Venice Biennale for Architecture, 2018
26 May – 28 Nov 2018
Palazzo Mora, Room 7

Our exhibition of Artificial Natures was presented at the Venice Biennale for Architecture 2018 at the European Cultural Centre

Artificial Natures Exhibition 2018, Photo by Marc Lins.

What is an Artificial Nature, and Why it is Important

Today, we live in environments that became our ‘natural’ surroundings although they are not natural at all. Many of them are not even suited for a proper human living, e.g. when you think about the recent situation in urban agglomerations, or about our increasing dependency on internet-based mediated environments which we need and which became quite natural for us. But which are neither natural, nor present the normal, ‘natural’ environment of human beings for the most time of their history. Or consider the bulk of logistic and junk landscapes at the fringes of our cities, topographies which became a normal environment for us. We have even entire landscapes which seem natural but which have been designed for touristic use, faking a natural environment.

To become aware of the unnatural nature of our meanwhile normal environments we all got used to, conceiving them as ‘natural’ – it could be worth the effort for sake of a better living, and for activities related to that.  

The normal and therefore natural surrounding is one aspect of, or perspective towards an artificial nature. Another perspective relates to dreams, and to hopes: an artificial nature always related also to some kind of paradise, or utopia. An artificial nature is a one made – an arte factum, something constructed by means of technical art, and not ‘naturally’ grown, neither by nature nor by history. It shall serve for human belongings as an encompassing new environment, providing a second nature, some kind of artificial environment for humans. It is an environment with the aim of perfection, of representing an ideal space. Ideal both in the sense of a space imagined (idea, eidos) and of a space perfected, thus providing a perfect surrounding for human beings. For instance, a carefully designed English Landscape Garden, or the beautifully molded cityscape of an ideal city.

In case of the garden/park, a nature is presented that looks more natural than nature could ever look like, or that has been deliberately altered to be something other than nature. As an environment, to be more than nature, to embody a perfected, ‘better’ version of it. Look again at a park to understand what this means, or at an Arcadian Landscape which never looked like that in the original territory of Arcadia, the historically real space from which the name originated. The essence of these artificial natures is to represent a symbolic space, richly endorsed with different meanings. Even the first garden of this kind, the one of Eden, was an artefact carefully created, and no ‘natural’ place.

The garden (in its extended version, the park) is a place of resemblance of this original paradise, a place where one can retreat in order to relax, to calm, to find to oneself. As a place, a topos it is the counterpart to all the places where we normally are living; it is a hetero-topos, an “other-place” to those. As a space, it is like an island: a well-designed Inner is separated from the Outer, the proverbial rest of the world. And, as mentioned, it is a symbolic space, resembling the one of the first paradise, a garden where humans lived in harmony with themselves and with nature before they had fallen into time, into their own history. Looking for a regained paradise since then, to be achieved by diverse means (and outcomes) of artificial second paradises made by their own. Wherefore we show a resemblance of such a paradise as the first of our worlds to be presented. It is a small garden really existing (Lucia), located somewhere in the countryside, a carefully and passionately designed space in clear contrast to its natural surroundings. Contrasted by a modern park (R. Burle Marx), the third world in our sequence, combining architecture and nature, symbols and the naturally grown.

Artificial Nature (Botanical Garden, Madeira; photography by U. Gehmann)

In addition, many gardens and parks are an allegory of the cosmos (in our case, exemplarily presented with the Islamic Gardens of our terrace world), that is, they resemble cosmic proportions and symbols in their own design. At the same time, this Terrace World is an allegory in its own, resembling ideas of paradise, communal living and garden city, all of them united in a utopian space.

Since this is the other type of an ideal space, opposed to an artificial nature: the ideal city, too an island separated from the world’s remainder. That space differs from that of a garden/park. For humans as cultural animals, the city is their genuine place to live, a complete artificial environment that might have become normal to them, and therefore ‘natural’. The ideal city can be seen as the epitomised place, and space of such a way of life. Its utopian very intention is to embody the place for an ideal community, and as a space, it shall be designed in such a way that it does provide the ideal architectural surrounding for such a community, an environment that is intended to become ‘normal’ for a truly human way of Life, a way deserving the name of being really humanTherefore, we chose an ideal city to appear as a second world after paradise, as the very opposite to it and as an epitome for human culture.

Out of the many examples possible, we chose the ideal city of Sforzinda, planned in the Renaissance. It was a time when ideal cities emerged in full range, settling on the ideas that it is the environment of humans which shapes them, and at the same time, an expression of a proper and well-proportioned human attitude. One needs an ideal environment as ‘natural’ surrounding for becoming an ideal, i.e. real human, and in turn, ideal humans express themselves through ideal environments.  

Moreover, as in many ideal cities from different cultures throughout history, cosmic properties are expressed by the cities’ very architectural setting. In our case, it is a cosmic circle molded as a regular star, equally intersected by radiant streets running alongside canals. In its architecture, it is a resemblance of an ideal society of those times. In parallel to that, it is a first glimpse towards a modern city: the medieval organic growth of houses (like in nature) has been framed and subdivided by a rational, symmetrical order; and inside this city space, there is a separated additional one where people live in democratic conditions, in an atmosphere of free exchange of ideas and art. Later modern concepts of society are started to be lived here, in the midst of a (still) traditional hierarchical social order.

The issue of an ideal city is not about cities, it is about a just society. The city is merely a symbolic expression for that. At first glance, one may smile about ideal cities in particular and utopian approaches in general as outdated and hence, no longer valid and hence, do not matter anymore. But in times of new, and increasing forms of social injustice, new forms of slavery, of migration, environmental degradation and overpopulation the issue does matter, probably more than ever.

The idea of an ideal nature, expressed by the garden/park, and the one of an ideal culture, expressed by the ideal city, can be combined in the so-called garden city. We took the example of Tel Aviv, a city newly founded in a new land. Tel Aviv is the fourth world to be presented. For the fifth world to follow, we crafted a utopian example of a construction we labelled Terrace World.

The final world we want to present is a purely abstract one (wherefore we called it Abstract World); in terms of development, it is the logical end point of an artificial nature: a commonly used, ‘normal’ environment which is, nevertheless, no physical environment any longer but a non-physical space made up by systems of algorithms.

Ulrich Gehmann


The Installation

The basic figure underlying the whole installation is an old one, that of a theatrum mundi, a world theatre showing the relevant issues in a kaleidoscopic manner. We present them as worlds, on a stage assisted by parallel smaller stages, placed as arcades.

Theatrum mundi, construction principle (by M. Johansson; painting: U. Gehmann) 

In the center, there is a triptych where the main worlds are presented, in sequential order. First, the symbolic scenery (‘world’) of the original paradise, represented by Lucia’s Garden; then the antipode to a natural environment: the ideal city, represented by Sforzinda; next, the park as another type of artificial nature, represented by a park of Roberto Burle Marx; then, a combination of ideal city and park, represented by the garden city of Tel Aviv; after that, a utopian variant of garden city in a recent shape, represented by the Terrace World; and finally, the space of a non-physical nature, the space of internet consisting of systems of algorithms, a world of abstract, disembodied space represented by the Abstract World.

These are the main worlds shown in the triptych, accompanied by their own music, each one a cosmos of its own, made up by the unity of visual space and musical space.

We had chosen the figure of the triptych due to its historical and symbolic relevance. In such a triptych, a scenery (a ‘world’) is shown that in itself, is divided into 3 scenes making up the whole. We use the very same figure, in presenting different vistas of one and the same world from 3 different perspectives, allowing the visitor to explore them deeply, in an interactive way.

These main or triptych worlds are assisted by vistas on worlds of a similar character, presented in the arcades on the left and right side of the triptych. The overall aim of such an arrangement was to show comparable world views of the same basic type, or gestalt of world. And, adopted to a theatrum mundi, to give an impression of the variety, but also on the common morphology of all of these worlds. By this, the visitor is enabled to gain a deeper perspective on the different types of artificial natures presented, on their symbolic contents and related, their different messages, on their similarities and differences.

Ulrich Gehmann   


The Worlds

Our general aim was to present worlds via their spaces, and to show the worlds as a totality of space. It is about the notion of gestalt, and related to it, of a space that is to be experienced as a whole. The space stands for the world in question (is a symbol for it), in expressing that world’s characteristics, its basic traits revealing its very nature. Imagination is needed when looking at those spaces then, an imagination of what kind of world we are confronted with when looking at its exemplary spaces showing that world symbolically.

The aim to reveal worlds in such a way is assisted by a particular music adapted to those worlds, and such a music’s approach will be explained in the end.

In the spaces themselves, we wanted to show entireties, world-spaces in total, and as totalities: how this world looks like, as a whole? And: how this world feels like, what is its general atmosphere of being that peculiar world (and no other one)? Therefore, we used a certain method for modelling those worlds, to reveal their character as entireties, as encompassing spaces where you can imagine to live in, or to walk around.  

Per world, three different vistas are presented, to realize the same world under three different angles, or perspectives. This was the reason why to choose the classical Christian triptych as a means of presentation: you see a main perspective of the world in the middle, and additional perspectives on the sides, allowing for experiencing the same world in different views.

Ulrich Gehmann



The myth of paradise is constitutive for the worlds to come, it is their underlying current so to say. An artificial nature as the second ‘normal’ and hence, ‘natural’ environment for human beings does rest in this myth. Or more precisely, to cite the poet Milton, in the myth of a paradise lost and to be regained again. Which implies a certain conception of history, at the same time: once, in the beginning, there had been a harmonious or paradisiacal state of being, at the very start of the human kind – an aetas aurea or Golden Age when humans were in harmony with nature; and after that era, the unity with nature has been more and more destroyed until the relationship reached its present state.

Now, looking at this present state – that repeatedly occurred, in a European history – it has to be overcome via reaching, or striving for a new paradise, either achieved by redemption and outside forces (the Christian Heavenly Jerusalem as second, and final paradise); or by a move back to nature; or by attempts to make a new, man-made paradise, a one out of own human means by creating it anew. It is true, investigators of the issue say, that other cultures also had their imaginations about paradise; but the conception of a paradise was nowhere else so pronounced as in Western culture and in Islam. In particular for a Western culture with its Christian heritage, it became prominent. And, very important for artificial natures, there is a strong relation to utopia: “A natural history of the paradises of the Judaic and Christian religions assembles some of the intellectual and emotional materials that accumulated in European society and constituted an ever-growing storehouse in the culture. Paradise in its Judaeo-Christian forms has to be accepted as the deepest archaeological layer of Western utopia, active in the unconscious of large segments of the population […] testimony to the enduring power of religious belief to keep alive the strange longing for a state of man that once has been and will be again” (Manuel & Manuel).

Paradise. Jardim Tropical, Madeira. Photography by the author

Next to be a harmonious state of a happy and peaceful existence, a paradise is an artefact. There is no such thing as a natural paradise. The first paradise already, the one given by God, was no natural state that grew out of itself, but an artefact carefully designed by the first creator. It was artificial, a garden (the one of Eden) with the trees of Life and of Knowledge in its midst, an Inner that was separated from an Outer, an outside world – in the Bible, there is no clear saying what laid outside that garden, but it was an outside, an Outer being different from that Inner.

The word ‘paradise’ probably originated from the Persian pardeza which meant a garden area enclosed by walls, and our word derives from the Greek paradeisos, meaning ‘garden’. That is, in both origins, a part of land separated from an outside, and a kind of nature that looked natural and had natural components, but that was not nature. For the Roman philosopher and politician Cicero, a garden was the altera natura, the “other nature” – and that is what it is all about, in the case of artificial natures. An artificial nature is an environment, or more general, a space that looks natural but isn’t. It is a space constructed, not grown. And related, it is a construction that shall be more natural than an original nature could ever be; in terms of the natural, it is an augmented reality-version of the latter, in a very literal meaning of being augmented: from its Latin origin, an enhanced, meliorated, intensified reality.

The prototype of such an augmented nature is the garden, the enclosed and therefore protected pardeza where one can find calm, even peace of mind. It was the locus amoenus, the loveable and harmonious secret place, the hortus conclusus, the enclosed garden, it was a place of refuge and contemplation, and often, it was a mirror of the macrocosm, a microcosm expressing symbolically the important features of the world. At least in the latter’s unspoiled, ‘natural’ state, for instance in medieval European cloister gardens as a symbolic expression of the original paradise, or in Renaissance microcosmic reconstructions of a larger cosmos outside.

When the garden enlarges it becomes a park, an extended artificial nature that gain, is more natural than nature can ever be. When it combines with human dwelling, it can become a whole artificial landscape, as in case of imperial Chinese Gardens of considerable dimension, with artificial lakes, hillsides etc. (one Chinese emperor built a 700 square kilometer-park), or in case of Baroque “gardens” like Versailles, or so-called English Landscape Gardens where you wander around in an environment that looks completely “natural” but nevertheless, had been carefully designed. Even later on, it became the public park of nineteenth-century cities, or the “park” of diverse dreamlands as heterotopoi from normal civilization.

In case of our theme, the common basic idea is to provide an artifact that can be, or should be, a new paradise for humans. If the meaning of ‘natural’ does also mean ‘normal’, such an environment was intended to become a new – and better – environment to live in, as a new ‘normal’ (and hence, ‘natural’) surrounding of human beings, for a better way to live. This is the utopian strain in all of the constructs we offer in the following, and it can reach from original gardens as paradises to completely artificial environments like ideal cities, parks, and garden cities as a combination of both nature and culture, of organized nature and organized housing.

We start with the archetypal conception, that of an “original” paradise represented by a garden. It is Lucia’s garden, located somewhere in Southern Germany at the fringe of a forest, i.e. at the edge of nature. From that locus amoenus, evolution starts: to the extended territory of ideal cities like Sforzinda or the garden city of Tel Aviv; to the park of Burle Marx, a microcosmic landscape shaped like a painting; to a utopian terrace world, stretching into infinity in the midst of a natural wilderness; to the abstract spaces of computer worlds which are no spaces any longer but digitalized abstractions, mere systems of algorithms which nevertheless comprise, in their total, a new kind of social space.

Ulrich Gehmann



For the first time in its history, we tried to reconstruct the city of Sforzinda as a whole. Not in every single detail (but detailed enough to gain concrete impressions), but as a whole, as an entire gestalt in its own. How it felt to live in such a city, to walk alongside its canals or to stand in the middle of a piazza, looking at its buildings around. We become aware of the city as a complete artificial environment that became a kind of second, “natural” environment for human beings. Here, presented as an ideal city, the very opposite to nature. We see the cities’ extension, its landmark buildings, we grasp the entire atmosphere to live inside the terms and conditions of such a huge space. Which becomes a believable one, a one to be experienced, the space of a world as it could be. It is a space that could be placed anywhere, as a modul of ideality so to say, wherever the conditions for implanting it are feasible. In this sense, it is a real ou-topos, literally a non-place or utopia that could be located everywhere, and anywhere. Wherefore we confined our presentation on this module itself, without taking into consideration its surroundings. In this line of perspective, we even left out the circle surrounding the whole structure on its outside.

In the overall context of our theme, artificial natures, the ideal city is the very juxtaposition to a ‘natural’ environment, even if the latter is not truly natural any longer but has adopted the shape of either an unnatural agricultural landscape or that of a garden, or park. The city, not to speak of an ideal one, i.e. a city in its purest, perfected form, is intuitively and more or less immediately conceived as the very opposition to nature; its antipode, its juxtaposition per se. In terms of real history, but also in symbolic and mythological terms, the city is the place of humans being cultural animals, and not just animals; as a trope, it is the epitomized space of living in culture and moreover, in a culture under civilized conditions. Opposed to the other image that stays still prevalent until today, the one of a paradisiacal, unspoiled nature as opposed to civilization, and to urban civilization in particular.

For the human being, the zoon politikon who not only lives as the other living beings do but leads a specific way of life, the city became that being’s natural environment. A kind of second nature replacing the old, and original nature, the one inside whose embracing terms all living beings spend their life. Seen from such a mythological as well as practical perspective, this artificial nature became the true one for human beings. And the object of melioration. Since the Greek days of a ‘perfect’ town planning, the issue reappeared over and over again, culminating in the idea of an ideal city: that it must be possible and moreover, feasible to erect such a structure. To liberate humans; towards the expression of their full potential for becoming truly human, not merely remaining cultural animals living in cities.

Normally the Renaissance, specifically the Italian, is associated with ideal cities. An ideal city is an artificial nature designed to be the best place where human beings can live and as such, has been associated with utopia, another strand of thinking that came up in the epoch of a New Age, or new time for the human kind. One of those cities is Sforzinda. Its planner, Antonio die Piero Averlino, calling himself Filarete, the “friend of virtue”, conducted his treatise on architecture between 1461 and 64. At that time, there were only two important sources about architecture: the tractate of the Roman Vitruvius, and the one of Leon Battista Alberti, based on Vitruvius. Half a century before Thomas Morus’ writing on Utopia appeared and opposed to Alberti who just described construction principles for an optimal city architecture, Filarete tried to conceive a true ideal city. Following in parts a non-utopian path in outlining a city structure well aligned to the feudal system of those times (the tractate was dedicated to his emperor, Ludovico Sforza of Milan), there is another path emerging in the midst of his ideal city: an area where a different society lives (Tessa Morrison), a pre-democratic nucleus of later modern “democratic” societies. So, incorporated inside the formal architectural terms of one and the same city plan, we have two societies, in fact.

In this context, one has to consider that despite Italian Renaissance being associated with ideal cities, the most of them appeared only afterwards, after the Renaissance finished and gave way to the absolutist states to come. The only ideal city of true Renaissance origin is Pienza, constructed by Rossellino and pope Piccolomini, starting in 1459, short before Filarete’s vision. Opposed to Sforzinda, it is no true ideal city since large parts of the existing urban fabric kept intact and only the central piazza and its allocated buildings were modelled in an “ideal” way. It was an attempt to realize something in this direction, but only an attempt. It was a kind of scenario – what a new way of urban (and hence, human) life could look like, well planned according to human proportions – since the old saying of the Athenian Protagoras had been re-detected in the Renaissance, that the human is the measure of all things. But it was just a prospect, an ideal place more than an ideal space of an entire city; as in Alberti’s metaphor, just a window into a new world to come. All the other famous prospects of ideal cities, e.g. the ones of the Palazzo Ducale in Urbino or Albrecht Dürer’s drawings, were just prospects, dreams about the ideal cast into certain perspectives and plans. Except Pienza, there was no realized “ideal city”, and none of the other paintings and plans were devoted explicitly to the entirety of such a construction. (Dürer for instance made plans of certain fortresses and city structures but never called them “ideal”). The bulk of ideal cities came later, such as Sabbioneta and its followers, and many of them were fortress constructions, as for instance Palmanova and others.

So, Sforzinda can be regarded as the first of ideal cities in the New Age, and this alone is reason enough to look at it more closely.  

Sforzinda plans

The entire structure resembles a closed cosmos, with two squares overlaid forming a large eight-pointed star. In the middle of that star, there is the city center, consisting of three connected main public spaces or piazze, with their respective buildings resembling the mentioned “traditional”, feudal society structure as it was prevailing in most of the Italian city states of that time. We have an Emperor’s Palace or Palazzo Ducale, a Palazzo del Capitano for local government, an Archbishop’s palace etc., but also a communal hall for the burghers and buildings for the guilds. The city is surrounded by a heavy wall (the lines of the star), and a circular structure surrounding it, most probably a kind of moat as additional defense. The “other society” mentioned, that of a proto-democratic origin, is located like a capsule in the fabric of that structure, in the teatro district. Here, artists, scholars and other interested people live together to discuss and work, in an atmosphere of free interaction and exchange of ideas. There are no institutional palazzi as symbols of state power and constraint (even if it is just a city state), and here, innovations are made and experiments carried out. It is another society living here, and one smells the advent of Nova Atlantis of Francis Bacon already when reading Filarete’s text, with all those people devoted to technical and artistic improvement, experiment and discussion.

The idea of the cosmos is also reflected in some of Sforzinda’s buildings, most pronounced in the cathedral (The Duomo) which is a microcosm in itself, by its architectural setting, inside and outside.

Carlo Mezzetti said that ideal cities should not be called ideal but symbolic cities, and in case of Sforzinda, his saying becomes quite obvious.  

Despite its magnitude, it is a closed, star-shaped cosmos that unfolds here, its very geometry determining the location of the major axes, consisting of radiant canals with streets running parallel to both sides, and the location of the cities’ center in the middle of the star. The canal system continues in the city center, with its piazze partly surrounded by canals, and the entire water system is fed by a large aqueduct (in the above image, in the middle left), transporting water from the nearby mountain range to a large reservoir located beneath the central piazza. From here, it disperses throughout the city, feeding the different canals, fountains, etc. And from there, flows via the canals out of the city, into the large circular moat outside the city walls; which has a drainage, to let excess water into a river in the vicinity. The general flow of water from center to periphery follows natural gravity, since the center is slightly elevated, so that the water can run down in a very modest inclination towards the periphery.

Next to practical purposes, e.g. for transport and for keeping the cities’ air fresh and clean (acc. to Filarete), water has a symbolic meaning; like blood vessels in a body, it flows throughout the city, making it into one organism – the very word organism indicating its technical origin: it is an instrument, organon, and as such, has both a practical and a symbolic meaning. The cosmic closure is enhanced by the canal system, too, by the two circular canals binding the city together: the outside moat as a final circumference, and the inner ring canal connecting the radiant canals at their squares (alternatively, a piazza and a place with a church). So, the entire cosmic structure becomes enhanced and evident for a spectator, looking at this world from the outside. Like many utopias since Plato, it is an island of order separated from a world’s remainder, an artificial natural environment for its inhabitants as opposed to an outside world.

In addition, there is another symbolic feature reflecting that juxtaposition of order and chaos, or in more definite terms, the issue of the planned order, ordo, which is culture, cultura, against the organically growing, free floating forces of a self-organized ‘natural’ development, or natura. To refer to old archetypal inner images which contribute to our pre-understanding and imagery of what an ‘artificial’ nature is. In this imaginative, archetypal respect, the difference between ‘culture’ and ‘nature’ is to be seen, the former associated with planned orders, the latter with self-organization, organic growth, driven by its own powers and aims, and not from outside plans or constraints.

This opposition becomes evident not only from an Inner/Outer-perspective: the Inner of the ideal artefact vs. an Outer, the proverbial rest of the world; it is repeated inside that Inner itself, expressed as a juxtaposition between organic growth of houses, gardens and alleys making up the bulk of the cities’ actually built structure, and the rationale of an encompassing, and all-embracing radiant grid laid over it.

Another juxtaposition is the sheer dimension of the city as a whole with that bulk of ‘organic growth’, and the (nevertheless) overall cosmic confinement. The cities’ overall dimension becomes apparent from the inner diameter already: from gate to gate, i.e. from one inner point of the star to the one laying opposite, a distance of over 4 kilometers stretches out. To keep a closure, this bulk of built structure has to be subdued under a rational, simple principle; here, that of the star, later, to other versions of formatting and standardizing. It is a city plan pointing at the future, with its long axes and open places (the piazze) prefiguring the planned cities of the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, as T. Morrison says, a kind of ville radieuse of the Renaissance. The ‘organically’ grown individuals (here, houses) become dominated by a master plan, as in modernity a final scenario to manage them all.

Sforzinda 3D model,  Ideal Spaces Working Group  (vrbn.io, M. Bühler and C. Oberhänsli)

On the other hand, in Filarete’s city, we still have these individuals, with their individual expressions. Later on, at the end of the sixteenth century already, the times of Francis Bacon with his new science molding a new, modern world, these individuals were made uniform. In 1594, Simon Stevin planned an ideal city as a pure rectangular grid with a canalized river running straight through (no radiant structure, no diversification = individuality), and where the houses were not only all equal, but on the top of that built out of the very same materials. Stevin’s argument was since all human beings are equal anyway, equal housing is sufficient for them. It is an attitude that should have been repeated over and over again, in modernity, from town planning to a Third Reich to a permanent cultural revolution of Mao in China. In Stevin’s concept, Günther Feuerstein notes, “we realize that 400 years ago, long before the industrial revolution, standardization, perhaps even prefabrication, was practiced, and with surprising rigidity.”

It was a feature that appears in case of Sforzinda already, most visible in case of the only building Filarete actually realized in this direction, the façade of the Ospedale Maggiore visible in today’s Mila still, as a part of one of the today’s Milan universities. Here, we see seemingly individual figures, but they are part of a formatted façade consisting of sequences of the same building blocks, used to ornament the façade. The single human busts are individual, the rest is not.

Sforzinda real time: Façade of former Ospedale Maggiore, Milan. Photography by the author

Which might be seen, as the other indications already mentioned, for new times to come afterwards. About the Uffici, the Medici’s governmental building for the administration erected in 16th-century-Florence, an author said: here, the richness of the individual element, its elaborated details and proportion, all its singular beauty does not play a role any longer – it became part of a modern system, made up of individual modules and to extend virtually endlessly, incorporating all those former individualities. This exactly happened later on, also with new artificial natures to come.

Ulrich Gehmann     



A park is the most nature-like and thus the most deceitfully natural artificial world. However, as well as the cities, parks are built artificially. The formula of a garden-city is simple, with nature and civilisation in equal proportions. A park is a basic counter-figure to civilisation, a place of retreat “into nature”. However, its greenery grows on the fruitful substrate of human culture. A garden is perceived as an aesthetic object; however, two essential stories of civilisation are encrypted in its design – Functional and Ideal. At the same time, sooner or later every natural space – when fenced, tamed, and rearranged for some function – becomes a cultural concept: philosophical, social, scientific, but first of all metaphysical. An orchard becomes a Garden of Eden, and a Paradeisos as a hunting park becomes a Paradise.

A plan of an Islamic garden vividly illustrates this kind of an ascension from utility to the uppermost metaphysic character. Elementary irrigation unit, represented by the water source in the centre and two cross-axial channels, uniformly distributing water throughout four sunken panes with plants, have given life to one of the most beautiful and stable garden schemes and have become one of the most spiritually consistent spatial gestalts.

Babur supervising the laying out of a Kabul garden, by Bishndas, Mughal, ca. 1590

In the times of Achaemenid Pasargadae it was interpreted by means of the Zoroastrian division of the universe in four parts, four seasons, or four elements: water, wind, soil, and fire. Later, as a part of Islamic culture, metaphysics of a quadripartite garden got its most complete form. Perpendicular axes line off the hierotopy of a Christian monastery garden with four Eden rivers. In cultural systems with strictly fixed social and ethical arrangement a sacred garden space is programmed as the manifestation of the eternal truth. In case of evolving cultures, the new ideals are being delivered to the society through the newly created landscapes.

Limitless humble submission to the greatness of the Creator was replaced by the manifestation of power over nature. In Andalusian garden complexes, which in a formal and stylistic way reproduce in full the complexity of the Islamic metaphysics, the seeds of future obsession with power were already ripening. Roman irrigation techniques, skillfully developed by Muslims, and an extraordinary rise of agriculture brought pride of being a lord of the nature. Terraced position at the slopes of the mountains seduced with a ravishing feeling of a ruler, experiencing supremacy when observing a wide panorama of the imperial territories. Mirador became a command bridge of a Master. The ultimate expression of this was displayed in the Versailles manifestation of power, where a ray of Le Roi Soleil’ sight physically pierced an absolutistic artificial scenery from the Royal bedroom to the horizon.

Almost every artificial nature has a platform, arranged in a special way, for a visual and mental interaction with the developed world – a mirador of the Andalusian Caliph, Le Corbusier’s roof garden, a belvedere and a viewing mound in the Enghien park,  ancient Chinese Lingtai – a divine stage to touch Heaven. These tremendous earth terraces served as the observation platforms for the emperors of the Shang dynasty emperors of the 2nd millennium BC in their enormous reservation parks.  An emperor, standing on the Lingtai terrace between the Sky and the Earth, lines off the landscape in vertical direction and encircles a threefold structure of the universe in Chinese philosophy, San Cai: Heaven, Earth, and Human. In ancient Chinese version of the world order a human being is an equal part of the universe; he completes the heavenly order: enhances the natural character of things, puts them into tangible, symbolic form.

The outstanding scroll “Along the River During Qingming Festival”, some researches say, represents not actually a real Kaifeng, but an ideal city of the Song dynasty. In the multiple copies, made in different eras, a reproduction of one individual artefact always varies – an image of the garden palace in the left part of the scroll. The Qing Court Version represents the most extended garden palace, ably integrated in the artificial, or, to be more exact, artfully advanced nature.

The “Qing Court Version” of Along the River During the Qingming Festival, an 18th-century remake

The scroll has plenty of Gongshi images – the geological wonders known as “scholars’ rocks”, “ready-mades” of Song Dynasty postmodernism, both original and simulacrum objects, which regarded nature as an artist, whose work was an extended self-portrait in miniature. The finest rocks of unique shape with multiple holes were being taken out from the bottom of Taihu Lake, but few were aware that before this stonemasons had made holes in them and put them in the lake, letting time and water wash away the traces of the tool application. End versions of the stones were often set “upside down”, as if the stone was “flying and dancing like a cloud”, following the all-time favourite technique of the Chinese artificial landscaping – a game of imitation and metamorphoses.

Guo Xu, Mi Fu Bowing to a Rock, 1503

The Chinese intellectual, admiring Nature, is being its co-author, who uses its basic elements as art mediums. (And when we are talking about Artificial Natures, we are talking about Artistic Natures as well.)

Mineral metamorphoses as land art mediums are no less rich material than vegetation. Each of the diverse cultures plays its own game with crystals. A range of interpretations is limitless – from Islamic metaphysical aesthetics to the megalomaniac project “Alpine Architektur”, built on the basis of spatial and architectural fantasies by Paul Scheerbart, Bruno Taut, Wenzel Hablik, and other members of Glaserne Kette. As Rosemarie Bletter said, their man-made crystalline accretions were a metaphor for the new man, who would live in a country without national borders.

Heidelberg University Library, “Alpine Architektur: in 5 Teilen und 30 Zeichnungen”, “plate 17.” – CC-BY-SA 3.0

Starting from the “faceting” of the Alps, Taut’s project ends with a chapter about Sternbau (Starbuilding). A head motif of his artistic utopia is to change society through the very process of changing nature. Despite a complete infeasibility of the creative fantasies of the Glaserne Kette members, a discourse on the glass architecture is incredibly fruitful. A sparkling kaleidoscope of Alpine Architektur repeatedly emerges in the manifests of Traut’s contemporaries and modern architects, creating spaces of transparency, purity, freedom,and openness. Consequently, one more basic element, the air, is included meaningly in the artist’s palette of the creators of new Artificial Natures.

On the other hand, the crystalline metaphor has not come out of nowhere – according to Blatter, Taut continued an iconographic theme, from stretches by King Solomon, Jewish and Arabic legends, medieval stories of the Holy Grail, through the mystical Rosicrucian and Symbolist tradition down to Expressionism.

In Islamic metaphysics crystals are only a part of an endless process of recombination of organic and non-organic forms of nature. In the interpretation of Titus Burckhardt, a Paradise is an eternal springtime, a garden perpetually in bloom, refreshed by living waters; it is also a final and incorruptible state like precious minerals, crystal and gold.

Animals are recombined into vegetation, vegetation is recombined into minerals, flowers – in stars, stars – in the deceitfully abstract geometry, geometry – into calligraphy, which grows back again with vegetative sprouts. At the same time the bionics of the Islamic architecture brings stones to life, puts Samarkand and Isfahan domes into organic shape, turns the arch columns of Mezquita de Córdoba (Córdoba Mosque) into palm plantation, mold Muqarnas “honeycomb” vaults of Al-Badi and Medinat Al-Zahra Palaces.

Al-Badi palace dome, reconstruction by Antonio Almagro

The sunken floating carpets of gardens, the flourishing mosaics and stucco of pavilions are meant to praise the Creator; and at the same time the resulting mesmerizingly ornamented spatial harmony again tempts its masters with pride for their created beauty. The magnetism of its radiance can even make it fully artificial, and then golden and silver trees with birds in cages appear in the gardens.

Ruggles tells, that in Madinat al-Zahra a large pool of mercury was placed in the center of the hall. When the sun was getting in, it sparkled with light, as slaves caused the mercury to vibrate. In the garden, al-Mansur ordered that pieces of silver and gold be inserted into the lilies, when they were still closed in the morning. In the afternoon, as the lilies opened to the sunlight, they were gathered on a tray and set before his guests, who were astounded to see that the flora of al-Andalus yielded silver seeds and golden pollen.

Mannerism, always ripening hidden within the great styles, filled the gardens of European baroque with the unusual shapes. Enghien park is full of fancy structures; its creators, like the Chinese, play with garden metaphors again, and the repertoire of the codes, encrypted in the scenery, is unparalleled in richness. Paradise allusions in the garden are now enhanced with the alchemical allegories, scenes from Greek mythology, and reminiscences to the Roman ruins. These plots are captivating and can be diversely interpreted. However, the more meaningful is the fact, that the artificial nature of Enghien – the park, included in the Guide “The Theatre of Dutch Pleasure Gardens”, as well as the artificial nature of other neighbouring Dutch parks, evolved together with the ideas of their time.

Their complex plans demonstrated the rise of mapping, having reached the level of Art. Three-dimensional perspective panoramas of parks from a bird’s-eye view were implemented by the high-class engravers, such as, for example, Romeyn de Hooghe, an artist and a sculptor of the Royal gardens, the author of the album with the scheme and views of Enghien. Maps and plans were turning into wall decorations, and their independent visual value allows us to easily imagine, that the park was being designed just to look good on paper.

Romeyn de Hooghe, colored engraving of “Reknowned Park of Enghien”

The patterns of fortification art were being drawn on the plаns and on the European terrain as well. By Prévôt, new military engineering technologies allowed the transfer of loads of soil, as the appearance of artillery weapons required the skill of digging trenches and building walls and ground defences fast. These technologies moved on to the garden building and were used during the construction of split-level terraces and slopes, channels, and pools. This was the time when boulevards were still military defences – bolwerken, and the rough beauty of star forts was included in the arsenal of park geoplastics. The grand pavilion in the centre of Enghien is surrounded by the bastions, and the military connotation shifts to courteous in mannerist way, reminding visitors of the fortress of love, which was a popular image at the time.

The orangery of Enghien is filled with exotic plants – colonial seizures, introduction of the new colours, a collection of fancy foreign things lead to the development of one more type of the artificial nature – Kunstkamera-garden. By the 19th century the orangery reached the size of Crystal Palace – a huge exhibition facility for tropical plants, artistic and scientific artifacts.

The design of Crystal Palace was inspired by the structure of a giant leaf of tropical Lily Victoria Regia, for the upkeep and display of which a horticulturist Joseph Paxton had designed a special pavillion. The exotic flower itself, along with the same combination with the glass architecture, later served as a source of inspiration for Taut and Sheerbart, who was especially impressed by the Dahlem orangeries. A little later young Roberto Burle Marx, having visited the glasshouse at Berlin-Dahlem Botanical Gardens, was struck by the richness of tropical Flora from his native Brazil, and that influenced his entire future career.

The size of the glass structures became so tremendous already in 19th century, that, as Schoenefeldt points out, one of their designers, John Claudius Loudon, jokingly offered to immerse an entire Russian village in its artificial climate. However, the ideas of Joseph Paxton, the autor of Crystal Palace, indeed were aimed at the use of fully-glazed structures as the means to creating new types of environments for human beings in the scale of the population of large industrial cities. Proposing a glasshouse as a provider of artificial human habitats, he wrote, that there would be supplied the climate of Southern Italy, where multitudes might ride, walk, or recline amidst groves of fragrant trees, and [there] they might leisurely examine the works of Nature and Art, regardless of the biting east winds or the drifting snow.

Thomas Abel Prior, Queen Victoria opening the 1851 Universal Exhibition, at the Crystal Palace in London, Google Art Project

Half a century later a wide glass arcade caIled the “Crystal Palace” was placed by Ebenezer Howard in the centre of his Garden City. A discourse of Paxton, who dreamt to secure favourable environment for the people to flourish, astonishingly precedes the theory of Patrick Geddes, the author of 1925 plan for garden-city Tel-Aviv. A biologist by training, Geddes considered the main task of urban planning as to make this and that town, as it were, a human garden of the world, where each form of life may grow and develop according to its nature.

Yulia Leonova



In 1953 a Brazilian landscape architect Roberto Burle Marx designed the project of Ibirapuera park, which was to be the site of the 1954 cultural celebrations, marking the Fourth Centennial of the City of São Paulo. A vast territory inside the city was reserved as an artificially natural representation of some kind of finalization of the cultural project by Brazilian intellectuals in the search and formation of their national identity: Brasilidade.

For Burle Marx his participation in the project was also breaking a significant and personal boundary; he wrote: “I was enthusiastic: for the first time, perhaps, I had a chance to develop and expand my ideas on a contemporary garden style, which I had been evolving over a period of twenty years. This was to be the summing up of concepts of composition, of the search for a Brazilian plant vocabulary.

This project of Burle Marx was not fated to be implemented. It exists on paper only, which attracted our attention as a case of the idealized park of cultural achievements. At the same time, multiple implemented gardens of this exceptionally prolific architect are rich with the keys to the cultural discourse on the search of Brasilidade, which is possible through the perception of its design.

Ibirapuera site plan by Roberto Burle Marx, source Seavitt Catherine, Roberto Burle Marx e os Jardins Ornamentais do Parque do lbirapuera

He called himself a landscape painter-architect. His unique style was based on the aesthetics of modernism, and the plans of his gardens look like abstract paintings. He was indeed a splendid artist, creating his “plant puzzles, composed of foliage, and flowering plants in the brightest colours imaginable, and in the free forms of an abstract painting.” As a sculptor he “experimented with free forms in an interplay of plant and building materials used as textures”, and as a kinetic avant-gardist he intended to “use plants as volume in motion, against the fixed volume of the architecture.” His art was incredible spectacular, but it was his participation in the Brazilian cultural project that extended boundaries of his individual fame The eccentric name of the initial stage of this project was: Antropofagia.

Manifesto Antropófago by Oswald de Andrade, published in the late 20s, proclaimed “that Brazil’s strength lay in feeding on European culture,” as Fraser put it. For the descendants of the colonizers the European culture had always remained a role model, and a metaphor for cannibalism interpreted this like a proud absorption i.e. devouring of this culture – approximately the same as a ritual of savages, eating the heart and brain of the defeated enemy in order to take possession of their courage and mind. Besides that, a game with savages theme, dangerous and attractively vivid exotics of the Indians of the Amazon suggested a variety of artistic opportunities. Along with the interest to the wild tribes the attention turned to the animals and plants: to the jungle. Before that moment it was an unfamiliar, deadly dangerous wild nature, Inferno Verde, Green Hell, as the colonizers called it, a territory, hostile even to the South American Indians, who practiced burning out the woods around their settlements.   

Young Roberto Burle Marx entered a new discourse; as a landscape architect he was the one who brought the jungle to a city. It is notable, that Burle Marx, who was born and grew up in Brazil, for the first time actually saw the beauty of Brazilian nature in Germany, in the orangery of the Botanical Garden in Dahlem, when he arrived to Berlin to study painting in 1928. (Dahlem Orangeries throws us back to other artificial natures of our project – Crystal Palace, Garden City, Alpine Architektur.)

Upon his return to the homeland he initiated a search, introduction and popularization of the wild Flora of Brazil to public parks and private gardens. His educational, cultural and ecological mission lasted throughout his long artistic journey; his numerous expeditions resulted in the creation of his own artificial nature – Sitio Burle Marx in the manor Barra De Guaratiba – a huge landscape park and a nursery garden for several thousand species of plants.

The plans of his gardens are “equally related to abstract painting and to a definite spatial reality: they bring to mind the configuration of the Brazilian rivers, as seen from the windows of a plane.” His landscape arrangements were inspired by the natural zones of Brazil – Igapó, Caatinga, Cerrado. In the project of Ibirapuera park there are small islands with palm-trees, floating on the water – he was inspired by the similar ones in “the trip to an Amazonian igapo (flooded region), where the vegetation islands glide over the serene waters like houses built on rafts.” As remembered by Marta Iris Montero, experimenting with plants he himself invented an ironical phrase to define his gardens: ‘artificial ecological associations’. Water and minerals were the essential elements of his gardens, many if not all of them, were semi-aquatic; he used water as liquid columns and sculptures. A subject of his special admiration wasa wonderful demonstration of balance, even symbiosis between the vegetal and the mineral.” In Araxa park his team “started to recreate prototypes of regions which could not be reached by the average traveler, –  a canga, or ferruginous-conglomerate garden of xerophilous plants, and a gneiss-granite rock garden.”

The plants growing on the rocks are of a special importance; they are used for jardin sur dalle, the gardens built on concrete slabs, on the roofs and platforms– the key landscape companions to the modernist architecture. The iconic roof garden of MES building in Rio de Janeiro, built by the group of architects, among which were Lúcio Costa, Oscar Niemeyer, and Le Corbusier as co-designer, was one of the first projects of that kind by Burle Marx. He remembered, that “when Le Corbusier came as consultant to the architects planning the Ministry of Education and Health, he spoke of the recovery of space at all costs, so that Man might regain his communion with Nature; of the roof garden; of the space over an extended wing; of the hollows under the building at pilotis level.”

Plan of the MES roof garden, 1938, source Adams, William Howard, Roberto Burle Marx:
The unnatural art of the garden

Oscar Niemeyer was in charge of the Ibirapuera Park Project, having several cultural and representative buildings for it in the plan – Palace of Industry, Palace of Nations, Palace of States, a planetarium, a theater, аnd also a distinctive architectural structure – a large sinuous marquee covering the connecting esplanade.

Ibirapuera gardens, the reconstruction of Burle Marx project, Ideal Spaces Working Group (vrbn.io)

The marquee connected buildings, arranged freely in the park; and the gardens of Burle Marx, as he described, “linked one to the other, had to provide a different experience, but each accompanying the architectural unit to which it is related. The link between the gardens is a free form; but since the marquee is also free-flowing I decided that the gardens should have the characteristics of an asymmetrical layout with geometric detail.Had the project of Burle Marx been implemented, Ibirapuera park could have been a materialized metaphor of the union of the jungle and modernism.

Ibirapuera panorama, Photo Paulo Kawazoe

Aerial photographs and the imagined reconstruction of the park create its spatial form as a kind of Mise en abyme principle (”matryoshka principle“or ”nested doll principle”), where the city is embedded in a green mass of the jungle; the park/jungle is embedded in the city; the park, in its turn, accommodates a modernist architectural complex, amongst which the gardens of Burle Marx reminds us of the wild natural zones of Brazil; while the insides of the gardens are decorated with the modernist sculptures and the jungle plants inserted into them.

These totem-like wire sculptures with the inserted ampel plants were one of his favourite elements of the landscape design; incredibly rich in ethnic, cultural and historical references, including: Calçada Portuguese (the Portuguese pavement), azulejos, historical gardens reminiscences.

Burle Marx practiced the traditional Portuguese paving technique of calçada portuguesa in all his parks, and always introduced in their two- or three-coloured patterns an association – in the Geometric Garden of Ibirapuera it was based on the carpet patterns from Bahia. The best known paving by Burle Marx is a promenade along the beaches of Copacabana in Rio de Janeiro; there a pattern of his waves repeats the one of the old Avenida Atlantica, which, in its turn, recalls to the period of paving squares in Portugal – а technique, revived by Eusebio Pinheiro Furtado, the governor of Castelo de Sao Jorge, in Lisbon in the 1840s. A chain can be traced further – to black-and-white mosaic of Ostia and up to the pebble mosaic of Gordion of the 8th century BC. Among Burle Marx’ citations a special place in the chain belongs to Conimbriga, a Roman settlement of the 2nd century BC. It is well known in Portugal, as its large-scale excavations, carried out in the 30s of the last century, were widely covered by the media.

Thus, despite all the revolutionary innovation of modernism, Roberto Burle Marx introduced graphic and at the same time topographic representation of the national history to his landscapes, not neglecting cultural Antropofagia, one of the components of which was the devouring of the European culture, and the other – the customs of the savages themselves. Apart from the famous waves, four kilometers of Copacabana promenade are covered with an endless non-repeating pattern, originating from the tattoo patterns of a native Brazilian tribe, the Caduveo Indians of Mato Grosso, researches say. The tattoos have attracted the attention of Guido Boggiani, an Italian researcher, and Claude Levi-Strauss, an anthropologist, who described the Caduveo graphic art as unique in all of pre-Columbian America. As Seavitt pointed it, “the Caduveo did not just develop a patterning strategy of loose repetitions within an irregular frame; they developed a way of patterning open geometries on the topographical surface of the face.” It can be said that using Caduveo’s method of body mapping, Burle Marx were tattooing the cultivated ground, semiotized the territory of his artificial natures.

It may not always be easy to decipher behind the extremal modernist style, but the gardens of Ibirapuera were full of quotes. Some of them are inspired entirely by the historical examples from the Islamic, ancient, Renaissance gardens. Describing the Fountain Path garden, he wrote: “In its present form, I feel sure it has never have been done before; but in Spain, in the Boboli Gardens in Florence, and at the Villa d’Este, crossing arches of water spring up on either side of paths as the visitor walks along.

The Geometric Garden was inspired by the central peristyle of the House of the Fountains in Conimbriga, and all other gardens of the project Ibirapuera relate to the principle of Roman atrium.

Ibirapuera Geometric Garden, 3D model, Ideal Spaces Working Group

As Seavitt points, other solutions remind of the Moorish gardens of southern Spain, in particular the Alcazar gardens of Seville and the Alhambra and Generalife complex at Grenada. The Islamic culture of the Moors and Berbers brought to Spain and Portugal both a love for intimate gardens and the knowledge of irrigation techniques. (as many other amazing bonds made throughout centuries and continents, this one connects Ibirapuera World and the Islamic Garden, another World among our Artificial Natures). Not less thrilling as Calçada Portuguese path, is the story of the development of azulejos, decorated ceramic tiles, from the Arabic to Portuguese tradition, and further to the Brazilian one – traditional at first, and then interpreted in modernist way by Burle Marx and Cândido Portinari.

The Suspended Path Garden of Ibirapuera has its own version of observation platform the architect planned it as a viewpoint, offering to enjoy the piece of land art he had created. He described it as so: spatial and artistic experiences of widely differing natures would come to each spectator viewing the garden and participating in it at ground level, who would gradually lose this relation to the plant volume and the fixed stone volume as he rose above to the platform, and regain it as he descended to the exit.” As Lejeune pointed, “the visitor or user of his parks and gardens gets the exciting yet always unstable feeling that he or she walks at once within nature and a work of art.”

Yulia Leonova


Garden City of Tel Aviv

The idealized version of White Garden City of Tel Aviv, which miraculously blossomed on bare sands 100 years ago, is not so far from the real city as it may seem. The ideas of Tel Aviv’s visionaries, founders, and planners are integrated in the city’s scenery. An overview of the city plan, then zooming in here and there to a scale of a flower container on a balcony, reveals how its shape, street patterns, architecture, and greenery represents a visualization оf the first new exemplary Hebrew city, aspirations of Garden City theorists, ideas and manifestos of the Modern Movement architects.

3D reconstruction of “idealised” Tel Aviv, Ideal Spaces Working Group,(vrbn.io)

The layout of Tel Aviv’s historical part can be perceived as a half circle – this continues a series of round layouts of numerous Ideal Cities, beginning, for example, with the 8th century Baghdad, and finishing, for instance, with Howard’s conceptual scheme of a Garden City of tomorrow. The Green Belt idea by Loudon and Howard is easily traced in the shape of the chain of boulevards of Tel Aviv, which start from one of its first five little streets in 1909, and in Regional Plan 1948, where again the green belt was offered, now “within Greater Tel Aviv as a network of public open spaces lying round and within the town, parks, public gardens, paths, river banks and other green areas.” An ideal circle of buildings around the city’s legend – Dizengoff square – is in the orbit of the circle symbol as well. And Hug (the Circle) – was a name of an architectural association of young modernists in Tel Aviv in the 30s.

3D reconstruction of Dizengoff Square in Tel Aviv, Ideal Spaces Working Group,(vrbn.io)

Green belt around Greater Tel Aviv, Physical planning of Israel 1948-1953

Primacy of the architecture of the 20th century – function – did not cancel the unchangeable inclination of the space-makers to feel like being a Master of the Ideal Order planning. Beside pure pragmatics there was always a room for the aspiration to draw a Happy City, to program it to flourish by putting it into a right shape.

The most part of historic Tel Aviv was built under the 1925 plan by Patrick Geddes – he was as well inspired by the magic figures like for example hexagon, which he perceived as having metaphysical and bee symbols. However, it was not a regular shape he built his urban planning theory upon, but geographical and historical genius loci, sociality, and garden culture.

Geddes was an urbanist-biologist, sociologist, a follower of Thomas Henry Huxley; he was religious and scientific at the same time; he was full of love to human civilization; he called cities a drama in time, but he designed them as the most favourable areas for the living organisms: “to find the right places for each sort of people; places where they will really flourish. To give people in fact the same care that we give when transplanting flowers.” For him, the actual cities are the highly organized cultural and organic entities – Cities in evolution; each has its own faith, which left the trace on its landscape physiognomy.

When planning Tel Aviv ,Geddes drew new streets along the caravan paths and old vineyards. He always took great care of it, rejecting Haussmannism and standing up for the value of the pattern of the old streets of Paris, London, Boston – as they originally were the hunter’s clearings and cow-paths. (Had Le Corbusier known this expression, when he urged to lay absolutely straight streets in his City of tomorrow, calling winding ones Pack-Donkey’s Ways? He wrote then “A straight line should dominate in the modern city – it makes the city healthier. Winding street brings desolation, dangers and complications of different kinds, it paralyzes life. A straight line is a path of the historical development of a man, it directs his mind and activity… Maybe, an aesthet will find them unattractive, but a moralist, on the contrary, should pay special attention to them.”

The real shape of historic Tel Aviv does not copy an ideal, universally applicable shape, having kept only an echo of the circular significs of Howard’s scheme. However, Geddes’ spatial scenario of a garden city is seen clearly – an organic grid lines off the city in dozens of communities: “Home Blocks”, neighborhood clusters with inner gardens.

Fragment of the 1935 map based on Geddes Plan for Tel Aviv, with “Hexagon” (yet octagon in fact) Place, Boulevards and green Geddes Blocks

In that cellular system each cell should be an urban garden village, with a green open space for recreation, gardening, and communication, with a place for the accumulation of the community capital, as it can be called today.

Such were the Sunnyside Gardens in New York City and Garbatella in Rome – oases of artificial nature, surrounded by the houses, nostalgic for the receding vernacularity; however, unlike the experimental areas, Tel Aviv is a city. The city, which should have embodied Geddes’s favourite notion: Eutopia, a place, where no one feels Naturestarvation. “Eutopia lies in the city around us; and it must be planned and realised, here or nowhere, by us as its citizens each a citizen of both the actual and the ideal city seen increasingly as one.” His Home-Blocks system should have been “in no wise Utopian Dreams, but Utopian Facts – the very best sort of facts.” In his utopian Tel Aviv everyone was “to sit under one’s vine and fig tree”, while to convert this into reality is one of the very easiest and speediest of all biblical counsels of perfection. The city should have become not just a Garden City, but а “Fruit-Garden City – “Almond City” – Orchard City, Vine and Fig Tree City – Orange City and more.”

Le Corbusier pierced his pavillon Esprit Nouveau with a live tree at the exhibition in Paris in 1925, the same year that Geddes wrote his Tel Aviv Report, full of spirit of Victorian aesthetics.

PavilionL’Esprit Nouveau by Le Corbusier

By that time Tel Aviv architects of the Arts&Crafts generation were already feeling new trends; social ambitions of urban planners were drifting to socialism. Geddes’ home blocks were not destined to be build up by the houses of the invented style of Orientalized Hebrew historicism – it was replaced by modernism: international spirit, pure form, white color, and – a new green vision.

Gideon wrote that the task to break down the boundaries, which had traditionally existed between interior and exterior space, was a central concern of architectural Modernism.  As Dammet points out, the early modernists Hermann Muthesius and Peter Behrens, both involved in Hellerau’s planning, placed great emphasis on the importance of gardens in the new architecture: “a garden could facilitate the spiritual renewal, that many others in the early twentieth-century avant-garde were seeking. According to Le Corbusier, the future city above all must keep in view the aim of taking man back to nature.” His three environmental principles of modern architecture have become a new vernacular of Tel Aviv: piloti instead of the ground floor; flat roof for gardens; ribbon glazing, transformed into ribbon balconies.

The modernists designed Tel Aviv as Gesamtkunstwerk in the spirit of the Bauhaus manifestos. A private villa, an apartment building, a power station, a gas station, a park, a kiosk, a promenade now spoke one architectural language. Students and followers of Muthesius, Fisher, Migge contributed to the influence of the German version of the garden city. All together it was meant to become a single architectural and landscape environment.

Fences, benches, flower containers were not just a set of the arranged objects; on the contrary, they continued the building, which was organically growing into the scenery: architectural benches and balcony flower beds – as structural parts of its architecture; fences and fountains – as modernist sculptures in the garden.

Soskin house, Tel Aviv, photo Yulia Leonova

White cubes of houses on earth pedestals with flower terraces were merging into their old new land: were putting down roots. Fully glazed lobby performed a spectacular play of shades of green on the translucent leaves to the person, intending to leave the house; and the garden under the pilotis diffused the glaring light on entering a sunny, noisy street.

Garden under piloti, Tel Aviv, photo Yulia Leonova

The green balconies, surrounding a house, functioned as a climate shell, which eased the Levantine heat. A roof garden was aimed to top the House-Garden system; to be small green Eldorado on the roof for plants and people by Leberecht Migge, and the essential culmination of the architectural promenade by Le Corbusier. As Dammet wrote, “he placed the roof gardens and libraries next to each other, as if to state their equivalence as clearly as possible, since Le Corbusier saw the promenade both as a way of paying homage to the natural world and as an induction into a meaningful encounter with nature.

Kruskal House, Tel Aviv, arch Richard Kauffmann, photo Yulia Leonova

In reality Tel Aviv roof gardens were scarcely implemented – most of the time the idea of it was denoted only by its synecdoche – a massive concrete pergola. Having lost its utility as the supporter for plants, the concrete pergolas gained sacral meaning for the White City of Tel Aviv, which is easy to track on the iconic photographs of the chronicles of its construction.

Pergola on the roof, Tel Aviv, photo from Palestine Building Annual 1934-35

Every time a desire to overview the territory under formation was typical of its creator – a conqueror, a monarch, an artist, a colonizer, a progressor.  The most remarkable Artificial Natures appeared there and when the society faced something significant. One culture had a task to fixate the eternal values, and the other – to develop new ones. That is how Ideal Garden City of Tel Aviv was built.

… And that was the way Roberto Burle Marx created his Artificial Natures of Brazil, and a new nation was coded in these landscapes.

Yulia Leonova


Terrace World

For the world to follow, we crafted a utopian example of a construction we labelled Terrace World. Based on a simple construction principle, 2 levels of plates resting on piloti-like columns, different communities live on these plates, with their individually designed architecture. It is a garden city extending in 3 levels on a large plain – ground level and 2 above it. On its ground level, the whole is interrupted by gardens, and ziggurat-like structures for more dense housings. Other plates serve for urban agriculture or as green areas devoted to other purposes. The communities on each plate design their own habitat, there are gardens, water basins, fountains, communal places comparable to an Italian piazza. There is a rich variety of forms since each community is different, and opposed to classical top down-utopian planning, the inhabitants can design their habitat according to their own wishes.

The entire structure also extends to the nearby mountain range, and if needed as a result of population growth, the system can be extended. Infrastructural devices are located below the piloti and inside them, in addition to elevators that reach from ground level to the upper parts of that world, to provide fast vertical connection and transport between the levels. A pedestrian could explore this world by walking from level to level, and from one community to another. For this reason, ramparts, bridges and stairways have been placed, to invite to walk, connecting these communities and the green areas as a physical network system.

It is a world of the future, a flexible structure of irregular shape, adaptable to changing population densities quite easily: new plates are built in case of increase, existing plates are left uninhabited in case of decrease. The city is placed in the midst of nature because urban sprawl has ceased; and all the agricultural surface needed for self-subsistence is located within the city space. There is a minimum of centralised structure and centralised government, since the communities of the plates are largely autonomous in their decision making. What forms of life come out is in the responsibility of the respective community. Despite their autonomy, each community can connect to other ones, and as a visitor, you could wander from one end of this world to the other without barriers.

Terrace World, Ideal Spaces Working Group (vrbn.io)

Ulrich Gehmann


Abstract World

The abstract world is a representation of the internet world, the world of information, of data and emotions. Our abstract world is formed of millions of particles that move in the space. Each particle represents a piece of information that moves through the internet. The large amount of data could seem confusing and irregular, but every piece of data moves with a specific path and with a specific target (like the data that moves on the web). All these particles move and create a basic geometric structure and the shape of this structure is generated by a script. That script generates a new shape every time the abstract world catches an “#IdealSpaces” hashtag on Twitter. This means that the entire flow and movement of the particles is handle by the basic shape of the world. When the shape changes, new particles create the new structure and the particles already present in the world slowly move to a new position.

The shapes are randomly created by the script but the logic behind it is based on a regular polygon structure.

The colour of the particles is influenced by data too. The abstract world’s script analyses in real time the global Twitter flow and when it receives a tweet that includes some specific words, the script assigns an emotion and subsequently a colour to the particles.

So, the basic particles/information are neutral but the people’s reactions change particles into different colours.

The entire logic of the abstract world aims to create a world that is totally generated and managed by data and code. Without internet connection or “#IdealSpaces” hashtag, the abstract world would be a static and dead world. Without people’s emotions and reactions the abstract world would be without colours and emotions.

As with the real world, millions of particles move in a peaceful way but it can be hard to see the reasoning. But by looking at them from another point of view, we can see that all that particles create something that is harmonic and geometric.

Abstract World, Ideal Spaces Working Group, Mauro Ferrario

Mauro Ferrario 


The Worlds in the Arcades

As had been said in the beginning, these are the worlds to assist the main ones shown in the triptych. They orchestrate the worlds shown in that center of a theatrum mundi, presented as standstill images of other worlds; they aim to orchestrate the ones shown in the triptych, whereby each of those triptych- or “main” worlds has its associated standstills particularly suited to it. As the Renaissance humanist, mathematician and architect Alberti has it, the spaces shown in the arcades are windows to worlds of their own. Like the spaces of the main worlds shown in the triptych, we see in the arcades just sectors of much bigger entities, other “worlds” these sectors are merely a part of.

In their language of forms and their character, the spaces presented in the arcades are similar to those shown in the triptych. When we take the respective spaces in the triptych and in the arcades together, they constitute an ensemble, a unity of form, shape and expression, each ensemble revealing certain mind sets that led to specific spatial constructions related to those “sets” or world views. So, the common mythos underlying all those constructions, namely to construct a second nature that is more natural than an original nature could ever be.

In this way, the visitor has to look at such an ensemble as unity, raising the imaginative powers of conceiving all these worlds as an inherent perceptual as well as symbolic whole.

The arcades themselves are symbolic, having been derived from one of the very first Renaissance buildings, the Ospedale degli Innocenti of Brunelleschi in Florence. In the manner of a central perspective, they embody the sides of a theatrum mundi directing the view towards its center, the triptych.

The first triptych world, Paradise, has as companions a quite early attempt to create an almost complete virtual space, the Roman frescoes of Villa Livia, presenting a garden at the four times of day (morning, noon, evening, night) with each daytime painted at one wall. So, the entire room of that villa is an early example of an “immersive” environment in different perspectives, as are the ones of our triptych.

The second triptych world, the ideal city of Sforzinda, has several orchestrating standstills: on the outer left arcade, you see a recent utopian construction made by the architect Arthur Goldyuk, Israel, offering a city technical in character that could be placed as a module, like Sforzinda, everywhere where it is feasible. The other standstills are from Bruno Taut, showing the cosmic closure of comparable circular spaces as “ideal” entities; and from Ebenezer Howard, from his famous Garden City of Tomorrow at the end of 19th century, presenting the circular scheme of a world-module of a future trying to overcome the hiatus between nature and culture that dominated Western thinking so long.

The third triptych world, the Ibirapuera Park of Roberto Burle Marx located in the midst of the quite unnatural environment, that of a city (Sao Paulo), has other parks as its accompanying standstills: the rich, exuberant artificial nature of a baroque park (Enghien) on the arcades one side, and a Chinese “garden” (in fact, a very large park area) on the other. Although both standstills represent the same type of space in formal terms, namely a park, they are quite different. The Western baroque park intends to be an artificial environment, a ‘nature’ that is no one, and that this very characteristic is visibly expressed; whereas its Chinese equivalent aims at looking like a natural landscape, inviting for contemplation. Despite it too is artificial up to perfection, even the “naturally” looking rocks having been shaped in a process of careful treatment.

Next to the Islamic Gardens placed inside the Terrace World (our fifth space shown in the triptych), we chose an example of another culture for reasons of comparison. Namely how an artificial nature could look like in its two poles: of a pronounced artificiality symbolizing the domination of nature in expressed visibility (the baroque park) on the one hand, and on adapting to natural forms and creating a seemingly natural gestalt on the other. Which reveals two opposite conceptions of how to deal with a natural environment in general, as well as creating an ‘ideal’ one for human beings in particular.

The European or Western approach is emphasised in another series of standstill spaces. They show the park of Villa Lante, Italy, at the end of the 16th century. Here, we see a vista of a park space as a microcosmic world, and its plan altogether with a longitudinal section of the terrain. For Villa Lante, an entire natural terrain was completely transformed, i. e., an artificial space was created in toto, separated from the outer world.

Inner/Outer in symbolic form. Villa Lante, photography by the author

The fourth triptych world, the Garden City of Tel Aviv, is accompanied by futuristic constructions of a water city conceptualised by the architect Michael Burt, Haifa/Israel. In the “Blue Avenue Vision of Burt, a city is imagined that unites several characteristics relevant for our overall topic, artificial natures as new habitats for humans. It is a city that has been located entirely in the sea, like Venice, and not on firm land. In its rather technical style reminding on comparable constructions of the NASA from the 1960s and 70s, a habitat is created completely de novo, and moreover, it has been tried to combine technical functionality, aesthetic demands and nature in a new, and most consequent way. Suited to the Garden City-approach, a technical Venice with lots of green becomes portrayed, providing new homes for thousands of people.

The fifth triptych world, a utopian construction we called Terrace World due to its basic construction principle of two levels of terraces resting on piloti and overlapping with each other, giving space for the development of diverse communities living on them, is accompanied by another utopian scenario called Freedom & Form. Next to a drawing by M. Burt showing terraces of his futuristic world, Freedom & Form (made by U. Gehmann) presents two domains of form, architecture and plants, which at the same time comprise two domains of freedom unfolding themselves. As orchestrating world to the one presented in the terraces, it appears in two forms again: a original, painted version, and digitalized version showing the same world in a more technical perspective (made by vrbn.io).

Freedom & Form (vrbn.io, M. Bühler and C. Oberhänsli)

The sixth triptych world we called the Abstract World, a space which is no real space any longer (neither built, nor constructed) but a system of algorithms making up our today’s Internet “spaces” forming a large part of a nowadays “natural” environment for humans, had to be accompanied by the respective scenarios in the arcades illustrating its very character. For doing so, we considered several possibilities. The best one has been a drawing by Wenzel Hablik from the beginning of 20th century, showing a vision of the final artificial nature of redemption after the end of history, an abstract version of the Heavenly Jerusalem. In its inherent immateriality, rich colouring and abstract style it resembles the colourful and ever-changing Abstract World we present, also a final state of an environment that became natural for us today. 

 A Final State, Wenzel Hablik

Ulrich Gehmann


The Music

Music is a very important aspect to reveal the respective world’s nature, in a unity with the images from it. So, each of the worlds shown in the triptych has its own music, aimed at presenting that world’s essence and atmosphere, also that of the worlds shown in the arcades which are assigned to the respective world in the triptych.

Based on his interpretations of works from G. F. Händel and M. Ravel, musician and composer Alexander Kadin and his team, the Experimental Tone Studio Odek, tried to open up new ways of musical composition to make the character of these worlds apparent. In addition, basic similarities between different worlds were worked out in musical terms, to evoke a sense for the individual – what makes a peculiar world to the world it is – as well as for traits those worlds have in common. To achieve this, the music had not only to be brought in balance of expression with the visual images of the worlds; moreover, by using the technique of the kontrapunkt or counterpoint, to work out characteristics of the world in question which were not, and cannot, revealed by visual images alone. A (visual) cannot “explain” everything what is presented within its terms, there remains a symbolic meaning that needs another kind of imagery than the visual does. This additional meaning can be revealed by music. With the method of the kontrafaktur, meanings can be completed and new perspectives of imagination opened up. Moreover, in following this line, variations can be developed, offering additional vistas on the same thematic issue. By doing so, the vividness, durability and validity of elements, in case of our worlds, musical and others, can be revealed and made aware to the audience.

The Musicians:
Alexander Kadin, overall composition, contrabass
Jochen Heibertshausen, ´soúnd, recording
Viktor Kadin, composition assistance, post-production .
Ekaterina Mamyscheva, soprano
Olga Zheltikova, piano
Aram Badalian and Duru Seong, violin
Christina Strimbeanu, viola
Leonard Kadin and A. Kadin, violoncello

Alexander Kadin, Ulrich Gehmann    


  1. Hi Jasmin,

    I’m afraid that I do not have access to remove you from notifications. It must be something done at your end.

    Is there any information in the emails about how to unsubscribe?

    Project Coordinator
    Ideal Spaces

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