Eelco Hooftman: How Landscapes Echo Their Histories

Posted in Vol 13 No 3 by bsaab on December 16, 2010

In November 2010 at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, landscape architect Eelco Hooftman described how landscape paintings have influenced our built landscapes throughout history and, in turn, how constructed landscapes influence art. His firm, GROSS.MAX, uses collage-like images that avoid looking real yet curiously convey a sense of suspense. Hooftman gave an eye-candy presentation filled with both playful and artful graphics depicting thoughtful concepts, and built-work photos.

In “Old Town, New Town, No Town,” an exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh, Scotland, Hooftman cleverly overlaid wolves and other beasts in an urban context, noting the similarities between the wilderness and our own cities. The one image that stands out in my mind was a collage of an urban fox hunt, showing hunters on horseback crossing a highway with the prized fox escaping off the page. He described how collectively these images were bound in a red book, hinting back to Humphry Repton’s Red Books—which helped to popularize and inform the Picturesque landscape for his clients—an excellent example of how landscapes influence paintings and drawings, and how art informs the landscape.

Hooftman showed many GROSS.MAX–built projects, including Potters Fields Park in London, formerly a pottery site that produced English Delftware, on the south bank of the Thames. A park gateway and a long concrete seatwall use interesting stencil-styled patterning. The pattern’s bluish color appears to reference the patina on the background bridge cables (just as a landscape painting might). Plantsman Piet Oudolf designed the delightful and ethereal perennial plantings.

Another particularly interesting project is the firm’s Rottenrow Gardens in Glasgow, Scotland. The park occupies the dramatically sloping and terraced site of a former hospital. Hooftman revealed his process of discovering which historic elements were to be kept and how the landscape has been layered to reference the historic land use. Some of the existing limestone façades were reinvented as gabion walls, and other salvaged follies were tucked into the landscape.

He went on to illustrate and describe several other noteworthy projects, including Kew Gardens Master Plan—Royal Botanic Gardens in London, BMW’s Leipzig factory and London’s Royal Festival Hall.

Singer-songwriter Justin Townes Earle, echoing Hooftman, was recently quoted in Garden & Gun magazine saying, “This is an old world, and we’re working inside existing forms, with things that have been repeated over and over again.” Earle’s reference to music could just as easily have been a reference to how landscapes echo their own unique histories.

Check the museum’s website for the next lecture in the Landscape Visions series.

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