‘Consult the Genius of the Place’, now expressed as ‘design with sensitivity to context’ is the Single Agreed Law of landscape design. It embodies the conviction that we should, as NT Newton put it in the title of a book on the history of landscape architecture, Design on the land. The works of man must be integrated with works of nature. Ian McHarg stated a similar idea in another book title: Design with nature. The landscape architecture profession’s historic connection with Context Theory, through Meason and the first English book on landscape architecture (1828) is discussed in this eBook
Richard Sennett attacks the principle of context-sensitive design. He calls it the ‘Tyranny of Context’. He is wrong and, with the possible exceptions of Modernist architects, and supporters of Donald Trump, I doubt if he could find any significant public support for his attack. So where did Richard Sennett get the idea from? I think it came from ‘fanaticism’. He began with the decent principle that open societies, systems and cities are better than closed societies, systems and cities. However much validity this claim may have, it does not follow that designers should be allowed to do whatever they want to do wherever they want to do it. That is the road to chaos. My approach to context theory and context-sensitive design in landscape architecture is that the Genius of the Place must be consulted, always, but she need not be always obeyed. The examples in the video, below, show what would happen to some of the world’s historic districts were the tyranny Sennett identifies to be overturned.