The History of Plants and Animals in Landscape Design: Antiquity to Present

Does horticulture have a role in landscape architecture? Do wild animals have a place in urbanization? This seminar offers answers by reviewing the history of human interactions with flora and fauna from Ancient Rome until the present, now five years after the International Year of Biodiversity (2010). Examining revisionist histories and interacting with other faculty in history and theory, the instructor questions typologies of landscape history in design contexts.

The 2004 Dumbarton Oaks (DO) symposium looked at the cultural agency of horticulture. Topics ranged from the impact of qât in Yemen to the “rose of eros” in Judaism. DO’s Botanical Progress, Horticultural Innovations and Cultural Changes (2007) thus provides many new perspectives on medicine, religious practices, eating habits, perfumes, etc., that might be re-iterated within landscape architecture. The 2010 DO symposium entitled Designing Wildlife Habitats was published in 2013. Topics ranged from the wild and wilderness in Ottoman gardens to definitions of wildness and domestication from the time of Darwin. The editor, John Beardsley, asked the question: while landscape design has typically promoted botanical diversity, what has been its impact on zoological diversity? Professor Laird’s environmental history A Natural History of English Gardening 1650-1800 (2015) provides a third entry point into managed natural systems of the past, showing how women in early modern England helped compass the circle among habitats, organisms, and humanity (e.g., butterflies, host plants, and life cycles).

This seminar promotes open discussion of weekly readings so as to link history to the design studio. Students may direct their three assignments towards research papers or conceptual design presentations. The prerequisite is some grounding in history (e.g., history of landscape design, environmental history, architectural history, history of science). Limited enrollment.