Tree Gardens: The Largest Living Architectural Structures

Tree Gardens: Architecture and the Forest
by Gina Crandell, a landscape architect and professor at Harvard University Graduate School of Design, is a fascinating exploration of what she calls the “largest living architectural structures” – masses of trees that form expressive spaces. Crandell provides an in-depth study of several iconic landscapes and the role of tree planting within the design of these world-famous spaces. Tree Gardens combines rich historical research with careful design analysis to illustrate an array of living structures, many of which offer defining concepts central to landscape design.

Case studies from the Renaissance era to the modern-day reveal the goals of the original designers and how the projects have since been maintained. The legacy of each project is discussed in detail, as the removal and replacement of trees within these influential and often beloved landscapes is inevitably costly and controversial. These discussions provide an excellent framework for the book’s primary focus: the spatial strength of tree forms and their crucial relationship to the definition, connection, and continuity of spaces.

The case studies cover the historical era (Lucca and Boboli Garden, Italy and Versailles), the era from 1860 to 1960 (Central Park, Gateway Memorial Park, and the Christian Science Plaza), and more recent projects spanning 1995-present (Tate Modern, Reimer Park, Novartis Headquarters, Brooklyn Bridge Park, and the 9/11 Memorial Forest). In the case studies, historical background, views on art and gardens, and the significance of the design concepts set the tree structures in a rich context.

The reader gains an understanding of the significance of various landscapes in the evolution of design. For example, we learn how Versailles challenged the traditional boundary of garden and regional landscape with its unprecedented scale and ambition.

We learn how the naturalized forms of Central Park reflected not only impressions of Olmsted’s trips to Europe and England, but the idea that forms free of rigid geometries represented a new found freedom.

We learn how artistic representations of gardens influenced people’s perception of nature, and the Musical Garden by Sorensen, inspired by the Danish agricultural landscape, pushed the boundaries of geometric and spatial ordering.

We also learn how Dan Kiley’s revolutionary emphasis on proportion and the critical nature of tree spacing would make him the father of the modern bosque.


The book then provides a cross-section of the cultural, social, and political factors that influenced not only the garden designs but the prevailing public perceptions of the time. Particularly enriching is the dialogue on the “garden as art and forest as architecture” and the evolving perception of man’s relationship to nature.


This captivating analysis provides a great reference. Throughout, Crandell analyzes all sorts of tree structures: allees, bosques, palisades, groves, quincunx, plantations, thickets, and their ability to transform space over time. The guiding principles and design theories behind these iconic landscapes offer a wealth of information for designers to consider in future projects.

Read the book.

This guest post is by James Royce, ASLA, LEED AP, Principal, Studio2112 Landscape Architecture.

Image credits: (1) Princeton Architectural Press, (2) Historic Photo of Central Park, (3) Musical Garden, (4) Versailles, France, (5) Rendering by Dan Kiley, (6) Orchard, Nursery, Garden. (2-6) Courtesy Princeton Architectural Press.

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