Garden architecture

Some aspects of designing external stairs come within the realm of garden architecture. It is not possible to condense that vast topic, the reader is therefore left to search out their favoured source, Oriental or Islamic, English, French, Italian or Spanish or perhaps that blend of vernacular that pertains to European landscape design today.1

There are common forms of external steps. A primary role concerns steps that relate to buildings, a secondary aspect are those which serve the functional needs for access into or through the landscape or townscape. Both forms have developed a decorative role in garden architecture, like steps placed around a pool or else in a kerb, or plinths to mark differing levels, and the decorative aspect can be enhanced by the use of materials, such as grass versus paving.

External stairs carry symbolic undertones with perhaps a greater poignancy due to the connection with nature. There are many temples of the Buddhist faith that are constructed in the form of steps to heaven (Figure 2.1a).

The reverence inspired by a temple mount can also pertain to more modest themes, as witnessed by the Kennedy Memorial, Runnymede, for it demonstrates the most eloquent expression of steps and surfaces in a simple landscape setting. The approach is through woodland with the pathway picked out in granite setts, the steeper parts having ramped steps. The open meadow beyond the wood has mounded setts that rise to the climax of the memorial. The formal approach route is made via sunken stone treads of ample proportion, these relating to the terrace paving on which is mounted the plinth block and memorial stone (Figures 5.1a and 5.1b).

A differing response occurs with steps that lead down into sunken chambers or that disappear below water. The psychology of descent into shade or below ground or below water is totally opposite to the optimism in climbing Tai Shan. Some significant examples are the cistern temples in India where the architectural ensemble is a preparation for the ceremonial cleansing at the lowest level. The cisterns and water steps featured in many temple complexes are designed for large crowds of worshippers within a sacred enclosure (Figure 5.2a).

The theme of descent and purification was captured superbly at the Memorial de la Déportation at the eastern end of the Ile de la Cité, in Paris (Figure 5.2b). Here one descends from a green garden down stone steps into a sunken shaded courtyard of masonry and iron with glimpsed views of the Seine forever breaking past the promontory; turn round and there is the inner sanctuary, a peaceful softly lit hall of remembrance. The return route is back into the light and the hustle and bustle of the market behind Notre Dame.

Figure 5.1a Kennedy Memorial, Runnymede, 1965, Architect: Sir Geoffrey Jellicoe: Ramped steps

Figure 5.2a Water steps and tank, Temple at Chidambaram, India (Courtesy of Timothy Blanc)

Figure 5.1b Kennedy Memorial, Runnymede: Formal steps and memorial

Figure 5.2b Memorial de la Déportation, Paris, 1962, sculpture by Desserprit, Architect: GeorgesHenri Pingusson
Homeowners Guide To Landscaping

Homeowners Guide To Landscaping

How would you like to save a ton of money and increase the value of your home by as much as thirty percent! If your homes landscape is designed properly it will be a source of enjoyment for your entire family, it will enhance your community and add to the resale value of your property. Landscape design involves much more than placing trees, shrubs and other plants on the property. It is an art which deals with conscious arrangement or organization of outdoor space for human satisfaction and enjoyment.

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