Contributions of Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux


03 Oct 2016 21 Sep 2017

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To what extent Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux have contributed to the professional practice of Landscape Architecture?

Both Frederick Law and Calvert Vaux are actively participating in Landscape Architectural projects in the 19th century. Calvert Vaux was a young Architect in the year 1857. He collaborated with Frederick Law in the Central Park competition. Apart from landscape projects Vaux also committed himself as an architect designing various houses that harmonises with nature. Frederick Law Olmsted being known as the “Founder of American Landscape Architecture as well as a well-known park designer” by the National Park Service.

Frederick Law Olmsted started the being a Landscape Architecture after experimenting and trying out many different career fields. From a newspaperman, social commentator and farmer. He had many interests in his early life.

In landscape architecture, Olmsted combined his thoughts and interests in rural life and conditions and thoughts of autonomous glory to create a new form of civil engineering that not only focuses on its function but as well as beauty.

The Urbanization Olmsted seen on the road with its interest in rural problems soon make him wanted to work as a Landscape Architect. As he was touring around in Britain in the 1850s, he visited England’s Birkenhead Park, which was an important and a catalyst in venturing into the landscape career path.

In the year 1858, the city commissioners selected, out of the total thirty-tree designs being submitted in the competition for the new park (Central Park) the one chosen “Greensward,” which was the collaboration work of Frederick Law and Calvert Vaux.

Central Park is the recognition of this design through its significant features. It was also one of the earliest examples of a park that is being referred as a well balance work of landscape architecture, as well as the first in any country to propose spacious relaxing grounds which have the beauty of minimalist natural scenery as it met the qualities of complete enclosure by a tightly built city.

Central Park was a great success where both he and Vaux are able to closely towards each other. The use of hills, trees and curve walkways created a form of tranquillity and remoteness from the city. Both Olmsted and Vaux also formed a company and designed major parks in Brooklyn, Buffalo and more. Apart from the formed company, Olmsted also founded his own personal firm in the 1883 which led him to move his home to modernize Boston and created “Fairsted” known as the world’s first professional office for the Landscape Design.

Vaux and Olmsted then started a long partnership with each other where they form the landscape ideas of the position that should be played in the life of cities. But individual inputs by each of them has always been unclear. Some also argued that Vaux must be leading in the project as he is more experience in landscape architecture as compared to Olmsted, thus there is no reason to misbelief Vaux’s design. Soon later, the park’s authorities had decided to make Olmsted the Head Architect with Vaux as an assistant. Although Olmsted had a lot of suffering in the later years in order to highlight Vaux important role towards the design as well as the development of the parks, Vaux had always felt that he did not had the fame that he should receive.

Apart from the Central park project, Olmsted and Vaux also collaborated in 1865 after the Civil War on what many referred as their most successful design The Brooklyn’s Prospect Park. Not only that they also designed several other Brooklyn parks which includes the Carroll Park in Carroll Gardens , Washington Park and the Parade Ground and Tompkins Square.

Olmsted and Vaux also created a new form of pathway that is able to solve the problem of inefficiency of Brooklyn’s Grid Street system. These landscaped pavements are used to connect various different neighbourhoods to different parks all around the queen’s border.

Olmsted crafted various examples of designs which the Position of Landscape Architecture is able to enhance the quality of life in America. These include large urban parks being devoted to the contact and involvement of the scenery and designed to resist and balance out the bogusness of the city and the stress of modern life. One of the most important transports were the Private carriages a smooth road reserved for them that is able to connect parks and spread the advantages of public green space around the city.

Olmsted and Vaux designed the park to be able to create ways and path for the pedestrians and carriages to enjoy and admire the park without having to annoy each other. The design of the roads is considered radical as it allows vehicular access to drive through the park without being divided from the park’s experience.

It provides an array of public facilities for the residents and scenic preservation safeguarding areas of extraordinary landscape beauty from destruction as well as commercial uses. Garden / landscape design could improve both awareness as well as the self-reflections of occupants. With an increasing number in open-air apartments, it encourages outdoor activities where the garden space is a specified training ground for the citizens living around it. Governmental buildings would have been more efficient and do understand the importance of planning.

Olmsted’s design approach showed the complexity of his perception and even paid attention to the slightest details for a resident in harmonizing green-space. Olmsted understands the reasoning behind his landscape work which is capable of affecting the emotions of others. This was quite noticeable throughout his park designs, where he designed the pavements of the scenery such that the visitors would be saturated. Able to experience the curative action of the landscape as what Olmsted would describe it as “Unconscious” process. In order to achieve this outcome, he overpowered all the elements of the design in making the land-art contacts more subtle.

Olmsted always wanted to think ahead of the current trends and actions and being able to derive his designs based on the important principles of human psychology. In detail, he cross referenced from the analysis of earlier British Sophist of unsentimental landscape and their attention towards the special qualities of composition and attractive scenery.

The essence of agrarian landscape was the English deer park, creating an emotion of an enlarged space and its delicately inflected ground and smooth, a cropped lawn. He was able to realise that this style is known as his special formula to cure the bad effects of an modern life. The “Picturesque” style was being used in deep and worn out terrain, and followed by planting with a thick layer of different ground covers , shrubs and etc. This eventually will result in a thought of charitableness, outpouring and secrecy. His extreme experience of this effect was on the Isthmus of Panama as he was passing through a journey to California. Where both forms includes the qualities of infiniteness, and the shortage of singular objects for a detail exploration.

As Olmsted defined it , the term “scenery” is never applied to vision of any field that is seen as straight forward. Hence it should have a level of complexity in its shapes and visuals closer towards the eye, unimportant details when looked further away. These characters were important for the unknown motion of the scenery in mind. They were also an important element to his design as practicing benchmarks for exquisite understanding. The standard of elegance that includes a mixture, complexity and a fine series of surfaces, colours and tones were important to Olmsted creative and cultivating purpose.

Although the site that Olmsted favoured needs a at least a rainfall in order to achieve its outcome, he understood that majority of the United States does have a different weather. Following that he sets out to develop a distinct landscape technique for the south, while in the west it requires a water-conserving technique. He applied the techniques of this approach with six projects in the San Francisco Bay and Colorado.

During Olmsted career, he and his firm completed out over 500 commissioned projects. Which includes 100 parks and recreation areas, with over 200 private estates as well as numerous residential projects and campus design for a handful of academic institutions. Olmsted himself is a creative designer, even though he had trouble with expressing his ideas in words. With approximately six thousand letters were still around till this days, With its discussion with 300 design commissions. And at times he paid for the publications as well as public distribution of these letters which includes his experience in journeys and several documents by the United States commission.

Calvert Vaux who is also one of America’s well-known architect / Landscape architect. He also shaped some of America’s most prominent landscape during the 19th century. He worked with famous landscape figures such as Andrew Jackson Downing and later with Frederick Olmsted, and hence Vaux’s style on the landscape architecture was ignored in the 20th century. Vaux was an optimist who worked hard throughout his career and life to improve the living conditions of the lower class and promoted art education for all.

Calvert Vaux had been successful in Architecture before the age of twenty-four, where he came to America and met downing. And after the sudden death of downing in the 1854, the project of designing the grounds of the capitol and the Smithsonian Intuition has yet been completed in America.

In Vaux private life, he was a man of singular purity, kindness and trustworthy. Although he lacked of socializing skills, which was able to allow him to have a better position. But he still had many accomplishments and practice of the best type. The career of Vaux was an inspiring one for those young artists who are struggling as well as citizens who are labouring and working in civic and village improvements.

Although the 1870s were Vaux’s most productive years but he latter soon found out that his High Victorian Gothic Style against the rising popularity of Neoclassical style had soon made his worked looked dull and outdated. Even though he won the projects with the High Victorian architect, for the American Museum of History as well as the Metropolitan Museum of Art and building the first stage of each of them, he soon lost the projects for continuing the later parts, due to the multiple reviews that the buildings had. His ability to win over large projects soon drops, and he turned to designing lodge houses and other beneficial buildings for the Children’s Aid Society located over in New York City. Apart from that he also devoted his last few years of life in focusing projects on the New York Public Parks as landscape architect, which led him to design several small parks throughout the city and also being able to continue his work on the Central Park. At his death during 1895, Vaux did not lead the role in the developments of architecture in America but he had left a long and unforgotten projects.

In their late 1880s both Frederick Olmsted and Vaux collaborated with each other on Special projects such as providing free design service to the city of Newburgh (New York) where they construct a park in memory of Andrew Jacks.

Their final collaboration concerns the Niagara Reservation. An area the state of New York bought as to prevent any form of commercial development which will compromise the scenery. Both Olmsted and Vaux composed their plans that would revive the Niagara’s spectacular sceneries making it accessible to tourist.

In conclusion I think that both Landscape Architects did way beyond their part in the professional practice of Landscape Architecture as they were very sensitive towards minor details such as the landform, climate changes, materials/surfaces and the thoughts / activities of the people. They did not neglect other points in its design such as transportation in which are widely used till this day where they are able to immerse themselves in to the landscape, rather than being separated and divided.

They also tried to make roads and path efficient for both pedestrians as well as vehicles. And the landscapes that both men design had special qualities in them where it’s designed towards tranquil and peaceful emotions. These psychological design qualities are a huge advantage towards the users in terms of de-stressing themselves and being able to admire the elegant sceneries.


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