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Landscape Materiality: Innovation and Convention from Modernism to the Present

Timothy Baird, Pennsylvania State University, Summer Fellow 2015–2016

Garrett Eckbo’s 1959 Alcoa Forecast Garden was created through a symbiotic relationship between manufacturer and designer resulting in publicity for the designer and increased sales of a postwar product (aluminum) for the manufacturer. This cyclical borrowing of materials from other fields seems to correspond to periods of greater innovation, while periods of less innovation seem to correspond with more insular times, in which landscape architects failed to engage other fields for material information.

My research project began with this Eckbo garden, a masterfully detailed “outdoor room” and a reflection of one of the primary characteristics of the emerging California style of modern American landscape architecture, the indoor-outdoor relationship. This led to an investigation of the material expression of other American Modernists such as Robert Royston, Dan Kiley, James Rose, and Thomas Church. While at Dumbarton Oaks, I have investigated the work of Fletcher Steele, a transitional figure between the Beaux-Arts and modernism in landscape architecture. From Steele, I have begun to study the French modernist designers—Gabriel Guevrekian, the Vera brothers, Pierre-Émile Legrain, Robert Mallet-Stevens, and Tony Garnier—who heavily influenced Steele, who in turn disseminated his thoughts on these French designers through several articles. Taking note of Steele’s writings, the American modernists continued to be influenced by them for years to come, as evidenced by the innovative material expression that characterized their work.