Olivia Marra

Olivia Neves Marra is a Brazilian architect graduated at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro and postgraduate at The Berlage Institute in Rotterdam, with a project recently published in the book Tehran – Life Within Walls: A City, Its Territory, and Forms of Dwelling, edited by Hamed Khosravi (Hatje Cantz, 2017). She has collaborated with several offices, such as L’AUC in Paris, before starting her research at the Architectural Association.




The Garden as Political Form: From Archetype to Project

Supervisors: Dr Pier Vittorio Aureli, Dr Mark Campbell

“When the history of the common garden is written I suspect we will discover that the village orchard was the early forerunner of the park.” In a compelling essay named Nearer than Eden, from 1980, J.B. Jackson argues the common garden as a family-ruled shared enclosure, which gradually lost its meaning once it got “invaded” by horticulture and, ultimately, by “the triumph of the pastoral landscape.” Four decades later yet this history remains unwritten, and gardens are still generally seen as idyllic imitations of “nature” without limits. To the point that one must now ask not only what a garden is, but also what not is one. Vis-à-vis state-of-the-art botanist Gilles Clément sees the entire planet as a “petit jardin.” As seductive as it is scary, his metaphor may soon become a reality since the term is increasingly ubiquitous in architecture. Moreover, with the success of so-called “green space,” now anything vaguely planted goes as either “garden,” “park” or “urban-farm.” These words, however, refer to enclosures that are far from interchangeable. The garden differs from them insofar as it is conceptually a “domestic space.” Because even when detached from a house, it implies the limit and the form of a household. That does not apply to all gardens but to their most recognisable example: the hortus – or the “common garden” to which Jackson refers. In the ancient Roman house, this was a sacred place among others, though the only one with an arable character and where shared cultivation was a ritual for both housework and pleasure. Precisely for making its autonomous reality spatially tangible, the hortus is an archetype of ideological enclosure, with which a given group of people may recognise and practice an idea of living together – in other words, a political form. The problem is: if the garden had indeed ceased to be legible as such, what’s left of it as a project of collective space? This hypothesis will be debated through the analyses of specific events in western history when the archetype was transformed to serve different projects of household and property. Based on their evidence, these paradigms are grouped and structured into an alternative theory of three defining categories upon which gardens have “operated” as political forms. First, by “archetypal,” as the most exemplary take on the family-ruled garden in the version of an hortus conclusus; cloistered to adhere to the Cistercian liturgy of communal settlement. Second, by “monumental,” the magnification of the hortus into an outward public monument within sixteenth-century suburban villas; designed as highly theatrical gardened estates to formalise, ritualise and, thus, institutionalise patriarchal expropriations of rural land. Third, by “pastoral,” as the dissolution of the archetype into a plot in the English allotment; normalised not only to make urban re-parcelisation more productive but also to softly govern proletarian families, by instilling their subconscious with an innocent image of the very landscape that produced their subaltern condition. Hence all these examples share a pedagogical dimension – for which each, on its very controversial agenda, had nevertheless turned gardening into a form of self-care and, so, of inherent resilience. Posing, therefore, a dialectic relationship between historical analysis and design methodology, the thesis re-appropriates the design-knowledge of each chapter to propose a collective garden that challenges the mainstream ideas of ownership in cities under real-estate pressure.