Thursday 11 October 2012


Derek Fell’s beautiful book, The Gardens of Frank Lloyd Wright, published by Frances Lincoln Limited, London in 2009, highlights Wright’s work as a landscape gardener. It is indeed astonishing. Usually plants and foliage are seen as sundry scribbles, smudges to illustrate his drawings, to ‘soften’ them. The actual landscapes are considered, if at all, as backgrounds to the buildings, incidental decorative additions, perhaps just the natural setting that Wright had worked with. It seems that Falling Water alone used its natural setting untouched. The only non-indigenous plant added was a white wisteria. All other contexts that Wright worked in were manipulated by him, using nature as his guide. “A tree out of place is a weed,” he declared when a client object to his instruction to cut down a mature oak tree. (p.41) Fell shows Wright as a landscaper working on a scale similar to Capability Brown.
 Wright was as ruthless in manipulating all within his sight to his aesthetic ideal as Capability Brown. (p.38) “The valley will bloom in your hands.” Frank Lloyd Wright’s mother, Anna. (p.40) Before he was satisfied with the views from Taliesin Wright eliminated thirty-two “nuisance buildings” from his view. (p.44)

 Taliesin West - gate to gardens of staff annex

The distinguished landscape gardener Jen Jensen (1860 – 1951) became a close friend of Frank Lloyd Wright. (p.108) “As a model for designers, Jensen’s approach stressed the clear need for careful study of natural landscapes. He objected to design training that was purely academic. He felt than an intimate knowledge of plants and horticulture and a genuine sense of humility were essential for landscape design to reach the level of art.”  (p.111 - quoted from  Robert E. Greese’s biography, Jen Jensen: Maker of Natural Parks and Gardens, John Hopkins university Press).

We can learn a lot from Wright and Jensen, and from Fell’s wonderful photographs of Wright’s parks and gardens too. This publication truly shows how Wright worked with nature in a manner that was more than philosophical and theoretical.


“I have always regarded the desert as the greatest lesson in construction,” Wright wrote. “Form following function if you like - or form and function being one. The saguaro is the greatest example of a skyscraper that was ever built.”
Derek Fell, The Gardens of Frank Lloyd Wright, Frances Lincoln Limited, London, 2009, page 74 -

Foster’s Swiss Re HQ tower in London and Nouvel’s Torre Agbar tower in Barcelona tower come to mind. Perhaps Foster’s building should be called ‘cactus’ instead of ‘gherkin’? It is interesting that, in spite of Wright's intuitive understanding of organic structure, his schemes for skyscrapers were angular rather than cactus-like.

 Sagauro cactus

 Jean Nouvel's Torre Agbar tower, Barcelona

 Sir Norman Foster's Swiss Re HQ, London

So what was the inspiration?
According to Jean Nouvel, the shape of the Torre Agbar was inspired by Montserrat, a mountain near Barcelona, and by the shape of a geyser rising into the air. The Agbar Group, a holding company, has interests that include the Barcelona water company Aigües de Barcelona.   Wikipedia

Foster's building seems to have more 'rational' origins:
The building uses energy-saving methods which allow it to use half the power a similar tower would typically consume. Gaps in each floor create six shafts that serve as a natural ventilation system for the entire building even though required firebreaks on every sixth floor interrupt the "chimney." The shafts create a giant double glazing effect; air is sandwiched between two layers of glazing and insulates the office space inside.
The shafts pull warm air out of the building during the summer and warm the building in the winter using passive solar heating.The shafts also allow sunlight to pass through the building, making the work environment more pleasing, and keeping the lighting costs down.
The primary methods for controlling wind-excited sways are to increase the stiffness, or increase damping with tuned/active mass dampers. To a design by Arup, its fully triangulated perimeter structure makes the building sufficiently stiff without any extra reinforcements. Wikipedia

Still, one might presume that the form and function of the saguaro cactus might have provided some latent logic in the making of these buildings.

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Thursday 4 October 2012


The question, 'Why bother with Town Plans?' must be asked after again reading this clipping from  Weekend Bulletin, September 10-11, 2005.

 The text reads:

Feng shui’s winning line
A controversial Runaway Bay development based on the oriental practice of feng shui, was approved by a whisker at the full council meeting yesterday. Councillors voted 8-7 in favour of Harmony, which will stretch up to eight stories.
The planning scheme for the area allows a maximum of two stories with a partial third. Harmony, 23 Bayview Street, will include 119 dwellings, although the planning scheme set down a maximum of 42.
Deputy Mayor David Power and planning boss Cr Ted Shepherd said that, while the planning scheme was a guide, its specifications could be overlooked if a development had ‘good planning merit’.

It is an old report from September 2005, but it is worth noting here in October 2012 because nothing seems to have changed. Unless Town Plans are written carefully and implemented with rigour, they are just a waste of time, leaving our towns and cities open to the whims of developers, and those of our Councillors.

Why should one bother? Well, just look at the shadows cast by the tall buildings and ponder the impacts on amenity in the area, if nothing else! The other point is that Councillors and developers come and go, but the outcomes of their decisions remain with us for many years after they have lost power, and establish precedents that stimulate further development and geater difference. Town Plans should offer a clearly defined vision and be strictly implemented so that futures can be properly controlled, feng shui or not.