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Cheswick Consultants PtyLtd

598 Melbourne Rd
Spotswood
Melbourne
VIC 3015
www.landscapedesign.melbourne

1/7/2015

Contemplative & Transcendent Landscapes


Artists have often lauded the role of art as a medium for contemplative experience leading to the
experience of the transcendent. Landscape architecture can be considered as public art, albeit one
that often goes unnoticed, despite its presence in every city street, public park and residential
garden. If you accept the proposition that landscape architecture is an art form capable of inducing
transcendent experience, then landscapes can be designed specifically with this in mind.
For thousands of years humans have designed spaces that specifically aim at stimulating the
intellectual and spiritual aspects of our lives. Cathedrals, mosques and the synagogues of Europe,
the temples, shrines and gardens of Asia are rich in design symbolic of the indivisibility of man,
nature and the Divine.
But times have changed as they do. The pragmatics of the technological revolution as an outcome
of capitalistic enterprise and scientific endeavour has given the contemporary consumer access to
many wondrous, previously undreamed of things in terms of quality of living e.g. health and
education. But, of course, there has been a cost. We have been turned into consumers of material
consumption. Thus, we have become disconnected to who and what we are as human beings.
In daily life we have become prisoners of our own making. We dissociate ourselves from our
ground in nature, each night in front of our televisions, passive participants in the human lusts and
violence perpetrated on the screen. At the end of the evening, we go to bed, empty and dissatisfied
by the life we lead.
We are more than economically driven consumers of technology. The discomfort we feel is
indicative of a disconnection from our intrinsic selves, a self that arises from nature and is
inseparable from the Cosmos.
Urban landscapes of a contemplative nature, whether they be public or private, are a source from
which we can draw energy and replenish our humane-ness. We recognize the transcendent in our
self.
Kathryn E. Sonntagg (The Role of the Transcendent in Landscapes" 2014) suggests that the
design characteristics of a contemplative landscape would include:
the creation of a sense of vastness (external and internal)
use of archetypal design elements
reduction of outer, distracting stimuli
orientation within a larger order
the harmonious integration of spatial qualities
(Dee, 2001; Eliade, 1957; Hermann, 2005; Messervy, 1995).
In addition to this list I would propose two other characteristics:
the feeling of imminent arrival upon entering the landscape
the encouragement of interaction with the landscape

Cheswick Consultants PtyLtd


598 Melbourne Rd
Spotswood
Melbourne
VIC 3015
www.landscapedesign.melbourne

The Urban Temple


In March 2015 Cheswick Consultants designed and built a show garden at the Melbourne
International Flower and Garden Show, Melbourne, Australia. This is a high profile event attracting
some 120,000 visitors over 5 days.
The Urban Temple mirrored the Asian philosophical principles of unity in diversity and the
balancing of opposites: inside/outside, small/large, high/low, shadow/light, warm/cool, enclosed/
open, still/movement.
The Urban Temple incorporated many of the design characteristics of a contemplative landscape
as cited by Sontagg (ibid). We estimated that over 20,000 people circumambulated the 5m x 5m x
4m structure, with four different viewing openings, each offering a different scene.
The Urban Temple was featured in the Garden Show magazine and a number of visitors made the
Urban Temple their primary destination.
Distinctive in its outer appearance, once reached, the informality of its appearance encouraged
visitors to touch the timber fins, to explore the 3-part rock feature and to feel the texture of the
diverse plant species. Others walked away at a distance, viewed the structure, and then returned
for a closer look. The braver actually climbed inside to experience the inner space, sitting quietly,
undisturbed by the surrounding general chaos. Afterwards, they commented on how peaceful they
felt.
The design of the Urban Temple encouraged an interactive relationship between the structure and
the viewer. Experientially, the design promoted a sense of inner quietude and personal wellbeing.

Conclusion
The exhibit titled the Urban Temple (exhibit MIFGS 2015) demonstrated to us, the designers, that
landscapes can be intentionally designed to resonate with the inner nature of who we are as
human beings, inducing a contemplative, if not transcendent experience, a clarity of mind
reminding us of our place in the nature world and the universe.