Essays on Meaning
More than two decades after publishing his landmark essay “Form, Meaning and Expression in Landscape Architecture” in Landscape Journal, Laurie Olin has revisited the topic in Meaning in Landscape Architecture & Gardens, a collection of essays and commentaries edited by Marc Treib. The book features the work of four luminaries in the landscape architecture profession exploring an essential question: can landscape design and gardens express meaning and significance in the way that other forms of art do?
In the book, Laurie discusses how the complexity of landscape architecture both evokes profound personal experiences while simultaneously resisting standard academic or literary critiques of meaning in artistic expression:
“Just as there are levels of meaning and discourse in language, ranging from laundry lists to business letters, from narrative fiction to lyric poetry, so too are there levels of meaning in landscape. They range from the mundane to the profound whether they are attractive or disheveled, beautiful or not, small or large…Landscapes are made of many diverse phenomena – visual, aural, tactile, olfactory – that may trigger the recall of things from our own personal environmental history, which in turn combine with a world of information from our education and experience. For this reason there is no question in my mind that the art of landscape design – when it is an art – is possibly the most complex and sophisticated art we possess.”