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Open to the sky.

By Malene Hauxner. Copenhagen: Danish Architectural Press. 2003. [euro]61

This book is interesting more for what it might tell us about ourselves than its general message. The rather earnest theme is that conventional Modernist architectural propositions can be transliterated into landscape design thinking and have been in scores of elegant, restrained, sparse and largely orthogonal examples in the postwar Modernist landscape--to a large extent the Scandinavian post-war landscape up to around 1968.

The lesson that the book has for us is to do with parochialism. Malene Hauxner is last year's winner of the Nykredit prize for architecture and is a landscape designer and lecturer at the Danish Royal Veterinary and Agricultural University. Although the text was apparently largely written in the US where the author had a research scholarship, it was written in Danish and from a largely Scandinavian perspective. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. But in the minute detail with which the author examines the few decades of the Modernist landscape tradition it gets a bit boring: you wade through the endless instances of competitions and schemes which didn't win and great built examples and wonder whether there is anything grippingly interesting on the other side. You also hope, a bit in vain, that the chapter section headings might be about something more than landscape types: 'outdoor rooms', 'walls and water surfaces', 'green Spanish walls', 'from lawn to square' and so on.

Here is a book which you feel could do with a great deal of editing--particularly of the over-use of quotations of relatively banal content--and quasi-genealogical recitations of interpersonal connections and non-connections such as in this not-untypical passage: 'Sven-Ingvar Andersson was neither employed by nor studied with C. Th. Sorensen, but he worked with Sven Hermelin ... Eh? If you are concentrating hard you eventually come to the conclusion that the bewildering negatives in this passage are to do with establishing the impartiality of the 'quiet but kindly determined' Sorensen when, as you learn in a later passage, he anointed Andersson as his successor at the Danish Academy of Fine Arts. These two, if the index is anything to go by, are Hauxner's heroes. So here is lifted one corner of an intricate and almost Ibsenesque set of small-country professional/personal relationships which it is critically important for the author to get right: she belongs in that circle. But it is surely of little interest to the outside world. And so you wonder, with a degree of alarm, how parochial English writing about landscape, architecture and design might seem to the outside world.

It is quite difficult to get specialist books like this published and, as here, would-be authors have to trawl around for grants. Does this have a stultifying effect on the text? On the evidence of this--and Catherin Bull's recent, grant-funded New Conversations with an Old Landscape--I think that at least it inhibits controversy and encourages a dull, worthy, even-handedness. On the other hand the books might have been like that without grey grant suits lurking in the background.
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Author:Lyall, Sutherland
Publication:The Architectural Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jul 1, 2004
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