Review: Private Landscapes - Modernist Gardens in Southern California

Modern landscapes are a dime a dozen these days, but have you ever wondered how they got started? "Private Landscapes" by Pamela Burton and Marie Botnick explores the development of modernist gardens in this updated paperback reprint of the 2003 original. The book profiles twenty significant homes and landscape gardens created by celebrated architects such as Richard Neutra, Rudolph Schindler, Gregory Ain, Raphael Soriano, Harwell Hamilton Harris, A. Quincy Jones, and John Lautner. Although the Southern California modernist style has been abundantly covered by architectural books over the years, "Private Landscapes" shines the spotlight on the landscapes that helped create a harmonious relations with the home design. 

The modernism movement is generally regarded as a European movement (see: Bauhaus), but there are many examples of modernist design in Southern California dating back to 1911, such as the works of Irving Gill. Gill was one of many American architects that contrasted European designers such as Mies van der Rohe in that they included the landscape as an integral park of their designs. The most significant leap in the modernist movement occurred with the arrival of Garrett Eckbo, who brought his work in and around Los Angeles between 1945 and 1965.

The first six projects focus on Richard Nuetra and chronicle his rise to fame on an international scale. Nuetra had only completed one major commission by 1932, the Lovell House, before he was included in the "International Exhibition of Modern Architecture" in New York. By 1949, he was on the cover of Time magazine. Nuetra's houses are spectacular and Private Landscapes does an excellent job of highlighting how the landscape and plan considerations created the architect's innovative designs.

(Related Article: Five Modernist Landscape Architects)

The book then begins to break down a plethora of other mid-century gardens by various architects that were built anywhere from 1934 to 1963. Notably mentioned here are Saphael Soriano's Richard Strauss House (1940) and Joseph Van der Kar's Albert Wohlstetter House. There is a nice mix of original photography and present day condition photographs that give you a great sense of the passage of time. Many of the homes look downright new and are representative of current styles and minimalist trends. Mostly, I am a fan of the plans and diagrams that the authors managed to include. There are initial brainstorming ideas, planting plans with bold colors, and a few nice detailed ones that must have been done specifically for the book.

Overall, Private Landscapes explores a very influential era in private architectural design. On a residential scale, the use of materials, splashes of color, and space management become ever more important elements because of scale. It is impressive to see many of these homes cared for and in great conditions after all these decades. The book is filled with big glossy and beautiful photographs shot by Tim Street-Porter. Hopefully, the southern California sun and foliage will be as inspiring to you as it was to me.

PRIVATE LANDSCAPES: MODERNIST GARDENS IN SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA
Lead image of Pamela Burton via Pamela Burton & Company

Looking for other great resources for your design library? 
Head over to our resource section where we have curated a collection of essential Landscape Architecture Books >>

Benjamin Boyd is a landscape designer in Baltimore, Maryland. You can follow him on Twitter at @benboyduf.

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