Historie precedent

The outdoor room is probably the most pertinent description that holds true for the vernacular English garden.2 The precedent stretches back in European terms to the Italian Renaissance and in turn to the gardens created in Southern Spain at Granada and Seville. In essence, the outdoor space is compartmented into 'rooms and passages' laid out across sloping land with stairs to facilitate movement from level to level.

Stepped paths are matched with stepped parapets in Granada (Figure 5.3«) in contrast to pebble ramps enlivened by fountains bordered by walls

Figure 53a Moorish inspiration in the Generalife Gardens, Granada, fifteenth century: restored in 1920s: Stepped paths and parapets

having waterfall copings (Figure 5.3b). Spanish gardeners accompanied the Borgias when they went to live in Italy; little wonder therefore that the stepped water gardens in Tuscany, Rome, and its hinterland or Venetia have the qualities of Andalusia.

The quintessence must surely exist in the terraced and multi-staired water paradise at the rear of the Villa d'Este (Figure 5.4a). This garden, which serves as an outdoor room, is the size of Trafalgar Square and criss-crossed with three vistas in each direction, with ramps and staircases that tumble down 20 m from the palace to the furthest terrace. Each step and turn is water embel-

Figure 5.3b Pebble ramps, enlivened by fountains bordered by walls having waterfall copings
Figure 5.4a Villa d'Este, Tivoli, 1550s, designer: Pierre Ligorio: Key plan

lished (Figures 5.4b and 5.4c). Plans of the Spanish Steps in Rome (Figures 5.5a and 5.5b) convey in their arabesques and curves the notion of a musical cadence. The concept of turning, stopping, advancing and retreating is the key to the elaboration achieved within this Italian tradition. The symbol of dance and lovers' meetings is captured by the sublime music of Le Nozze di Figaro where the penultimate scene occurs within an Italian garden.

A similar cadence occurs at Villa Garzoni where designers have translated the outdoor space into a veritable palace of garden rooms with some of the grandest external stairs ever constructed (Figure 5.6).3 The key visual element in Italian gardens is the role played by stairs as scenery to frame the views and where the diagonal or curving balustrade patterns provide the essential clues as to direction and geometrical composition. The landscape proportion of riser to tread is often as gentle as

Figure 5.4b Villa d'Este, Tivoli: Return stairs enclosing a fountain

Figure 5.4c Villa d'Este, Tivoli: Stepped ramp, waterfall coping and gargoyle

100 mm x 400 mm as occurs in the Spanish Steps (Figure 5.5c). Landscape architects are taught to use a different proportion from interior designers, usually twice the rise plus the tread to equal 700 mm instead of 600 mm.

Another detail of Italianate design is the way the spatial experience is played upon or pinched at stair locations (Figures 5.7«—). Perspective effect can be increased by tapering the flight or by reducing the balustrade size in distant views. Expectations can be raised by using curved platform steps at gateways either sunken or raised flights, a favourite device of Edwin Lutyens. Dull, repetitive parallel treads can be enhanced by slightly curving the nosing edge (in plan), a detail referred to by Sir George Sitwell in his treatise On the Making of Gardens (Figure 5.7e) illustrates a curved nosing line taken from the terrace steps at Renishaw. The use of a footspace at the base and head of garden steps will prevent wear and tear in a lawn setting, the geometry of this footspace also assisting with orientation.

Aalto devised a feature of lawn steps for his civic buildings in Finland. Figure 5.8 illustrates the rear of the Town Hall in Seinajoki.

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