Drawing the History of Landscape Design


Elizabeth Boults and Chip Sullivan’s “Illustrated History of Landscape Design,” leads the reader through a visual study of the pivotal themes and works of landscape design. Beginning with prehistoric constructed landscapes and concluding with a projection for sustainable design in the 21st century, this 260-page visual analysis roots design first in its chronological context and then in its geographic setting to depict how it changed as a response to human needs.

With chronologies of major historic events and lists of cultural references, the book explores the social influences that have guided the evolution of landscape design in different regions and countries.“A designed landscape is a cultural product, representing the ideals and values of its creator, owner, or patron, and situated within a unique social, economic, and political environment.”

The case studies threaded throughout provide visual narratives, which string together views of the landscapes with plans, sections, elevations, perspectives, axonometrics, and storyboards. The authors illustrate the uniqueness of particular landscape designs, emphasizing time and place as key factors. 


For Villa Lante in Bagnaia, Italy, the authors consider the axis design and the architectural elements, telling the narrative of the space through the course of water. The visual representations clearly convey the experience of moving through the designed landscape. Boults concludes that this space is a “stunning example of Renaissance design to this day.” 

Similarly, the authors relate different views of Stourhead, U.K. to its reference of The Aeneid. The illustrations enable the reader to fully understand the story of the places.

Though enjoyable to peruse, some of the analyses are somewhat distilled depictions of design principles. The design principles could have been explored in greater detail so that the link between the broader social influences and the design is made stronger. 

Still, the “Illustrated History of Landscape Design” is a good starting point for readers seeking to become familiar with landscape history as an art form that reflects society. Buyers of the book can not only enrich their landscape design vocabulary, but also get a good understanding of the evolution of landscape design. As the authors put it, “our goal is to take the reader on a visual romp through the great garden spaces of the past.”

Check out the book and see a brief video of the authors.

This post is by Amanda Rosenberg, ASLA 2010 advocacy and communications intern.

Image credit: Elizabeth Boults and Chip Sullivan / Illustrated History of Landscape Design

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