Saturday, May 8, 2010

Edna Walling

Late in the day on Wednesday (when discussing Catherine's scheme), I mentioned the wonderful Australian landscape designer Edna Walling.

The ABC has a nice site devoted to her that includes the following quote:

The little potatoes had been widely thrown from a bucket (by me) and the gardener told to plant a birch wherever he found one - even if sometimes two or even three were almost touching. ...Sure enough when returning to see later, the perfectly straight rows of silver birches, each meticulously spaced.

The context of the quote on the site relates to the difficulty that some (many?) men had in taking an instruction from a woman, but I like it for a different reasons: the difficulty of designing a random layout; the use of chance operations in design; and (not from this anecdote) the application of judgement.

My recollection is that Walling would often use potatoes thrown from a bucket to locate trees to achieve a random (naturalistic) arrangement. It is extremely difficult as designers to place things in a random way - one often finds the result contrived unless a chance operation is employed. What I like in my recollection of the expanded anecdote is that Walling would also use judgement - if she was not happy with the layout resulting from this operation she will quite happily throw the potatoes again.

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