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land scape architecture

the hortus conclusus Prof. Antonio di Campli

USAC, Turin, 6 june 2012

Hortus conclusus is the archetype of an enclosed garden. A walled gardenwith a fenced enclosure, became synonymous with the term “garden” in medieval times. Hortus conclusus protects the private precinct from public intrusion, creating a protective barrier, and bringing nature within its walls. The term is derived from Sacred Scripture: “A garden enclosed is my sister, my spouse; a garden enclosed, a fountain sealed up” (Song of Songs 4:12). A hortus conclusus is a style of garden popular in the middle ages. It is square with two walkways that intersect perpendicularly in the center, and do not necessarily lead anywhere. The garden is often enclosed in a courtyard or cloister. The garden also usually has a water feature. The hortus conclusus carries a deep religious symbolism, both connected with the Garden of Eden and with the Virgin Mary. The plants used have religious symbolism as well.

Patio de La Acequia, Generalife Gardens, Granada, Spain

Hortus deliciarum is described in the romances of chivalry. The Roman de Tristan and the Roman de Erec and Enide by Chretien de Troyes describes the enclosure, loaded with fruit and flowers eternal and characterized by a mystical atmosphere. The Roman de la Rose, written in 1220 by Guillaume de Lorris and completed in 1280 by Jean de Meung, describes colors and scents and there exerts its various plants, fruit trees, ornamental plants and the supply of coolant ‘water. As a metaphor of ‘”courtly love”, the Hortus deliciarum is the symbol of the path that a knight begins to achieve happiness.

Hortus Conclusus / Hortus Deliciarum

Gabriel GuĂŠvrĂŠkian (1892-1970). The Hortus Conclusus or Garden Design as Composition

The gardens that Gabriel Guévrékian designed during the 1920s in France have long been considered peripheral to the history of landscape architecture. The reasons for this marginalization are clear: they were too decorative for such major polemicists as Sigfried Giedion and too bourgeois for the Congres International d’Architecture Moderne (CIAM). Yet in recent reappraisals of both Guévrékian and the early “modernist” garden in France, his works have become de facto icons of the garden art of this period. These recent valuations characterize Guévrékian’s gardens as among the earliest attempts to translate the lessons learned in cubist painting into garden design. They tend to be judged, consequently, not by their intrinsic qualities as physical landscapes, but by how well they simulate and stimulate associations with analytical cubist paintings. More recent discussions of Guévrékian’s gardens have marked them as direct translations of drawings or models or as elaborately constructed full-scale maquettes meant to be seen through the medium of photography, rather than experienced directly. The gardens of Guévrékian, along with those of his contemporaries Paul and André Vera, Jean-Charles Moreux, and Le Corbusier, exhibit numerous influences such as surrealism, purism, and, in the case of Guévrékian, simultanéisme and Persian Paradise Gardens.

Author, educator, industrial designer, polemicist, and architect, Guévrékian is principally remembered today for the three small gardens he designed between 1925 and 1928. They are: 1 The Garden of Water and Light. A temporary garden for the 1925 Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels Modernes at Paris 2 The small triangular garden for the Villa Noailles at Hyères (1926-27) 3 The terraced gardens of the Villa Heim (Neuilly, 1928).

The Paris and Hyères gardens, largely because they are similar formally and conceptually, are central to understanding the received view of Guévrékian’s work.

The Garden of Water and Light. A temporary garden for the 1925 Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels Modernes at Paris

J.C.N. Forestier, the chief designer of the grounds for the Paris exposition, commissioned Guévrékian to design a small garden with the intention of creating something that was at once “Persian” and “modern.” Forestier explained: “As part of this Exposition, I very much wanted to have a garden conceived in a modern spirit with some elements of Persian décor. Unfortunately the imitations of Arabian gardens and Spanish patios one typically encounters tend to be as banal as they are ubiquitous. Because there is so little room in an exposition such as this one, I stipulated that there must also be a modern spirit to this garden”. The garden was triangular in shape, largely consisting of tiered triangular reflecting pools and planting beds. At the center of the ensemble was an electrically propelled and internally illuminated sphere of stained glass.

Fletcher Steele observed: “The mirror globe turning slowly to reflect lights is rather a night-club trick than a serious attempt at garden decoration. But it is completely successful in focusing the interest and relieving, by its unexpected location, what would otherwise be an altogether stiff pattern”. A single water jet issuing from a small pylon fed the basin from a position located midway between the sphere and the apex of the enclosure along the garden’s central axis. The metal worker Louis Barillet designed both the sphere and the pylon, the latter suggesting the influence of Vladimir Tatlin’s project for the Monument to the Third International (1919-1920), exhibited in the Russian Pavilion.

Triangular-shaped planting beds of blue ageratum, white pyrethrum, red begonia, and green lawn bordered the pools and sphere on two sides. The walls and floors of the basins were painted with colors and concentric patterns designed by Robert Delaunay. Two large stone blocks punctuated the point of connection between the planting beds and the water basin, visually anchoring the composition. The entire ensemble was contained on two sides by low, diaphanous partitions made of small triangles of colored glass in white and various hues of pink. Although the garden was visually open on the side facing the Esplanade des Invalides, the garden was designed as a tableau that one looked at, but did not enter.

In Guévrékian’s garden for the 1925 Paris exposition, there is a more subtle reflection at work that returns us to the idea of the Paradise Garden. The Guévrékian’s gouache is often cited as a direct translation of an “overscaled Cubist painting in which the depth of field was frontally compressed.” Yet it is more accurately identified as a 90° or “straight-up” axonometric. The 90° axonometric was a popular drawing type of the period, used in both architectural drawings and in purist paintings. Both Le Corbusier and Guévrékian used axonometric projections to represent many of their architectural projects of the 1920s and early 1930s. In a drawing published in Lucrat’s Terrasses et jardins (c. 1929), the Veras represent the Noailles garden in Paris using a 90° axonometric. Paul Vera also used a “straight-up” axonometric to represent an early version of the côté-cour garden (c. 1930) for Jacques Rouché. The axonometric, therefore, represents an idealized image of an object, privileging part-to-part relationships and the general morphology of the object. The palette of colors that Guévrékian used in the drawing is neither cubist nor purist, but an extension of color schemes of simultanéisme developed by Robert and Sonia Delaunay.

Guévrékian’s axonometric drawing of the Paris garden directly relates to the formal and conceptual programs of a Paradise Garden. Forestier observed of it: “Here, Guévrékian sought to retrieve his memories of Persia….” The fundamental model of Persian gardens is the Paradise Garden. Paradise Gardens are isolated and idealized enclaves in which a water element supposedly representing the four rivers of Paradise divides the space into four equal precincts. This water element typically occupies the center of this walled garden type in which the mystical significance of trees and mountains are also key tropes. The inherently closed-off and private nature of these precincts, however, is not at all consistent with the realities of an esplanade in an international exposition. One does not promenade past a Paradise Garden in a state of distraction, to paraphrase Walter Benjamin, any more than one promenades past a sacred space. In Persian culture, the garden “is not a place where [one] wants to stroll; it is a place where [one] wants to sit and entertain [one’s] friends with conversation, music, philosophical discourse, and poetry….”

Persian gardens

Perhaps because of the incongruity of the site for the task at hand, perhaps in response to the geometric and spatial limitations of the site that Forestier described as “a very cramped triangle,” Guévrékian built only half of a Paradise Garden. Standing on one of the two paths that symmetrically flanked the central esplanade of the exposition grounds, one did not look at a “cubist” tableau jardin, rather one stood on a virtual cut-line – the idealized plane of reflection of a virtual garden. By cutting the garden diagonally rather than axially, Guévrékian may have been invoking another trope of ancient Near Eastern gardens: the early Mesopotamian settlers conceived of the sky as a triangle and depicted it as a mountain. The moon, which brought relief from the relentless sun, was depicted as a tree atop the mountain of the sky. As trees mark an oasis and the moon is a life-giver, so the sap of the moon tree must be water -–the elixir of life. In a Paradise Garden, therefore, it is not the garden that feeds the tree; rather, it is the tree that nocturnally waters the garden through the intercession of the radiant moon. The central tree in Guévrékian’s partial paradise is an illuminated sphere that, like the moon tree, feeds the triangular pools below and is flanked on two sides by faceted planting beds, suggesting a mounding-up of earth. In his gouache drawing, Guévrékian used the Purist technique of a “straight-up” axonometric to represent half of a Paradise Garden filtered through the reflective lens of surrealism and formally structured, not by the asymmetrical fragments and multiple viewpoints of analytical cubism, but rather by the faceted forms and balanced arrangement of synthetic cubism.

Many of these themes (Paradise Garden) reappear more vividly in Guévrékian’s garden for the Noailles at Hyères.

Hyères Garden

Shortly after seeing Guévrékian’s temporary garden at the Paris exposition in 1925, Vicomte Charles de Noailles wrote to Mallet-Stevens suggesting that Guévrékian be retained to make a garden for his villa that Mallet-Stevens was then designing for the Noailles at Hyères; Guévrékian, who had joined Mallet-Stevens’s office in 1922, was still working there. The villa was to be an artistic and architectural tour de force, exemplifying Charles and Marie-Laure Noailles’s patronage of avant-garde art. In addition to Mallet-Stevens and Guévrékian, Pierre Chareau, Theo van Doesburg, Eileen Gray, Henri Laurens, Jacques Lipchitz, and Jan and Joël Martel contributed to the villa. A model of Guévrékian’s project for the Hyères garden was exhibited at the 1927 Salon d’automne and was widely reviewed in the press.

Charles et Marie-Laure de Noailles, film “Biceps et bijoux”, 1928 : Jacques Manuel, CNAC-archives du film

The Paris and Hyères gardens are similar in a number of key areas. Each was bilaterally symmetrical and triangular, and had, as its focal point, a rotating sculptural element. In the Paris garden, the Barillet sphere occupied the center of the ensemble; the focus of the Hyères garden was Jacques Lipchitz’s bronze Joie de Vivre, which hovered and rotated above the apex of the garden.

In the built garden, the enclosing wall lowers abruptly at the apex of the triangle, opening onto an unobstructed view of the surrounding countryside. Yet the model demonstrates an opposing intention, for the surrounding wall is continuous with a horizontal opening in the south wall near the apex of the triangle; the window is not repeated in the north wall. The sense of enclosure and interiority apparent in the model is consistent with Guévrékian’s desire to block out the view of the adjacent countryside and sea – a ubiquitous sight from the villa and its gardens.

The surrealist program of the Villa Noailles is more explicitly documented in a short film commissioned by the Noailles and directed by Man Ray (who photographed the garden at the Hôtel Noailles in Paris). Les mystères du château du Dé (1928) depicts a kind of idealized vision of everyday life at the villa with dream-like sequences, many of which takes place at the large indoor pool that opens onto a terrace garden. Much of the film involves the acting out of games with hidden meanings. Whether the idea of creating a setting for mystery-laden games may have influenced the design of Guévrékian’s garden – particularly in terms of its large checkerboard pattern– remains one of the unanswered questions regarding the design of the garden. It has been suggested that both the Paris and the Hyères gardens were designed anticipating their translation into photographs – that they were, in effect, full-size maquettes for the expressed purpose of creating a photographic image but Guévrékian’s design requires more than the three points of view to appreciate the experience he intended. When Guévrékian’s gardens are reduced to the weak image of a cubist painting or enlarged to nothing more than full-size maquettes for the production of elaborately staged photographs, their power is diminished and their meaning obscured. Only in situ can one successfully experience the oscillating perception of space, material, and symbol prompted by these or, indeed, any gardens. Attempting to access the program of these sites via photography alone will always prove to be insufficient. To appreciate these gardens, absent the original sites, one must invent one’s own experiences, or vicariously recall the experiences of others, projecting oneself into the “continuous message” of the photographs and drawings of Guévrékian’s gardens.

Man Ray, The Mysteries of the Chateau de De / Les Mystères du Château de Dé, 1929 See:

This film depicts a pair of travellers setting off from Paris and travelling to the Villa Noailles in Hyères.

Beyond the formal similarities of the Paris and Hyères gardens, they share key ideas and thematic devices. One of the most critical of these is the theme of reflection, indicated by the manner in which Guévrékian represented his designs in drawings, by the materials out of which they were built and, in part, by how one experienced them. Mirrored surfaces were an important element in surrealist, cubist and dada art and literature in Paris since World War I. In Locus Solus (1914) Raymond Roussel describes a proto-surrealist garden of his protagonist, Professor Canteral. Like Guévrékian’s garden in Paris, the center of Canteral’s garden was dominated by a gigantic crystal that “gave out, under the full radiance of the sun, an almost unbearable luster, flashing in all directions.” While Roussel filled the faceted crystal in Canteral’s garden with water (aqua micans), the internally illuminated crystal in Guévrékian’s Paris garden was surrounded by facets of water. (“A prominent scientist and inventor, Martial Canterel, has invited a group of colleagues to visit the park of his country estate, Locus Solus. As the group tours the estate, Canterel shows them inventions of everincreasing complexity and strangeness. Again, exposition is invariably followed by explanation, the cold hysteria of the former giving way to the innumerable ramifications of the latter. After an aerial pile driver which is constructing a mosaic of teeth and a huge glass diamond filled with water in which float a dancing girl, a hairless cat named Khóng-dek-lèn, and the preserved head of Danton, we come to the central and longest passage: a description of eight curious tableaux vivants taking place inside an enormous glass cage. We learn that the actors are actually dead people whom Canterel has revived with ‘resurrectine’, a fluid of his invention which if injected into a fresh corpse causes it continually to act out the most important incident of its life.”)

Fernand Léger produced similar effects in his short film Ballet mécanique (1924), in which he used “mirrors to complicate images….” This general theme is mirrored in André Breton’s novel Nadja (1928), in which one encounters images of glass beds covered with glass sheets in glass houses, “where who I am will sooner or later appear etched by a diamond.”

During the 1920s and early 1930s Guévrékian and his colleagues explored the theme of reflection, both as an iconic device and as a way of altering one’s experience, in the gardens and buildings they designed. Mirrors have long been a part of both the design and experience of architectural interiors and landscapes. In his famous grotto at Twickenham (c.1719), Alexander Pope imbedded modest sized pieces of silvered glass within the recesses of the grotto’s walls, affecting an “enlarged aquatic imagery,” in a grotto too small to physically accommodate such an effect. Like Pope’s mirrors, the reflective surfaces in the gardens of Guévrékian, the Veras, Jean-Charles Moreux, and Le Corbusier often augmented or displaced conventional physical elements.

Garden designers Paul and André Vera and Jean-Charles Moreux, in the triangular front garden for the Hôtel de Noailles (1926) in Paris, clad one of the garden walls facing a wide street and tall buildings with a continuous row of mirrors. The other major wall, a composite of low shrubs and open wrought iron fencing, fronted a large urban square and side street. The ground plane of this Noailles garden largely consisted of alternating textures of colored pebbles, paved walkways, and beds of lowgrowing plants, arranged in triangular motifs. In Man Ray’s photograph of the garden, taken from above, the mirrors reflect the triangular patterns of the pebbled garden’s multi-textured paved parterres. Another photograph of the garden from the 1920s illustrates how the mirrors, when viewed from ground level, principally reflected the other walls of the garden, one of which is the hôtel’s entry façade. The long horizontal band of mirrors served a dual role in the garden; it reflected the interior surfaces of the garden and its surroundings while, at the same time, it deflected the vision of onlookers and the residents of the tall buildings directly across the street.

Front Garden, Hôtel Noailles, Paris, 1926. Photograph by Man Ray.


Mirrors were an important part of a number of other gardens from this period. Among these are the Beistegui garden (1929) by Le Corbusier. Mirrors were installed in the end wall of the côté-jardin, obfuscating the limits of the enclosure. An artificial fountain occupied the center of this ensemble. Glass ribbons created the illusion of water jets suspended in time. Below the glass fountain, actual water jets issued from the pylon into a basin, setting up a tension between the real and the imagined. In Le Corbusier’s rooftop garden for the Besteigui apartment, that included such devices as moveable shrubs and roofless rooms with floors of green lawn, horizontal sheets of polished black glass simulated the effects of reflecting pools. In these gardens, mirrors function as devices of illusion and allusion, de-familiarizing nature and destabilizing ones understanding of volume, space and surface.

Charles de Beistegui

All the hedges on the rooftop were controlled with a push of a button by hydraulics. They could be raised up and down to control the view, or the viewer, at Charles’s whim.

The periscope

One of Le Corbusier’s sketches. His garden walls mintentionally blocked the view; the great monuments of Paris were partly visible.

Arc de Triomphe

Eiffel Tower

Villa Heim, Neuilly

The series of simple, undecorated and “functional” terraces Guévrékian designed for the Villa Heim (1928) at Neuilly marked his shift away from the ornamental and metaphorical towards that which is “logical and necessary in response to the differing conditions of life.” A year later Guévrékian admonished Fletcher Steele in an interview that he not read too much into his garden at Hyères. It was not expressive of his general point of view, he claimed, but rather a singular work for a singular condition. The Hyères garden was not unique, of course, but one of two such projects that Guévrékian designed in as many years. Yet by the time Steele interviewed Guévrékian he had already retreated from individual garden design in favor of the CIAM project of open, neutral landscapes in the service of collective living. His work in Paris after 1928 resembled what Christopher Tunnard later characterized as the proper model for the designer of modern landscapes: “orchards, …truck gardens and experimental grounds, where plants are grown scientifically.” Guévrékian’s pre-CIAM work is highlighted by a desire to reinvent the Persian Paradise Garden in the crucible of Parisian avant-garde culture using the devices of surrealism (displacement and reflection), purism (axonometric representation) and synthetic cubism (symmetrically composed faceted surfaces). After the first CIAM conference (1928) any notion of the garden is absent from his work. One finds this quite explicitly in his “orchard” landscape for the Villa Lejeune in St. Tropez (1929), and by the vast industrial and institutional “truck gardens” illustrated in his monographs Bâtiments Industriels (1930), and, Hotels and Sanatoria (1931). The final two plates in Hotels and Sanatoria depict a hospital ship on the open sea. Hygienic, technologically advanced, and unencumbered by conventional boundaries of place, these images recall the photographs of cruise ships from Le Corbusier’s Vers une architecture (1923). Guévrékian left behind no record of his thinking on the matter of the modern garden; yet his actions are clear. In the wake of the 1928 CIAM conference and Le Corbusier’s “Virgilian dream,” where houses on pilotis rose “above the long grass of the meadow where cattle will continue to graze,” Guévrékian never made another like that garden for the villa Noailles at Hyères. There was no place for this kind of bourgeois paradise in CIAM’s collective vision of a utopian tabula rasa

Villa Heim, Neuilly, 1928

Project for Villa Lejeune, St. Tropez, 1929

Freedom from the Garden

In a lecture delivered to the International Federation of Landscape Architects in 1962, Bruno Zevi seems to speak for Guévrékian when he argues: “Too many books and essays on landscape architecture are concerned mainly with gardens. Is this right, or does it demonstrate, that the philosophy of landscape architecture has to be brought up to date? The transition from city-design to town-planning took place a long time ago: the same cannot be stated of the transition from the architecture of gardens to the architecture of landscapes”. …Do you feel, that the time has come to establish a distinction … between garden design and landscape design? For Guévrékian, Le Corbusier, Giedion, Tunnard, Zevi, and many others of this generation of architects, landscape architects and polemicists, freedom from the garden meant freedom to imagine a new mode of living in which landscape and architecture were different in degree, rather than kind. In this new mode, the structure of both landscape and architecture is spatially open, unencumbered by delimiting garden walls and typically un-bisected by idealized planes-of-reflection. In the paradise gardens Guévrékian designed for Paris and Hyères he used idealized planes-ofreflection and actual reflective surfaces to destabilize the concrete and to provoke new associations, a new territory of experience in garden art. Surrealism informed the design of these gardens. Michel Carrouges has called Surrealism “a movement of revolt,” born out of the “tragic conflict between the powers of the spirit and the conditions of life.” Yet if the gardens that Guévrékian and his colleagues designed during the inter-war years in Paris represented a revolution of sorts, it was short-lived. Freedom from the garden also meant a freedom from thinking about landscape in pictorial terms.

Carlo Scarpa(1906-1978). The Hortus Conclusus or Garden Design as Composition

Foundation Querini Stampalia Gardens, Venice

In 1961 Giuseppe Mazzariol, friend and colleague at the Universary Architecture Institute of of Venice of Carlo Scarpa and director of the Foundation Querini Stampalia, contacted him to remodel the ground floor and courtyard of the headquarters of the XVI century palace Querini Stampalia Foundation. The project was conditioned on the one hand, for very specific requirements of the Municipal Commission and the other by the strong restrictions imposed by the particular site. The Institute requested: 1 A new access to the building directly from the square 2 To make available spaces on the ground that were regularly subjected to the phenomenon of “acqua alta” (high tide) 3 To redesign of the small but valuable backyard garden. Scarpa defines a precise sequence: the entrance to the new court, the source, placed as conclusive evidence at the end of the axis of perspective. The layout and composition of the garden correspond to an asymmetric’a chessboard, almost a mosaic, where tiles coincide with squares of turf, different textures of paving, with tubs of roses or hydrangeas that separate out clearly the various areas of the garden. Scarpa’s design incorporates the garden into the palace, so that it is perfectly visible from the conference room.

An high concrete wall separate the little court from the green area. It doesn’t allow the views of the garden but leave only a glimpse through appropriate slots: in the shifting point of the septum there was no chance to pass but only to see a piece of green grass and the weaving of old bricks

Water is the main character of the composition, evoking the image of the source, it springs in the courtyard and dies in the garden assuming different forms and meanings. It runs through little channels and it is collectes in several points: the marble vase a metal labirinth. The search for an area of ​​great rigor, as opposed to ​​much more complex edges made the lawn the main protagonist of this project, an expanse and smooth surface with a few trees, (a Magnolia Soulageana,a Cercis Siliquastrum, a Prunus serrulata) three small trees characterized by an harmonious shape and violet flowerings, and a large pomegranate bush.

Here venetian spatialities merge with a Japanese spirit .

Don’t Touch The White Woman! is a 1974 French-Italian farce, an absurd “Western” set in Paris, directed by Marco Ferreri. Marcello Mastroianni stars as a vain General George Armstrong Custer. Richard Nixon is the American president. Buffalo Bill Cody (Michel Piccoli) is here portrayed as a charlatan media impresario. Ugo Tognazzi gives a fictional portrayal of Mitch Bouyer one of Custer’s Native American scouts, who runs a curios shop selling Native artifacts made in sweatshops by white women. Alain Cuny plays Sitting Bull who must defend his people when their homes (apartment buildings) are destroyed by the Union Cavalry. The movie climaxes with the Battle of the Little Bighorn held in a large enclosed space, the construction excavation where Les Halles market used to be. The language used to justify the conflict parodies the Vietnam War and the Algerian War.

The End

the hortus conclusus