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American Society of Landscape Architects


The Hedge and the Void
The landscapes of Dieter Kienast and an overview of his career.
By Marc Treib

Recent discourse in landscape architecture has centered on ideas of bigness and natural process, with only limited attention addressed to social use or spatial design. Projects such as large-scale parks and brownfield remediation normally find solutions in open-ended management schemes rather than detailed horticultural plans, and the garden appears almost as a relic of a distant and romantic past. Despite this valuing of process over design—which retrieves the profession's devotion to ecological process during the 1960s and '70s—some landscape designers have continued to operate with equal facility in both modes. One of those was the Swiss landscape architect Dieter Kienast, whose work embraced a full range of concerns from the small to the large, from the fixed to the mutable, and from the natural to the constructed.

Although his early career did include public projects, Kienast continued to make gardens—relatively small gardens for the most part—throughout his career, and in some ways he retained the lessons of the gardens even while working at increased scale. "The garden is the last luxury of our day and age," he wrote in 1990, "because it is rooted in the very aspects of our lives that have become most rare and precious: time, care, and space." In his native Switzerland he applied these desirable qualities of the garden to public landscapes such as parks, plazas, cemeteries, office courts, and exposition landscapes. Almost without exception, they were well conceived, refined as spatial and formal designs, and elegant in materials and detail. Although they rarely called attention to the fact—either on site or in the publications that presented them—a considerable number of the projects were governed by an attention to ecological process and a broad understanding of the forces by which landscapes are governed. Rhetoric played only a very small role in his designs, despite his prominent position as university professor. More important was his consideration of landscape design as a contribution to "the dialectic on artificiality and naturalness."

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