The University of Texas at Austin School of Architecture

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fall 2008

ARC 388R:
History and Theories of Landscape Architecture I

Mirka Beneš


This lecture course offers both a broad overview and a chronological series of in-depth studies in the history of major garden cultures and designed landscapes of the Western and Eastern worlds. It introduces the student to methodological approaches to the formal, social, and cultural history of gardens and landscapes, as well as to relevant theoretical frameworks for interpreting these designed landscapes and employing the frameworks in conceptualizing landscape, architecture, and urban projects in studio design.

The course covers key examples from Mediterranean and Roman antiquity to circa 1700 in England, a period when industrialization and modernization in the West first began to affect urban and rural cultures. England circa 1700 witnessed the emergence of key categories of modernity and, soon after, a new notion of the audience for gardens—the public, civic body, as opposed to private ownership, manifest in the great 19th century public parks. 

The cultures and societies covered include: ancient Italy and Rome, where typologies and design forms were developed that were foundational to later gardens, both Western and Islamic; European and Islamic nations during the medieval and early modern periods (700 AD to circa 1700), e.g. Italy, France, and England; Islamic Spain, Ottoman Turkey, Savafid Persia, Mughal India, all cultures in which one finds parallel developments of formal gardens; the period circa 1700 in England, where a new conception of landscape design was born, the pastoralist “landscape garden,” which was foundational to most modern design traditions in Europe and America and which is still current today as a significant design language. Although full coverage of the great traditions of landscape design would include China and Japan, these cultures are incorporated into the course on a rotating basis, as the instructor gains knowledge of them and as guest lecturers can contribute specialized studies.

Gardens and landscape architecture are considered here as complex, ambiguous forms developing on the borders between extant, native landscapes and the human spheres of culture and practice. They are also considered as part of territorial organizations having to do with the political and economic relations between cities and country-sides. Particular attention is given to activities that manifest cultural attitudes to landscape, such as representation in painting, drawing, and cartography.  

Goals of the course:

On a broad level, the course encourages the situating and conceptualization of designed sites in historical context, the recognition of their multivalent character and the fundamental social and interdisciplinary nature of their production, which engages with the spheres of art, architecture, urbanism and planning, ecological and geographical systems, among others. On a theoretical and methodological level, the course readings encourage an evaluation of the new thinking about landscape and landscape architecture that has occurred in professional and academic circles during the last two decades, a period characterized by interdisciplinary thinking, bringing together landscape architecture and other disciplines—geography, history, sociology, art, architecture, and science.

The course is open to both graduate students and upper-level undergraduates.