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The 2003 John Wood Lecture on Architecture
Prof. Stephen Bann, Bristol University, FBA on 10 October 2003
Victor Suchar introduced the speaker as a recognised authority on garden architecture.
Prof. Bann began his lecture by pointing out two fundamental aspects of the garden each of which had to be experienced: first, movement and second, sound. As examples of movement, he mentioned the use of canals in French gardens with boats passing along, and in early English gardens elaborate sea battles were sometimes enacted. For sound, fountains are often used but in urban areas waterfalls or cascades. are normally required to overcome the louder noise of commercial traffic
Prof. Bann discussed two contemporary landscape garden designers whose work he has been following for about 40 years and whom he admires for their use of traditional motives to evoke ideas of the past. The two designers are Bernard Lassus and Ian Hamilton Finlay.
He illustrated a few of the differences that distinguish French and English gardens. For example, in French garden there is a pronounced relationship between the domestic and the wild aspects of the garden as well as a single point of view from which the symmetry of the garden can be appreciated to best advantage. English gardens on the other hand appear to be half planned and half unplanned and are not intended to be viewed from any particular position.
Finlay has been inspired by paintings of gardens, especially those of Claude le Lorrain and Poussin. Also because he is a poet, words and inscriptions play a large part in his gardens. Prof. Bann showed slides of three of Finlay's gardens pointing out the inspirations, motives and signatures on the landscape. Among the gardens discussed was Stockwood Park near Luton.
He also focused on a garden by Lassus, designed for a riverside site at Rochefort-sur-Mer to recall the days of Rochefort as a great seaport and manufacturer of rope for sailing ships. This was not a typically French design, consequently the garden offered a variety of different vistas. The primary feature of the garden was an artificial boat with its elaborate sail rigging.
Lassus has also been responsible for a successfully designed rest area garden near Nimes incorporating an attractive façade of a listed portico from a nineteenth century neo-classical theatre that had previously stood in the centre of Nimes opposite the Maison Carré. Prof. Bann ended his talk with a brief description of a Finlay garden in St. George's, Brandon Hill, Bristol.
There were a series of questions from the audience on aspects of noise in a garden such as the possibility of incorporating wind farms, the impact of pressures for low maintenance gardens, changes over time in French gardens and the continuing influence of painting in garden design.
John Toland, BRLSI Trustee, gave the vote of thanks expressing the audience's appreciation for this talk on two of the most original contemporary landscape designers who are returning to ideas and icons of the past.