drawing and graphics—consider that this is long before the arrival of the computer when everything was still done by hand. I taught at Berkeley for almost forty years thereafter.

EV_And perhaps unknown to many of your current fans, drawing, and spatial representation were the subjects of some of your earlier writing, like a favorite of mine “Mapping Experience” that you published in Design Quarterly in 1980, correct? Your interest continued at least through the first decade of the 2000s since Drawing/Thinking was published in 2008. As you know, issues around drawing and representation are dear to my heart. [Smile]

MT_Sorry, Erick, I really can’t recall the exact date; it was so long ago. I think in the late 80s when I spent a couple of years focused on mapping. Looking back, I think mapping represented the confluence of interests in spatial representation, graphic design, and architecture.

EV_Is that when you started writing?

MT_While in Finland I published my first article, for Architectural Forum on two recent projects by the architects Reima and Raili Pietilä. I wasn’t accustomed to writing, but over time I realized that I was more attuned to writing than to the slow pace of design in an office. I became interested in graphic design and designed posters for the architecture department lecture series, using diazo (blue and black line), the only medium at the time by which you could produce a small number of large format sheets. This led to my becoming a contributing editor for Print, “America’s Graphic Design Magazine.” I had never even thought about landscape architecture.

EV_I can’t believe only now you have mentioned the words “landscape architecture” given that anybody who knows you would consider that your bread-and-butter subject. Where and when did this interest come into the picture? Clearly, there was some overlap with your interest in drawing since the first edition of your now well-known Guide to the Gardens of Kyoto was published in the same year as “Mapping Experience”.

MT_By the time I studied there, the University of Florida undergrad curriculum had been converted to modernism from a more classical beaux-arts program. We were taught that there were two lands of “good design”: Scandinavia and Japan. I was already familiar with the Nordic countries from my year in Finland, so after a few years of teaching I thought it was time to visit Japan. In 1971, I took a leave from teaching and spent seven months traveling in Japan from north to south, focusing on the classics of Japanese modernism, but also castles and folk architecture. Of course, I also had to see the great works of classical architecture and was surprised to find that when visiting great temple complexes like Daitoku-ji I was often looking through the buildings rather than at them—and that on the other side of the structure was a garden seemingly a part of the architecture, or vice versa.

Many of these gardens, like the rock garden at Ryōan-ji, were rather “modern” in their reduction and handling of space. I was intrigued. I began to read what I could find in English—which at that time was somewhat limited— and discovered the dry, so-called “Zen garden,” was but one of a number of types; there were also the paradise and stroll gardens, for example. One book noted that the stroll garden bore certain resemblances to the English landscape garden. Hmm…that’s interesting. So, I read a book on English gardens and found a mention of its rejection of, and contrast to the French formal garden, which in turn had roots in the Italian Renaissance garden. And it all grew from there.

Ryōan-ji Garden, Kyoto, Japan. Photo courtesy of Cquest via Wikipedia.

EV_Clearly, this early interest in historic gardens evolved into your interest in modern landscapes, right?

MT_My involvement with modern landscape design was really more an extension of my involvement with modern architecture: moving outward from the building to include its setting. California has been an epicenter of innovative garden design from the postwar years onward. There are numerous reasons that include the Mediterranean climate, the myth of outdoor living, the explosive growth of suburbia after the war, and the booming postwar economy. Although a Hispanic architectural and landscape tradition remained, there was less attachment to traditional styles than in other parts of the country. Anyway, in relation to buildings by William Wurster and Garrett Eckbo, I encountered the work of landscape architects like Thomas Church and Garrett Eckbo. It seemed to me that you needed to include the site and landscape when talking about the building.

At some point, the balance between the two shifted and became weighted more heavily toward the landscape. In 1985, I met Dorothée Imbert, a graduate French architect who had come to Berkeley for graduate study in landscape architecture. We shared this interest in modern landscape architecture, and individually or together wrote several articles and books—her study of the French so-called cubist gardens is a classic. I organized a symposium in 1989 to reexamine modern landscape architecture—I might add, still a term not precisely defined—which became the book Modern Landscape Architecture: A Critical Review. It was published in 1993 by MIT and remains in print. From that point on, my interests have continued to broaden, fueled by travel for lectures, conferences, and on my own—I try only to write about landscapes I have actually visited.

_I’d love to continue on this theme of defining “modern landscape architecture”. Now I know that in Modern Landscape Architecture: A Critical Review you put forth six “axioms” by which the latter could be defined. A few years ago, I read a piece of yours in the Journal of Landscape Architecture that conceptualized and described things in four broader categories of “Transitional”, “Modern”, “Modernistic,” and “Modernist”. Do you mind explaining the evolution of your thinking and whether you still hold to these four categories? Is there another way you are thinking about the issue currently?

MT_I’ve found defining “modern landscape architecture” rather challenging, and it gets even more complex if we include sites in countries with representative landscapes that do not appear “modern” at first glance. Not only is “modern” in itself a tricky term to define, but even “landscape architecture” is open to different interpretations. I see landscape architecture as a field with aspirations beyond those that produce cultural landscapes, which often issue from efficiency rather than aesthetic pursuits—although I would agree that every landscape has aesthetic properties. The question is whether these have resulted from conscious effort or as a byproduct of the pursuit of function. If and when I ever write a history of modern landscape architecture—and it can never be the history of modern landscape architecture—it will be an aesthetic history that focuses on the origins, uses, and progression of forms and spaces that have attempted to express contemporary life, rather than, say, a social history or a horticultural one. There could be many others. You can’t cover everything in one book; you write from your own point of view shaped by your own interests and values. And I guess I’ll have to accept any potential criticism for being an elitist. In that sense, I suppose I am.

Most of those six “axioms” you mention still appear valid to me, except the one concerning rejection of historical styles, which was more applicable to postwar American modern landscapes, and less so to countries in Europe or Asia with long traditions of designed landscapes. Among the axioms I’d keep would be a rejection—but not without exceptions—of the axis and symmetry; a limited planting palette, with trees and shrubs used primarily to define space and less as ornament; a nod toward modern architecture for materials and certain formal ideas; and the pursuit of flowing interconnected spaces. Given more time I’d probably think of some others, or possibly reject some of these. Of course, there are many many variations and differences among the factors that shaped the individual landscapes, and not all of the axioms would apply to everyone. I can’t say that I have the answer. It would have been a far easier task if I had written the book 25 years ago when I had seen fewer landscapes and knew less about them.

EV_I’m looking very, very forward to reading your History of Modern Landscape Architecture, if and when the time comes! [Smile]. Within that context, I’d love to chat about your work in the Canadian context. Although there are certainly exceptions, I think it’s fair to say that most within the field do not see Canada as a mecca of influential landscape architects and landscape architecture in general, yet Canadians make important appearances in your recent work. I was surprised to see, for example, Canadian-born Christopher Tunnard as a focus in your 2020 book Thinking a Modern Landscape Architecture: West & East, Christopher Tunnard, Sutemi Horiguchi. Also on your recently published list is Serious Fun: The Landscapes of Claude Cormier highlighting the work of Montreal-based practice CCxA. Do you mind speaking to your seemingly growing interest in modern landscape architecture and architects north of the border?

MT_That’s a quite difficult question because I certainly claim no real knowledge of Canadian landscape architecture. In our book on Claude Cormier, Susan Herrington contributed a quote from Margaret Atwood on the lines that the US-Canada border is the longest one-way mirror in the world. Canadians look to the US and see what is happening there, but Americans see only reflections of themselves.

EV_….a great quote. [Chuckle]

In some ways, my work on Tunnard has only a very tenuous connection to Canada. Although he was born in BC, he did no work here, and professionally we associate him with the UK and the US. I knew Cornelia Oberlander as a friend and have seen a good selection of her works, and wrote the foreword to Susan’s book. My interest in Claude was in terms of his representing a particular approach, and in the landscapes I have visited, and I found little—other than plant selection—that was Canadian rather than personal.

But I have been trying to learn more about Canadian modernism on my visits to Vancouver, mostly recently by having a series of conversations with Don Vaughan aimed toward an oral history. While I knew nothing about him until very recently, I’ve learned that he featured prominently in a number of consequential Vancouver and BC landscapes realized over the past forty years. But I found almost nothing published about him. So other than Ron Williams’s magisterial book on Canadian landscape architecture I have found very little—although I must admit that it has not been a primary research interest. I also keep hearing about firms with only letters in their names, which makes identifying people challenging. Curiously, most of the recent work I have come across, other than by Public Work in Toronto, seems to have been done by foreign landscape offices.

EV_[Smile] I assume that the ‘lettered’ practices you speak of include PWL Partnership—who are responsible for a number of well-visited waterfront projects including Southeast False Creek’s Olympic Village—and PFS Studio, who have also designed key local waterfront public spaces and others including UBC’s public realm? Both practices have a lot of recognized work. I’m sure you’ve experienced the work of many other well-known local practices like Hapa Collaborative who designed the Shipyards Commons at the foot of Lonsdale in North Vancouver, but I certainly empathize, one can’t identify people with the names of these firms. Specific names and people aside, though, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the local landscape architecture. But first, would you be willing and able to share some more on your conversations with Don Vaughan? Is this out of sheer interest? Are you collecting information on a future book?

MT_I haven’t really learned yet who’s who in terms of local firms. I once asked a colleague to identify the initials and he told me that many of the people identified with them had retired. I visited the Hapa office once, but I am not really familiar with what they do, other than the water plaza in front of the Polygon Gallery in North Vancouver.

I was introduced to Don Vaughan by Alyssa Schwann in an informal setting. We chatted a bit and I sensed that he had made a sizable contribution to landscape architecture in British Columbia. In my various projects, I have found oral histories to be of considerable value; they often have a nuance and a side of the story you don’t find, for example, in the publication of projects in professional journals. You learn different things; more personal view of course. And if you are really lucky, you learn the dirt.

Anyway, I believe that the stories told by these people and their professional contributions should be recorded, so I have taken on a few oral histories completely on my own. Computer transcription is easy and inexpensive these days but editing an interview to make sense takes a lot of time, probably five times the length of the original conversations. I didn’t really start my talks with Don with the idea of a book or any other product, only to record what I regard as valuable information that should not be lost. A book? No real plans now, but you never know how one interest connects to another and what may follow.

EV_I agree, too few oral histories are taken from currently lesser-known people who have made significant contributions to the field. It’s an important undertaking and I definitely appreciate you taking it upon yourself to do so with Don. Whatever the result—book or otherwise—your gathered history is an important addition to the history of local landscape architecture. Now, I’d like to circle back to get your impressions of the local landscape architecture, including other Canadian cities you’ve visited, like Toronto and Montreal. Are there any works that you’ve been taken by? And by no means does this have to include ‘big name’ projects.

MT_I think I hinted before that I claim no real knowledge of current Canadian landscape architecture or even from the recent past, other than older work by Cornelia Oberlander here in BC, newer projects by Claude Cormier x Associates in Montreal and Toronto, and most recently a few interesting projects by Public Work in Toronto, which I saw for the first time last fall. I would imagine there are many recently completed projects of interest, but I really have no knowledge of them. My interviews with Don Vaughan, and visits to his projects, brought me into contact all those “plazas” in downtown Vancouver: tower, plaza, tower, plaza… It produces a rather interesting urban fabric of solid and void that I hope to learn more about—also how the plazas dealt with the changes in topography when stairs were still the norm, and if the plazas are being used for anything other than passing through to get to the entrance to the building.

EV_You mentioned, “when stairs were still the norm” with respect to ways public spaces dealt with topography. I’m curious to know what other innovative patterns or dare I say ‘trends’ [smile], you’ve noticed historically with respect to dealing with grade changes. Many would assume stairs were timeless landscape architectural design features and not part of the ebb and flow of designer whimsy. And are there ones that you feel Vancouver folks, in particular, would benefit from knowing about, past or present?

MT_I just mentioned stairs because, since the adoption of various disability requirements, the use of stairs has been reconsidered; ramps or some mechanical devices like lifts are needed. Ramps have been very popular with architects since the time of Le Corbusier, but they take up a lot of space, and their lengths are further increased to accommodate comfortable wheelchair movement. Like the management of the land itself, the options use either level terraces (steps) or managed slopes (ramps). One strategy has been to grade the land itself to reduce the number of steps and the length of the ramp required. Outdoors, codes often require a wider tread and perhaps a reduced riser height. I don’t think there is a way to avoid those two or three options, only to make them as friendly as possible.

Both stairs and ramps can be inviting or forbidding, of course, based on their design. The “stramps” at Robson Square were an interesting attempt at integrating stairs and ramp, although by today’s standards, the dimensions are too tight. There are also designs that use steps as a landscape form rather than instead of circulation. A prime example is Alvar Aalto’s grass steps at the Säynätsalo Town Hall in Finland that “echo” the true granite stairs on the other side of the courtyard. Curiously, although intended as non-functional, with rather high risers, people try to use them as stairs. I found SLA’s City Dune at SEB bank in Copenhagen a rather clever attempt at ramping an entire slope as a plaza/landscape a bit dangerous, if engaging. I would imagine there are other creative examples out there that actually invite people to climb, while others only tempt or challenge them to give it a try.

EV_I appreciate you bringing up codes and regulations, Marc. Although its implications on design have been discussed by architects for decades, most everyday folks tend to take for granted the degree of influence it has over the built environment. Architecture and regulations are intertwined. Everything from stairs and ramps to handrails…and even plants in certain areas are enforced by law. I look at Lawrence Halprin’s Freeway Park in Seattle, for example—watching people doing all types of things on those extruded rectangular blocks—and can’t imagine how that would be built today…the whole thing would be handrails! [Laugh] I would love to hear your take on this architecture-regulation discussion as it relates to its impact on modern landscape architecture.

MT_Well, Erick, as you say Freeway Park was done at a different time. I’ve heard that questions have been raised about the staggered paving panels in terms of wheelchair access. To me, safety regulations are just more of the constraints that a designer has to acknowledge, and there’s no getting away from them. Still, the great staircase at the Garnier Opera in Paris that is such a major part of attending a performance would be very different if done today—I suspect elevators have rightly been added over the years. I can’t image how long a ramp would need to be to address the level change.

It is said, however, that if we include the elderly and the infirm—even those with just a temporary illness—that about one-third of the population would qualify as handicapped at any particular moment. That may be an exaggeration, but the point is that many people who are not infirm use ramps because they can be easier for short distances and low rises. I’ve seen many “able-bodied” people use ramps whose reason for being is to accommodate those who can’t easily negotiate stairs. In urban situations, the length required for a ramp can be impractical, so I see no alternative to mechanical devices. I guess the challenge to designers will be how to comfortably accommodate changes in level while creating interest or even drama to accompany the movement. I love escalators as an incredible invention that allows you to move horizontally and vertically simultaneously—and all without any real effort.

EV_It’s just another constraint to exercise a designer’s creativity…understood. [Laugh] Regulations aside, you bring up experience and drama, and I know that your work has taken you around the world visiting works of landscape architecture. I can’t help but ask what projects stand out as exceptional to you in terms of dramatic impact. And let’s not limit these to ‘modern’ works or those designed by landscape architecture firms.

MT_Hmmm, well… on different days I’d probably think of different landscapes. OK, I was born in New York City and count myself a city boy who prefers urban culture; I studied and taught architecture. So it’s no surprise that I prefer landscapes with a perceivable form, rather than more naturalistic designs.

I’ll start with three that come to mind. First, the Court of the Oranges (Patio de los Naranjos) in Seville, Spain, originally a forecourt to a mosque but retained after the Reconquest as part of the cathedral. It’s the most beautiful “sustainable” landscape I’ve visited. Apparently to grow orange trees in the arid local climate you need irrigation. Although the trees are planted on a strict grid, the irrigation rills were configured in a beautiful, functional pattern that articulates the rhythm of the oranges. Five white marble fountains anchor the space and stand out against the tawny brick paving. The detailing is superb.

Patio de los Naranjos, Seville, Spain. Photo courtesy of Marc Treib.

Number two would be the Shugaku-in Imperial Villa in Kyoto from the late seventeenth century. The procession uphill past two lower gardens culminates in a sensational use of “hide-and-reveal.” An amazing view of northern Kyoto is heightened by the constriction of a narrow stairway. Fall color in the upper pond garden can be sensational.

The Woodland Cemetery in Enskede, outside Stockholm, is to me the most perfect modern landscape. Won in competition by Gunnar Asplund and Sigurd Lewerentz in 1915, it was pretty much complete in 1940; of course, it continues to evolve since many of the burials occupy a pine forest. The regrading of the land despoiled by gravel quarrying on part of the site is a lesson in itself, but most of all, like Shugaku-in, the entry sequence is absolutely stunning. What interests me is that every element of the landscape has a centuries-long tradition: the path, the graded hills, the grid of birches—and yet the whole is thoroughly modern.

But now that I start thinking, I could add Thomas Church’s Donnell Garden (1948) in Sonoma; Latz & Partners’ Duisberg Nord Landschaftspark in Germany (started in the early 1990s); C-Th Sørensen’s Kongenshus Memorial Landscape (1941) in Denmark; Zion and Breen’s Paley Park (1964) in New York City, SUPERPOSITIONS / Georges Descombes’ River Air restoration outside Geneva now in its third decade, and on and on. Add history and the list is endless.

EV_Lovely….you’ve just added greatly to my bucket list of places to visit. [Laugh] Before we wrap up, I wanted to loop back to your writing. First, I’d love to hear a little bit about your more recent work on a Canadian practice—Serious Fun: The Landscapes of Claude Cormier.

MT_Some years ago Thorbjörn Andersson, a Swedish landscape friend, and I set off on a driving tour to catch up with landscape architecture in Toronto, Ottawa, and Montreal. In Montreal, Nicole Valois kindly arranged a dinner with a few people from the landscape department at the university; this guy Claude Cormier showed up a bit late and dressed rather informally, but after a few minutes had charmed everyone at the table, include Thorbjörn and me. I learned this was the norm. Claude graciously offered to spend part of the following day showing us his work, and we gladly accepted. I liked the stuff, which had high imageability, but always with a substantive base. A few years ago we met again at the Landscape Architecture Forum’s so-called “summit” in Philadelphia, and in talking with him I asked whether he thought it was time to do a book on the office’s work. He agreed. Susan Herrington was also there, and I asked her whether she’d like to provide an essay with a Canadian perspective. She agreed.

The following summer Claude, Susan and I visited 15 or 20 projects in the three cities on two trips. Susan and I agreed to work independently and Claude would stay out of all the editorial aspects of the project. We discussed the work and came up with a list of issues raised by the designs, and then divvied them up between us. We each wrote our own essay without consulting one another, although we did read over each other’s text for form and language, but not content or opinion. That’s how the book developed. The CCxA office tracked down and provided all the images.

I remain interested in CCxA’s work both for its photogenic qualities and its substantial functional, social, and environmental base. Claude’s first degree was in agronomy and I think that has a lot to do with it—as do the contributions of his team. Yes, dogs spewing water are very selfie-worthy, but there is more to the redo of Berzcy Park than just the dogs. It’s a very thoughtful design, from the shaping of mounds to the patterns of the paving. He talks about giving some sort of added value to each project, not just in dollars to the developer, but also in terms of what the project can offer the people and the city. Like Sugar Beach, which basically made something from nothing and came up with a functional fantasy. That’s why I came up with the title Serious Fun—because, yes, there is often a playful aspect, but the work is always serious in dealing with the key issues, whether social, environmental, political, or horticultural.

So that was the origin of the book.

EV_CCxA is definitely a unique Canadian practice and it’s great to final see their work on the book shelves. Now, as a prolific writer I know you also have several recently published and upcoming books including one on Georges Descombes, topography and landscape architecture, and “poodling” to name just a few! Although I’m sure you’re excited about all of them, would you be willing to give us quick word about maybe two or three that you are particularly enthusiastic about? As someone particularly interested in how cultures modify land, I personally can’t wait to read the one on topography—The Shape of the Land.

MT_Doing Almost Nothing, the book about the landscapes of Georges Descombes, came from a long respect and friendship for Georges and his work. One of my working mottoes has been “simple form, complex experience”—rather than vice versa, which is so common today—and Georges’ designs embody that thinking and result. His ongoing project for the “renaturalization” of the River Aire outside Geneva is a model for projects of that scale, intelligently mixing ecology and beauty.

The “poodling” book—Poodling: On the Just Shaping of Shrubbery— is in production now and will be out in the fall. Topiary shapes a shrub in a single form; poodling takes it branch by branch. Although I suspect it had its origins in Japan, it is today a vernacular practice that I have found around the world. Purists would probably call them aberrations or crimes against nature, but I like them and have been photographing them for almost 30 years. And now I tried to finally put it all in context, in a suitable light-hearted manner of course. Oh yeah, there’s a section on trimming poodles and the parallels with pruning shrubs. Hmmm….what else. I still like Landscapes of Modern Architecture: Wright, Mies, Neutra, Aalto, Barragán which appeared a few years ago. It looks at the architecture of those well-known guys from the perspective of site and approach to landscape, although often using more of an attitude than a formal design manner. You reviewed Austere Gardens, so no need to mention that again.

I just turned in the text for Noguchi’s Landscapes: The Garden as Sculpture which has been an ongoing project for almost thirty years; its completion was given a big boost by having to stay indoors during Covid. This will be a hefty tome with some great photos and great work if I do say so myself. Although his landscapes were conceived as artworks I think landscape architects can learn something from them in terms of semantics and vocabulary.

Oh yes, you mentioned The Shape of the Land: Topography & Landscape Architecture which issued from a symposium I organized at UC Berkeley three days before the university closed because of Covid, although we didn’t know it at the time. It’s a sister/brother/sibling to The Aesthetics of Contemporary Planting Design, which also followed in the wake of a Berkeley symposium. I felt that these were important topics that were not a major part of most landscape curricula—but should be. Each book has a great group of contributors from diverse practices, landscapes, and climates around the world. I just received an advanced copy of The Shape of the Land and think it came out well, but maybe that’s because I also designed the book, as I usually do. Is that enough?

EV_Wonderful…that was more than enough! [Laugh] And this is actually the first I’ve heard of Landscapes of Modern Architecture! I’ve gone down the research rabbit-hole with all of those architects, so I’m going to have to get my hands on that one. Well, this was a pleasure, Marc. Do you have any parting thoughts you’d like to share?

MT_Nothing in particular, other than to thank you for the opportunity to exchange thoughts and talk about books. There are so few bookstores of any sort left, and most of them handle only a few major brands, so any occasion to talk about what you’ve been doing is most welcome. Thanks, Erick, much appreciated.

EV_The pleasure was all mine. Thanks again!


Marc Treib is co-author of Garrett Eckbo: Modern Landscapes for Living, and author of Space Calculated in Seconds: The Philips Pavilion; Le Corbusier; Edgar Varese; and Sanctuaries of Spanish New Mexico. Also editor of An Everyday Modernism: The Houses of William Wurster, and Modern Landscape Architecture: A Critical Review; and co-editor of Regional Garden Design in the United States. Honors include a Guggenheim Fellowship, Fullbright Fellowships, American Academy in Rome Fellowship, ASLA Honor Award, and Best Exhibition Publication Award from the Society of Architectural Historians.

Erick Villagomez is the Editor-in-Chief at Spacing Vancouver. He is also an educator, independent researcher, and designer with personal and professional interests in urban landscapes.