Book Review

Sculpting the Land

Landscape Design Influenced by Abstract Art
Diana Armstrong Bell

Creativity has been described as part inspiration and part perspiration; this book majors on inspiration, the sensual side of design, the delight of working with brush, paint and paper. At first glance this well-illustrated book is just another vanity publication that practitioners delight in producing. At the risk of sounding like the publisher’s blurb, on looking a little closer it reveals itself to be more than a self-congratulatory glossy. Eleven schemes are presented. Sadly, only five of them were fully implemented. The prime source of inspiration behind the book is the abstract art of the Russian Suprematist Kaszimir Malevich. In my view the book does not prove this link, but it is interesting to see examples of Malevich’s work.

Apart from the urban design quality of the schemes illustrated, it is the quality of the watercolour realisations that attracted my eye. These are skilfully done and show just how valuable a hand-created vision can be in describing a scheme. It is troubling to consider just how soon it will be before a well programmed machine working with artificial intelligence will be able to create images that appear to have flowed from a human-controlled brush. There are some apparent ambiguities in the book: the author is shown paint brush in hand before what is apparently a large watercolour fresh from her hand, but the image in front of her does look surprisingly like one of the illustrations that she acknowledges were produced by Richard Carmen.

As is so often found in this type of publication, competition entries are shown with all the solemnity of an implemented scheme. Two fascinating schemes can be highlighted: one for Lac de Senart is sadly only a winning competition entry, and that for Duke of York Square, also not a realised scheme. Happily that is not true of the schemes for the National Gallery gap in London and the Parco Franco in Milan. The Milanese example is certainly impressive and so is the correlation between the visualisations of the park and the photographs of the same park. Unfortunately the visualisations, presumably by Richard Carmen, are not always dated or signed; so here perhaps a second ambiguity arises: were these renditions created before or after implementation?

Is this a must-have for the practitioner’s shelf? Well, it is certainly worth borrowing.

URBAN DESIGN 158 Spring 2021 Publication Urban Design Group

As featured in URBAN DESIGN 158 Spring 2021

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Sculpting the Land Publication Urban Design Group
Unicorn Publishing
978 1912690466
Reviewed By
Richard Cole architect and planner, formerly Director of Planning and Architecture of the Commission for New Towns