Across the Open Field
Essays Drawn from English Landscapes
Publication Year: 2012
"Twenty-eight years ago I went to England for a three-month visit and rest. What I found changed my life."
So begins this memoir by one of America's best-known landscape architects, Laurie Olin. Raised in a frontier town in Alaska, trained in Seattle and New York, Olin found himself dissatisfied with his job as an urban architect and accepted an invitation to England to take a respite from work. What he found, in abundance, was the serendipity of a human environment built over time to respond to the land's own character and to the people who lived and worked there. For Olin, the English countryside was a palimpsest of the most eloquent and moving sort, yet whose manifestation was of ordinary buildings meant to shelter their inhabitants and further their work.
With evocative language and exquisite line drawings, the author takes us back to his introduction to the scenes of English country towns, their ancient universities, meandering waterways, and dramatic cloudscapes racing in from the Atlantic. He limns the geologic histories found within the rock, the near-forgotten histories of place-names, and the recent histories of train lines and auto routes. Comparing the growth of building in the English countryside, Olin draws some sobering conclusions about our modern lifestyle and its increasing separation from the landscape.
As much a plea for saving the modern American landscape as it is a passionate exploration of what makes the English landscape so characteristically English, Across the Open Field is "an affectionate ramble through real places of lasting worth."
Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press
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Title Page, Copyright, Dedication
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I N 1970, 1 WENT TO ENGLAND for a three-month visit and rest. What I found changed my life. Trained as an architect, but frustrated with the field as I knew it, I was over whelmed by the English landscape. This was especially so as I came to see it that sum mer as a built artifact, a mosaic of designs and purpose. This experience launched me into the study of landscape history and soon led to my pursuit of landscape architecture instead of that of the architecture of buildings. Over the next four years I spent months on end in ...
1 As the Twig Is Bent
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The following of such thematic designs through one's life should be, 0 NE DAY NEAR THE END of my first summer in Britain, while visiting Magdalen College, Oxford, the cumulative experience of recent walks, sights, senses, and ideas, the layering of efforts and disciplines that have made the landscape of southern Britain, became overwhelming. Many thousands of people before me have passed through this college and its environs and have been moved by its tranquil cloister, com ...
2 On Buckland and Drawing: First Impressions and Later Observations
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THERE IS AN ELUSIVE ASPECT to life in the English countryside. Ifl were to name any one quality that best describes the feeling of the village of Buckland in mid summer, I would probably choose that of calm, of stillness and quiet. It would be a mistake, however, to presume that Buckland was a ghost town or somehow dull and soporific. Quite the contrary is true. It was busy, humming with activity in fact, but of the quiet, resolved nature of bees moving about the flowers in a kitchen garden. A steady, ...
3 Village and Farm: Longbridge Deverill, Wiltshire
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For my own part, I think there is somewhat peculiarly sweet and amusing in the shapely figured aspect of chalk-hills in preference to those of stone, which He observed that the country was smoother and more plastic. The woods had gone, and under a pale-blue sky long contours of earth were flowing, merging, rising a little to bear some coronal of beeches, parting a little to ...
An Agricultural Landscape
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I wAs NOT IN FACT to return to Buckland, even when I secured funding a few years later and set off for England once again. In returning to the topic of the English land scape with a wife whom I'd met in England during that first summer visit and our six month-old daughter, I went to a property in Wiltshire that my wife's family had recently purchased. It was on the edge of Salisbury Plain and called Loughridge Deverill. It was not a name that meant anything to me, but at least its position between Salisbury and Bath ...
Bronze and Iron Age Developments
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...sand were encamped at Sand Hill farm during World War I and again one thousand men and their tanks during World War II. An elderly resident told me that between the retreat from Dunkirk and the invasion of Normandy the downs were covered with tents and you couldn't get into the pub for soldiers on Friday nights. Today, once again, it is a quiet, pros perous farming community. It has changed and it will change again. ...
Medieval Longbridge and the Emergence of Wessex
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...medieval wool market, large cities and towns didn't evolve, even though everyone was kept very busy and the economy soared. This is because corn and sheep do well together. Arable crops needn't decrease as flocks increase; in fact, the two do best increasing together. This increase in livestock was a direct result of efforts to increase the arable acreage because of The choice between sheep and cattle was tipped toward sheep by climate, terrain, and ...
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The furlongs that replaced them eventually covered most of the arable land in the lowland zone of England and lasted for centuries, in most places until the Enclosure Acts of the sev enteenth and eighteenth centuries. In parts of the Midlands they survived until1940. A sys tem of continuous plowing with few turns led to long, narrow strips that were humped up along the middle owing to the continuous direction of the soil movement to the left, first ...
Architecture in the Landscape: The Great Rebuilding
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...ahead of those working under them, but also for their size and strength: they must, if pushed, be tough enough to control physically any or all of their men. A man like this wouldn't take kindly to having to get muddy to keep people in line. Second, and more important then as now, one had to be willing to get his hands dirty in order to administer Two privileges that the abbot of Glastonbury and his tenants at Longbridge enjoyed ...
Climate, Ecology, and the Landscape
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...during the robust economic decade of the 198os, wherein fierce opposition from a wide cross section of the community - laymen, professionals, the press - broke out to each and every proposal, convinced me that the local authorities and design professionals had completely lost the trust of the citi~enry. While they could vote out the legislative mem bers, the planners and staff were protected by civil service and had become untouchable ...
Longbridge at the Crossroads
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...paddies have been constructed. Fresh running water is diverted from the river, moved through the beds, and returned to the river. In long, shallow beds the tasty aquatic plant is carefully grown in great quantity. Like all agriculture, it encourages some forms of wildlife and discourages others. In this case these plants would normally be part of a freshwater edge successional stage, one that is highly favorable to small aquatic animals, especially ...
4 Et in Arcadia Ego: Landscape Gardens and Parks
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Other sweet and delectable Country Seats and Villas of the Nobless, rich and Opulent Citizens (about our August [i.e., London]) built and environed with parks, padocks, Plantations, &c. adapted to country and rural Seats, dispersed through the whole nation, conspicuous not only for the Structure of their Houses, built after the best rules of Architecture, but for Situation, ...
Love at First Sight
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I HAD BEEN IN ENGLAND for the first time for all of eight hours when friends took me out onto a terrace overlooking a private park in Oxfordshire. It was a lovely July evening with the sun flooding a meadow below, and across the golden wheat fields of the Thames valley and the hills of the Cotswolds beyond to the north. A herd of fallow deer silently grazed belly deep in the meadow grasses and wildflowers between us and a lake several hundred yards downhill. Dark cedars towered over the honey-colored pavilions to ...
Habits of Mind
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It is difficult to determine why a people or nation develops some of its habits. Why does one country raise to a higher art something that in a more rudimentary form is common to many others? Consider gardens. More than anywhere else that one can think of in the West, England is a nation of gardeners. France, Germany, and Italy all have great gardens and rich agricultural areas also. All have a tradition ranging from high-art to kitchen gar ...
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...small circle of intellectuals, most of whom were allied to the political fortunes of the Whigs; who swept to power after engineering the accession of King George I, as well as a few Tories like Alexander Pope, one of the most important polemicists of the new "natural-artificial" gardening movement. Coinciding with this development was the rise of neo-Palladian architecture, first introduced to England by the Renaissance genius Inigo ...
Italian Moods, Palladians, and the Landscape
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Twenty-five years ago there was only a handful of scholarly books on English gardens. Since then landscape and garden history has emerged as a rich field of scholarship, loosing a torrent of work, some by cultural historians, some by art or architectural historians, and some as well by geographers and literary scholars. An information lacuna similar to that of the so-called Dark Ages has now been filled by a spate of articles and books detailing devel ...
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By 1730 Palladian architecture was firmly established as the most fashionable mode for country estates and civic buildings. Politicians, writers, retired generals, and a cross sec tion of hereditary lords were all building gardens and structures in the new manner. Hen ry Flitcroft and Isaac Ware, trained at Burlington House and Chiswick, went on to execute numerous commissions and to publish books of their own on architecture. Two of ...
Lancelot "Capability" Brown
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...hardwoods, flowering shrubs from Asia. Romanticism, with all that the term implies in art and sentiment, was to flourish at Stourhead as in the nation as a whole. A tempest between advocates of the "picturesque" and those of the "gardenesque" was soon to dominate the writing and practice of estate design. Some, who in earlier times would have devoted them selves to the arts and the "improvement" of their parks, turned instead to the sciences, to ...
The Landscape Movement Spreads
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At the same time, however, Brown's career and circle of acquaintances and clients were developing parallel with that of Chambers and Adam. Apparently on decent terms with Adam, Brown worked on many projects for the same clients, usually during the same years. Chambers took a dislike to both Brown and his work, and soon they were powerful adversaries. Chambers accused Brown of having a poverty-stricken imagination and ...
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The second English garden I explored that first summer was Pusey. It lay only a mile south of Buckland. Taking less than an hour to reach by footpath through the fields from Buck land, it was even quicker to visit by bicycle. In recent times most visitors have come to see the remarkable garden of flowering shrubs, perennials, herbs, and exotic trees created in this century within the grounds of an older park by a pair of superb gardeners, Michael ...
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Six miles west of Buckland along the same ridge lies Buscot House and Park, first built between 1770 and 1780. Heavily derived from the style of Adam inside and out, the house had been altered several times and was restored to its earlier appearance just before World War II. Although the main lines of the park are distinctly representative of Brown's man ner, its most distinctive feature is a series of handsome Italianate allees, basins, and gardens ...
Wardour Castle, Buckland House, and Richard Woods
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By far the most impressive house along the Golden Ridge west of Oxford is Buckland House. Begun in 1757 by Sir Robert Throckmorton, the house was designed by John Wood the Younger, the designer of the Royal Crescent in Bath and son of Ralph Allen's architect at Prior Park. The house, neo-Palladian in design and illustrated in Vitruvius Britannicus, volume 2, handsomely furnished with superb details and plasterwork, was completed in ...
In Conclusion: Beauty Past Change
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BUCKLAND HOUSE may stand, then, for the eighteenth century's great achievement the image and idea of a park: undulating land forms; trees set out singly and in groves, occasionally with underplanting; a sprinkling of neoclassical features in visually significant locations; gently curving paths and drives; and natural-appearing bod ies of water -lakes, streams, and ponds. Brown died in 1783 and Woods in 1793. Their less well known contemporaries faded away. Humphry Repton, John Nash, and others were to ...
Suggestions for Further Reading
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I N MOST ENDEAVORS, part of the pleasure of pursuing an interest issues from the activity itself. In the case of landscape history this entails the pursuit of information in several forms. First there is that displayed by the land itself, a sample of which is portrayed herein; then there is the vast wealth of information located in archives in the form of letters, deeds, maps, contracts, and all man ner of records, public and private. Finally, there are, of course, books, of a wide variety and all peri ods. In the years since I embarked upon this topic as an amateur without a guide through several ...
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I wouLD LIKE TO THANK the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation and the American Academy in Rome, for without their generous aid I could never have attempted this project. I owe a particular debt to the late Frank Brown and to Henry N. Millon, the two people most responsible for the vigor of the American Academy during my years there. While in Rome I was aid ed by a remarkable community of scholars, who offered me the inspiration of their work, the stim ulus of their companionship and conversation, and in several mstances the opportunity to read and ...
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Page Count: 384
Publication Year: 2012
Series Title: Penn Studies in Landscape Architecture