martes, 16 de julio de 2019

Interview with Thomas Doxiadis

Garden designed by doxiadis+. Photo by Clive Nichols

(Si prefieres leer esta entrevista en español la puedes encontrar en el siguiente enlace: Entrevista a Thomas Doxiadis)

As I write these lines, we languish in the throes of the second heat wave of the summer. Once more, forty degrees hit the south of Madrid, and here, 100 km to the north and more than a thousand metres above sea level, the temperature has reached 37. The Media this week have published a study conducted by a Swiss research institute which concludes that in 2050 the climate in Madrid will be similar to the current climate of Marrakech. Actually, we don’t need to be apocalyptic: it is already very hot, too hot, in the centre of Spain. My garden is stressed by these conditions, and so am I. Breakdowns in the irrigation system, absent-mindedness and plants that end up dying despite all the care in the world keep me in a perpetual state of anxiety. Every year around this time, I reconsider what this garden should be. In Spain we have followed a somewhat ridiculous approach to gardening. Instead of looking at our own valid reference models (see the Alhambra in Granada for instance), we have turned our eyes to our Anglo-Saxon neighbours and their green lawns. I have nothing against having a small lawn in areas designed for play, a gratifying picnic or a good nap, but if the aesthetic core of our gardens is to cover as much as possible with grass, we are falling into climatic absurdity. Despite the State telling us constantly to save water, I have not yet seen a place where by law, the grass adorning roundabouts must be replaced by a good plantation of thyme and rosemary. This is a good example of the extent of the absurdity: grass that is only trodden on by the poor man condemned to mowing it every week.
I thought that the advent of naturalist style gardens would help solve this problem, and indeed it does; great landscapers are designing beautiful and considerably more efficient and resilient gardens for our climate. But the showiness of some of the Perennial Movement’s international figures, have led to some of us, including myself, getting it wrong again. We don't want English landscape gardens but we want Dutch naturalistic plantations. Actually, we can have both a landscape garden and a naturalistic garden, but based on other references. Why not look at our “dehesas” as a reference model? And if we want naturalistic plantations without being permanently attached to a hose, the Mediterranean Garrigue would be a better source of inspiration than a prairie in northern Europe. There is a practical aspect to this (reducing watering is a source of tranquillity), an ecological aspect (water is very valuable to our climate), but also a somewhat more philosophical aspect. I am a strong supporter of the idea that gardening is one of the best tools for the sustainability of our landscapes. Having beautiful gardens nearby will make us more sensitive to the beauty that surrounds us. And sensitivity is the first step to nurture. But this of course, will only happen if gardens respond to frames of reference that we find beyond our garden fence. If our reference model is exuberant plantations of echinaceas and rudbeckias, possibly we will never falling in love with our mounts of rockrose and lavender. At the landscaping congress held last year at Rey Juan Carlos University, James Hitchmough and Olivier Filippe gave two interesting talks whose message focussed on a single idea: let's keep in mind what our climate is, and in Spain, remember that much of your country responds to steppe, if not semi-desert, climatic conditions. At one point in the talk, I think Olivier Filippi perceived some scepticism among the audience. He stopped his talk and asked, as he pointed at the image of a Mediterranean landscape he was projecting: “Do you like this?... because maybe in the future you have no other option.” That is the key, we have to learn to enjoy the beauty of our own landscapes. We all have a very personal idea of what a beautiful garden is, but that concept can also be changed. In the same way that Piet Oudolf taught us to appreciate the beauty of the dead structures of perennials during winter, other gardeners are trying to make us see the beauty in the summer dryness of our Mediterranean bushes and perennials.
In recent weeks, I have had access to an interview and a garden that will allow me to focus on the subject. We will see the garden in a future entry, but this one is dedicated to Elita Acosta’s interview of Thomas Doxiadis for the magazine Verde es Vida. Thomas Doxiadis directs the study doxiadis+, whose leitmotif is already a declaration of intentions: Designing for Symbiosis. Doxiadis is clearly in favour of an approach to gardening based on the maximum respect for the Mediterranean landscapes that have been beautiful during millennia of coexistence between human beings and their environment. In the interview, he explains it much better than I am able to. The natural space restrictions of a printed magazine did not allow Verde es Vida to publish the whole interview, and I want to thank Elita Acosta for allowing me to reproduce it. I think it is of great interest and worth publishing in its entirety. Many thanks also to the doxiadis+ landscaping studio for the fantastic photos of their work, which they have allowed me to use. I think these images are the best way to understand in a practical way what we're talking about.

Interview to Thomas Doxiadis by Elita Acosta

We would like to start the interview talking about the project, or projects, you are working on currently. What makes them unique (challenges, solutions adopted)?

Because of the structure of our practice, where we are managing several projects at the same time, we have various projects in different areas of the world. We focus mainly on the Mediterranean, but at the same time we have two projects in the US, two in Portugal, one in Austria. Through all of our projects we try to learn more about landscaping and to become better at what we do.
Most of the projects that we are commissioned are to do with integrating contemporary uses into traditional or historical landscapes. Our view, in general, is that the world is a very precious and beautiful place as it is and our work as landscape architects is not to change it into a different place but to make sure that, as much as possible, the values of the place are recognised and preserved and developed. Where new uses are coming into place, for example we have a typical agricultural landscape which becomes a mainly tourist landscape which happens extensively here and also in Spain and Portugal, in other words throughout the Mediterranean, is to make sure as much as possible that the synthesis of the old and new usage happens in a way that is as undamaging as possible, but at the same time opens up new possibilities for the future.
It’s not only preservation but a dynamic of things coming together, rather than one replacing the other. One project that continues to be important and interesting for us is the work that we’re doing on Antiparos, what we call landscapes of cohabitation, that’s going forward as more and more houses are being built, about two to three new houses per year are added to the project.
With each new house we are learning more. Currently with this project we are using more native species and have to carry out research projects in collaboration with the Botanic Department at the University of Athens and with small local nurseries in order to identify the plants to be used, to propagate them and also to convince the clients that the project should be a “research project”.
Some clients accept the environmental premise and the theory, they “go along for the ride” and are actually pleased with the result. There are cases where we convince the client and there are others where the client says that of course they want local species that are environmentally sensitive but then they don’t like the result: in their minds they have a more traditional idea of what a garden is, a “beautiful” place green and with flowers all year long, and very slowly, they realise over the years that it is in fact what they wanted. So it works in both directions, both success and failure.

Garden designed by doxiadis+. Photo by Clive Nichols


In the website of Doxiadis+, your architecture/landscape practice, we read that your design is based on environmental and landscape ecology principles. Is that compatible with getting a dramatic, wow, garden? Is there a need of a new gardening aesthetic?

Gardens and landscapes have different meanings for different people. In some cases you almost have to psychoanalyse someone, of course that’s the work of the designer also to understand the client..
One of our advantages is that we do things that we think are good for the landscape, but sometimes the client is not so happy. So we have to learn what people want and how to “get them along for the ride”.
A more perceptual part is that people have different ideas about what is beautiful and what is calm and an idea of paradise. For some people paradise is natural, whereas for others it’s made by man and has flowers and looks more like a traditional garden. 
In this case we have to respect people’s sense of beauty, but also move them in the direction of finding the natural environment beautiful in itself.

Garden designed by doxiadis+. Photo by Giannis Kontos


Where does your inspiration comes from? The native landscape, plenty of tenacious plants, garigue and agricultural traditions? The gardening history? Other garden designers?

We are a multi-faceted team, there are 26 team members and more than half of those are landscape architects, each with their own inspiration. So on the one hand I have my inspiration and on the other there is what comes out of our office as a team result.
We don’t really look at the work of other designers that much. Our first inspiration is the existing landscape and the second is a way of looking at things that is a bit more scientific and a bit less aesthetic.
I have been deeply influenced by landscape ecology principles, trying to make landscape ecology exiting and convince people that it’s practical, possible and a good thing – that’s our inspiration more than anything else.
That being said, we’ve all been to landscape schools and we all read magazines and go to exhibitions so of course we’re influenced by things going on. However we like the excitement of discovery, rather than thinking that design is something that you copy from someone else it is something that you discover yourself. Of course we are influenced by everything past and everything here.

Garden designed by doxiadis+. Photo by Giannis Kontos


Let’s talk about your project Landscapes of Cohabitation, finalist last year in the International Landscape Rosa Barba’s Prize. After thousands of years of existence, the beautiful Greek landscapes faces now extensive transformations, as the tourist economy is replacing that of agriculture and herding. How to construct on these starkly beautiful and sensitive landscapes without destroying them?

A project is a combination of various factors. The first factor is emotional: a deep love of historic Mediterranean landscapes that have been around for thousands of years and the horror to see them destroyed by hotels, airports, thousands of villas and roads, all this new tourist infrastructure.
In the 80s and 90s when a lot of development took place, with a transition from almost completely pristine to developed, and it was this type of emotional response, I could almost call it pain, that was a very strong guidance for us.
So when the developer first took me to the area my first response was this is so beautiful and we’re going to destroy it and it made me quite upset. Out of recognition for the beauty and the emotional response of the impending destruction came a challenge regarding whether it would be possible to carry out this project sensibly, for the new to coexist with the old rather than destroying it.
So from the first emotional point we moved to a practical point of whether it was in fact possible and, if so, how to do it.
Because it was the late 90s, early 2000s, there were not many examples of structural and ecological approaches, especially in the Mediterranean (that I was aware of). Rather than looking at other examples we had to learn from the beginning.
So what causes the destruction? The first things are the construction roads that cut through mountainsides and leave scars that are impossible to deal with. How to deal with these roads leaving the least possible damage, or leave the damage and this damage becomes part of the new design? The same question applied to the construction area of the house. It required going through the various aspects of the design to see how we could either minimise the disturbance or mitigate it after it happened.

Garden designed by doxiadis+. Photo by Giannis Kontos



 In this project you developed two planting new strategies: one about pattern, the other about density. Could you explain them?

Architects develop these new buildings that are supposed to step very lightly into the landscape and cause little destruction, but in fact the actual process of construction is quite a destructive process due to earthworks, etc. As landscape designers we try to camouflage what has been done and make it seem as if nature was always there and has never been disturbed.
This sounds easy to do but it’s not so for a number of reasons. One is that the native plants were not available on the market when we started the project so we had to find plants that were similar shapes and colours and drought-tolerant as much as possible, later replacing them with native plants from the local nursery.
Even if you have the native plants, we could not immediately find a way to copy or replicate the patterns that exist naturally. If you look around it’s never completely random. There are many local conditions such as changes in soil, in aspect, in slope and the plants species are competing and collaborating with each other. We looked at them in nature, how they collaborate and fight with each other.
We rejected a model of having patches of identical plants. By trying to replicate the existing patterns aesthetically and visually we established a system based on percentage mixes, where each area has plant species in a certain percentage: for example plant species A has 40%, species B 30% and species C 30%. Right next to that area, we would use the same plants species but the percentages changed. If you look at it as a mosaic of patches, the change is gradual from one to the next and you add species as you go along and subtract species resulting in the same type of gradient that you get in nature.
Regarding the density, as well as the patterns we included one more aspect which has to do with irrigation.  Natural Mediterranean landscapes go dry in the summer, there’s no rain, the plants turn into beautiful colours of brown and grey. However this takes us back to what I mentioned earlier about what each person thinks is beautiful, a garden of Eden, and as clients visit these houses in the middle of summer they don’t want to see everything dry; they want to see something that is greener and with more colour.
Of course we are not working alone on this, we work with the architects and we are all convinced that we want to integrate the houses and the project into the landscape and not create something that looks like it has appeared from the sky and is completely out of place. Hence the architects design houses that are based on the established landscape. If the houses are surrounded by a garden that is colourful and beautiful and then further out everything is dry, then rather than camouflaging the houses into the landscape you actually manage to put a bright green ring around something that is trying to blend in.
Given this, by irrigating you are not only being anti-ecological but you are also destroying the project and the effort by the architect and the developer to integrate everything into the landscape. So when the developer wants everything to be green we ask ourselves how can this be possible and not have the houses stand out - like a green traffic light.
We asked ourselves if it would be possible to have a strategy of irrigation which then disappears into the landscape and that’s where the idea of  density came up.
If you plant an area that is irrigated and it borders  an area that is not irrigated you get a very clear line, there’s a green area followed by a brown and grey area and it looks terrible. The only thing we could find as a strategy was that the artificially planted plants that are close to the houses are planted close to each other, and then as you go out into the landscape you start to space them further and further apart. By doing this you allow for native plants to establish between them. Hence as only a percentage of the plants are irrigated and this moves out to less and less irrigated plants it's a much smoother transition.
With this there are two advantages: one is to blur the line visually and aesthetically as there’s no longer one hard line between green and brown and the other advantage is that it allows for a system of natural regeneration, which ecologically is the best way for something to be integrated into the landscape. This allows nature to take over without having to do artificial planting.

Garden designed by doxiadis+. Photo by Marianne Majerus

Garden designed by doxiadis+. Photo by Clive Nichols


We are very fond of your landscape project in Porto Heli. Please, could you tell us what are their key features? Which plants have you planted in it?

Here we used a similar approach, although not an exact replica. This is a commercial hotel development where they want the guest to feel part of the place, to be totally integrated. But as a hotel everything is at a much larger scale, there needs to be more variety of experience, hence working with more landscape typologies. .
Once again the process was similar, first of all by looking at what already existed in the surrounding landscape and finding ways to introduce it as part of the hotel landscape.
For this project the landscape had more variety. At Porto Heli we had active agriculture and much more variety of landscapes with five main landscape typologies. These typologies were: large wheat fields; large olive and carob trees which provided shade for the sheep; in more protected areas denser olive groves; areas with vineyards; native Mediterranean plant communities and finally the native pine forest.
We asked ourselves how to best use these different landscape typologies and spoke with the hotel designers regarding how to incorporate these into the landscape around the hotel. We also had the idea to go from something very like a manicured garden, at the centre of the hotel, and as you go out from there the areas get  wilder  and  wilder and are integrated with the landscape.
The different typologies became elements around the hotel: the wheat fields, the olive trees, the pine forest in the swimming pool area. Once the theme was established, we asked how we could develop it.
When it came to the trees we were lucky because we could transplant them. Rather than buying new trees, we transplanted the olive and carob trees and developed a new transplantation method to keep more of the crown without having to cut all the branches. In this way the trees looked like they had always been in their new locations.
We also worked with the hotel architect in order to preserve as many of the existing trees as possible. He agreed to change the master plan and the position of some of the buildings in order to achieve this.
This meant that we had lots of old trees, either that had been transplanted or that already existed. Establishing the rest of the vegetation was relatively easy.
One of the difficulties of landscape gardening is that you are dealing with live organisms; when planting it is not a given that the plant will accept what you want it to do. You might want to plant it in a specific location but it doesn’t like it there and it dies. A hotel project must depend on plants that are resilient and easy to maintain. Commercially there are some plants that are more resilient and tough and forgiving. One of these plants is Pistacia lentiscus, another is Myrtus communis, other plants also exist. These plants are available in the local communities and the nurseries.
Other plants that were very successful were the wild grasses. In the project we used wheat and barley, in the way of traditional agriculture, but we also used some of the local wild grasses that are extremely tough but also very pretty so there’s a visual advantage too. These helped with what I would call a low-maintenance project.

Garden designed by doxiadis+. Photo by Giannis Kontos

Garden designed by doxiadis+. Photo by Giannis Kontos


In the Aegean island of Antiparos garden the planting is very different: less flowering plants (like lavenders) and more succulents, ornamental grasses, textured green and grey leaved shrubs… Why have you chosen those plants? What are the key features of this project?

There were two different stages of the project. From the early stages the idea was to use plants as native as possible, which is also an ecological solution but in the early phase none of the native plants were available in the nurseries. Hence we had to use commercial plants that looked like native plants: similar shapes, sizes and shades.
In the second phase, which overlapped, we worked with a nursery on the nearby island of Milos to propagate and use more native plants. So they would grow them for a couple of years and then we could use them for the projects.

Garden designed by doxiadis+. Photo by Clive Nichols


In our Spring issue we interviewed Olivier Filippi, who defends dry gardening, even zero irrigation, in the Mediterranean area. Do you share this principle? Are there no irrigation systems in your projects?

Here we could mention again the strategy of density that we spoke about previously. More and more we are trying to get clients to accept completely irrigation-free gardening. However we are finding a lot of resistance, partly from the clients and partly from the landscape contractors who are used to having an irrigation system and specific species of plant.
The reality of the situation is that the developments are ready to plant too late in the season. If you want to have it irrigation-free you need to plant in November and December, but in those months the buildings are far from complete and we are looking at planting in May or even June but by then it’s too late, it’s impossible to be irrigation-free as the plants will die.
In the practicality of the trade, taking into account how things are built, it’s difficult to go dry. We have to convince the clients first of all to do a dry garden, then to plant later (after they move in in the summer) and to convince the landscape contractors to do things in a way that they are not used to doing. It’s very difficult to “push” all of these people towards completely dry irrigation.
What we’ve done in the meantime, in conjunction with Filippi and the local Milos nursery, is to carry out an experiment on Milos with native and a few non-native species to test and prove what actually happens to the plants in order to help convince the clients and the contractors.
Of course not all areas are equally dry or wet, there’s a lot of variation. It’s not the same to say that an area is irrigation-free in the south of France or in the Aegean: in the south of France there’s three times the amount of rain.
Irrigation-free can therefore be easier or harder. In the East Aegean the conditions are very tough because you have a combination of high temperatures in the summer, it’s very dry and there’s also a lot of wind: it’s like a blow dryer! We carried out a special experiment to find out which plants can survive irrigation-free under these conditions.
Irrigation-free at the moment for us is an experiment, a goal, but it’s not yet a result.

Garden designed by doxiadis+. Photo by Cathy Cunliffe


Garden designed by doxiadis+. Photo by Clive Nichols


 During the last years we have noticed inspiring contemporary gardening projects in Greece (mainly in Corfu island) by Greek landscape architects like you, or English ones, like Jennifer Gay, Alithea Jones, Rachel Waeving (author of the book Gardens in Corfu), Julie Toll… Is there really a significant trend in contemporary gardening in your country? What do the mentioned projects have in common?

Although there is a combined trend towards going more native, you have to take into account that in Corfu there is six times as much rain as in the centre of the Aegean, in other words there is local differentiation that has to be taken into account. Corfu is more “forgiving”, so it allows you to do more things.

Garden designed by doxiadis+. Photo by Clive Nichols

Garden designed by doxiadis+. Photo by Clive Nichols

To close the interview we would like you to tell us your earliest gardening memory, and how did landscaping become your career.

I’ve always been an architect at heart. It was when I attended architectural school in the US that I discovered landscape architecture as a professional field, I had not heard of this when growing up in Greece.
As I grew more in love with it I moved from an architectural approach to a more natural approach.
As to why it happened, I think it was because I grew up in an area where the landscape is significant. The Eastern Mediterranean has a very beautiful landscape; it’s very varied from mountains to islands to almost desert conditions in some places. It’s a landscape that is very charged historically; people have been working these lands for some 7000 years or more.
Regarding my personal story for the first five years of my life I grew up in the centre of the city, then for the next 10 years I was in the equivalent of suburbia where the pleasure at the weekend would be to go out and play in the garden. 
Greece does not have the same gardening traditional as, for example, feudal France or England In Greece, which is a more traditional society, gardens are a part of agricultural tradition where production is combined with pleasure.  Gardens are about useful plants, and also about the pleasure they provide.
When speaking with my friends we all have the same memories of our grandparents’ garden,, which was almost like a yard, with one tree of each type, indeed like a small oasis. Each plant could supply something for the kitchen!
It’s been a combination therefore of how I grew up, my surroundings and then going to the US.

Garden designed by doxiadis+. Photo by Giannis Kontos


We have read about your graduate thesis in Harvard University, Designing for Democracy, which addresses the relationship between spatial form and political function. Is there a political potential in designing spaces nowadays?

My early interest in architecture is in the political function of space; in fact I’m still interested in that. The world we live in is the result of the way societies function.
For example, a Parliament building carries with it a certain significance of power, urban spaces could be a place where people demonstrate and show their frustrations. So I believe that there is a connection between design space and politics and society, but I think the connection is not fully understood, it’s quite complicated.
 Our Western democracies are not to be taken for granted. The politics and design of space is very important.

Garden designed by doxiadis+. Photo by Cathy Cunliffe

4 comentarios:

  1. Thank you so much for publishing this interview. I have been an absolute fan of doxiadis+ studio, ever since I found they existed. It is so much more than just a garden, it truly is a philosophy, an approach to life itself. As a landscape architect working in the Mediterranean region, I am amazed of Doxiadis approach, as if I read my own thoughts, but better! Once again, thank you! Greetings from Montenegro!

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  2. Nice info, thanks for share, oh ya saya mau berbagi, baru saja saya menemukan Video Viral trus minum Kopi Terbaik sambil simak Berita Kalimantan Tengah baca tentang Football Home Decoration trus mau Paid Promote untuk Jual Akik Gambar trus cari info yang jual baju toga grosiran

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