sculpture in the contemporary garden

PLACING SCULPTURE IN A CONTEMPORARY GARDEN


Using sculpture has always seemed a subjective matter in any environment and sometimes clients may already have an existing piece of art with an emotional attachment. I believe that sculpture belongs in every garden regardless of size providing an important layer of expression. Five factors always remain paramount: the scale, the type, the shape, the placing and the cultural meaning. In my designs I treat other elements as sculpture as well: multi-stem plants, architectural planters and furniture.


1. Scale 2. Type & material 3. Plants 4. Planters 5. Furniture 6. Colour 7. Shape. 8. Placing. 9. Presentation. 10. Cultural diversity


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  1. SCALE.

We perceive scale as we measure objects against the horizon, the sky, man made structures and ourselves as human figures in the landscape. As we have total control over selecting the right size sculpture we identify the right scale for the garden environment. But scale can be exaggerated, compressed, reversed or just be a plain perfect fit. There are no wrongs or rights just whatever feels natural, personal and fitting.



sculpture and scale

Battersea patio garden

  2. TYPE & MATERIAL | stone.

Scale is defined by material naturally. Large permanent exhibits are heavy and expensive and usually belong in public art. Working on many roof terraces and some exposed sites I tend to use stone sculpture as it is heavy. Beautiful emotive and abstract sculpture can be produced from African stones, Portland and granite. Steel sculpture tends to be light weight so needs brackets or hidden fixings.



sculpture and material

  3. TYPE & MATERIAL | plants.

For me, one of the most valuable and exciting materials for sculpture is plants – green architecture as we call it. Some of the most fascinating structures in any garden are the architectural qualities of certain stems and foliage forms. Whilst it won’t be untrue to say that Mediterranean and tropical region garden designers are blessed with a plethora of breathtaking flora to use, our options in the UK are much more restricted. That said, a phrase I learnt from my mentor Preben Jakobsen, the Danish landscape architect, goes a long way: ‘better know 1 plant and 5 uses for it than 5 plants with 1 use each.’ And so here in the UK, the multi-stem forms of silver bitch, Eucalyptus, Ginkgo, Yucca, Agave, and so on provide a limited but good palette to create living sculpture. And the less you have, the more inventive you need to be. As many European species tend to be deciduous, a seasonal change is a wonderful addition to any garden. The clear winter bark of silver birch, Ginkgo, paper bark and Japanese maples give us depth in winter revealing the view behind and through them to landmark views on roof terraces and focal points in city courtyards.


sculpture and plants

Grosvenor Waterside roof garden

  4. TYPE & MATERIAL | planters.

I also treat powder coated planters on roof terraces as sculpture. These are bespoke one-off designs tailored to each unique project. With lush curves, geometry in all shapes and sizes, bold colours and concealed lighting they give character to each garden with bold, sculptural expressions.



sculpture and planters

  5. TYPE & MATERIAL | furniture.

Built-in furniture and water features can also have a sculptural quality as architectural objects. By echoing elements from the house, using colour, light and texture they give a garden a sense of completeness as permanent sculpture.


sculpture and furniture

Primrose Hill patio garden

  6. COLOUR.

In this age of design and technology many objects can become sculpture by definition. As such, an architectural, glossy and colourful seat may become sculpture beyond its initial meaning or purpose. As with many garden objects colour can give a contrasting factor in a scheme or simply blend in or even camouflage. Colour has the potential to elevate mood, be directional or even disorientating. We can use colourful sculpture to delineate emotion, fashion or even commemorate.   


sculpture and colour

Battersea patio garden

  7. TEXTURE & SHAPE.

There is a beautiful texture when the sky kisses Henry Moore’s bronze of ‘Two Piece Reclining Figure No 5’ in Kenwood House. But it is the material that determines the texture and the light reflection in turn is manipulated by the shape. We can repeat the shape of foliage in the garden with sculpture and in doing do elevate the plants importance. Conversely, we can use leaves as a backdrop for the sculpture, centering our attention on the object. At the Hannah Peschar Sculpture Garden in Surrey there are numerous examples of how both foliage and sculpture are gracefully intertwined.



sculpture and shape

Butlers Wharf roof garden

8. PLACING.

Placing a piece of art in a garden is usually not an easy task. It is almost entirely instinct when done as an additional layer. As a designer, sculpture is always planned as part of the layout, before the garden or landscape are even built. This is a different kind of instinct – a much more contrived design agenda where the sculpture serves the garden (unless of course it is a sculpture gallery). For the garden to serve the sculpture there needs to be an element of time and so the greatest outdoor sculpture galleries, by nature of their intent, evolve and rotate their display constantly. In a woodland, park or outdoor garden situation the sculpture ages as tree canopies extend and reach out and paths are worn and stone is flaked. In a private garden, a one where care and a natural evolution takes place, sculpture placement is of the most natural kinds.

Dominant sculpture is usually used as a strong focal point to pull one into the space and provide an engaging vista. There is a narrative to be woven through a space when a sculpture is revealed at the end of a journey rather than as a focal point, hidden away or camouflaged perhaps. The range of emotions invoked in the spectator can be so vast from melancholy when watching the shadow of a sculpture subdued floating in a still lake or complete elation gawking at a playful statue hidden behind a tree trunk. These emotions collectively are the narrative we wish to introduce into the garden.



sculpture and placing

Islington Mediterranean garden

  9. STAGE PRESENTATION.

Sculpture can be positioned naturally onto the surface to appear organic. Yet most pieces which are elevated from the ground would be supported by a plinth design. In my portfolio there are many examples of how a bespoke plinth can really set off a sculpture. This can be in the form of a window, a recess, a stone pedestal, or a wooden stand.



sculpture and presentation

Kings Chelsea roof terrace

10. CULTURAL DIVERSITY.

Indeed sculpture predates gardens chronologically and as such, we do possess inherent responses to it. It is part of who we are from a child building a snowman to every city centre with its commemorative statues. As I work with many couples I do find that emotional sculpture prevails. Many clients work in the city and travel a great deal – they tend to favour ethnic sculpture which celebrates the places they have visited. Clients with families tend to want playful sculpture which is fun for both grown ups and kids. Working with sculpture is certainly a diverse area of my work as clients’ preferences tend to be so vastly different. Whilst I love abstract art, sometimes a more figurative or classical reference is required as it is more in tune with the space and the client.



sculpture and culture



Personally I adore wood sculpture, although it is not conducive to outdoor displays usually. I love collecting small pieces of carved wood from various ethnic origins – I am always amazed at the skill and patience required to produce a perfectly carved Buddha. Yet in my work I prefer more contemporary subjects and less figurative. One thing is for sure, placing sculpture in the garden is a thoughtful, intrinsic and culturally diverse process and one that is integral to any contemporary garden design. 



amir   Written, photographed (unless indicated) and posted by Amir Schlezinger.




sculpture and fun

Battersea patio garden




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