Geoffrey Jellicoe on the visible and invisible in landscape design

Jellicoe visible invisible landscapes

Jellicoe’s landscape design for the Kennedy Memorial at Runnymede integrated the visible and invisible worlds of ‘seeing’ and ‘perceiving’

Sir Geoffrey Jellicoe’s design for the memorial to President John F Kennedy was both a brilliant project and a brilliant example of how to explain a work of landscape architecture. Physically, the design is not a major intervention in the landscape. Philosophically, it was a major contribution to the art of landscape design. Artistically, it is an inspirational memorial to a democratic leader.

Psychologists and philosophers distinguish seeing and perceiving. ‘Seeing’ is the reception of sensory stimuli. ‘Perceiving’ is the comprehension of significant patterns and relationships. Perception depends on conscious and unconscious cognition. We see an orange form; we perceive a juicy orange and reach out for it.

When working on the design of a memorial to President John F Kennedy, in 1965, Jellicoe realised that his design approach embraced what he described as the visible world and the invisible world.  He saw this as a turning point in his career. It was the time and place where he became interested in design theory and  recognised the importance of the subconscious in landscape design.

Jellicoe’s interpretation of the subconscious derives from Carl Gustav Jung rather than Sigmund Freud. Comparably, I see the  Kennedy Memorial design as postmodern in the sense of Canon Bernard Iddings Bell rather than Charles Jencks. The 1920s were a formative period in which Jung, Bell and Jellicoe were concerned with relationships between tradition and the rising tide of modernist thought. It is an issue with continuing relevance for landscape architecture. The profession was never had a deep commitment to Modernism and sensibly resisted the wilder flights of architectural Postmodernism. This is not a problem. It is a strength. But it requires clarity of thought and deed. Landscape Urbanism remains a muddle but may mature into sound design approach.

The below video includes audio clips from Franklin D Roosevelt, John F Kennedy, and Queen Elizabeth II.

Tom Turner

Posted in landscape design theory

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