Research seminar: Symmetry and Asymmetry in the Gardens of Versailles by Catherine Szántó
Today's growing social importance of gardens and gardening brought with it a renewed interest in historical gardens and their restoration. Apart from a few well-documented examples, however, there is relatively little archeological and documentary evidence about the creation, and successive transformations of the gardens of the past, and even less about their maintenance history. Thus the restoration (for gardens that are still extant) and reconstruction (for gardens that have disappeared, and exist only (if at all) as archeological sites) necessarily imply a combination of research-based and ad-hoc design decisions.
Acknowledging this state of affairs, with its limitations but also its potentialities, the practice of historic garden restoration / (re)invention should strive to develop approaches integrating the scientific precision, rigour of restoration methods and a rigorous, clear, precise creative argumentation.
The lecture will present a hypothesis on using historical garden treatises and descriptions not as sources for factual knowledge about a given garden but as resources to understand the period's culturally-shaped « spatial competency » shared by all those involved (owner, designer, visitors).
The lecture will develop this idea by analyzing the use of of bilateral symetry in French baroque gardens, in particularly at Versailles. The hypothesis is that such an understanding can inform the act of imagination inherent to all historic garden restoration / (re)invention, and enhance the spatially and experientially mediated connection between past and contemporary visitors.
Catherine Szántó is a landscape architect, associate researcher in the AMP (Architecture-Milieu-Paysage) laboratory at the Paris-La Villette School of Architecture in France, where she is presently teaching. Her research interests center on the aesthetics of spatial experience through movement. After completing her PhD on the experience of walking in the gardens of Versailles, she was the recipient of several scholarships to study spatiality in the lagoon of Venice, an experimental forest in Sweden, and Japanese gardens. The present lecture develops a theme discussed in her doctoral research.