The Collaboration of Modernism into Landscaping Architecture


Many modern installations from the mid-century are still standing strong in the world of landscaping. The task of using these decade old features in landscape architecture is tricky but many concepts of the modern age are still viable in today's contemporary world. Check out these ways that middle aged design concepts can continue to become great additions to a contemporary landscape.

Embracing Outdoor Living Space

The Collaboration of Modernism into Landscaping Architecture

Image Credit: WATG

The idea that outside areas like gardens should be regular living space first became popular in 1955 with a book entitled Gardens Are for People which was written by Thomas Church. This particular philosophy of design pulled people out of their homes and made them look at their outdoor areas as an extension of their living space. This same feeling is reflected in many current landscapes as backyard areas are commonly used for entertaining, relaxing, and family time. Realtors make a big deal about outdoor spaces because people do spend much more time outdoors now than they did before.

Multi-Use Plants

The Collaboration of Modernism into Landscaping Architecture

Image Credit: ViteParallele via Wikimedia

Modernist gardens of the past included plants that became more than just decoration but were used as sculptural forms to create depth and interest. Many designs strategically place plants to create beauty as well as function. A row of bushes on top of a retaining wall create a draw to nature as well as an added level of privacy. Plants that involve different textures are also commonly used to add subtle detail to a space.


One way that contemporary design differs from the modern era involves the lack of grass in many backyard spaces. Having a lush lawn was popular in the mid-century due to the arrival of new technology and inventions like gas lawn mowers. Not only do sports stadium experts debate natural turf, but today’s architectural design foregoes the need for lawns and the constant maintenance required in order to create more usable living space. This has created a nod to the modern era, though, in that many of the hardscapes that are used in current designs focus on minimalistic ideas that were so prevalent in the modern era.

Use of Shapes

The Collaboration of Modernism into Landscaping Architecture

Modern landscape designers used shape to help define a space and they weren’t scared to use shapes that didn’t conform to the normal straight edged areas. The use of shapes, even lack of shape form, became a staple in landscape design. This same type of thinking is common now as different shapes and lack of even sides helps to create interest to a rather bland space. The use of free formed shapes allows designers to create depth without having to use a lot of installations or extra decorations as well.

High Use of Concrete

The Collaboration of Modernism into Landscaping Architecture

Image Credit: Nico van der Meulen Architects

Many modern designers used much more concrete in their designs than plants or flowers. This idea of creating outdoor space that is long-lasting has come full circle as many current designers place hardscapes in much of their outdoor design. The use of concrete may lack an overall beauty quality but it allows the users easy access to the outdoor space by using the concrete as seats, benches, or gathering places. Modern design didn’t have strict boundaries, which allowed users to interact with the space as they saw fit. Current landscape design does the same when permanent pieces are used for multiple purposes beyond what the designer intended. For example, a retaining wall that is solely meant to create safety in a sloped space easily becomes extra seating or a place to showcase certain potted plants. 

Modernism may have come and gone but the landscape designs left behind by this era have left a lasting impression on how we use our outdoor space. Many people view their outdoor space as living space - something that is frequently used and enjoyed. The regular use of concrete in modern design has come through in today’s world with multi-use of hardscapes. Plants continue to be used for both form and function while the free use of shapes add a level of interest without added installations. It is in these ways that contemporary landscape architects are embracing, and continuing to use, modern designs of the past.

Written by Rachael Baihn

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Comments (1)

Technostruct, Engineer • Jul 17

Interesting article on Building Information Modeling! Thank you for sharing them! I hope you will continue to have similar posts to share with everyone!