American practitioners led the way for landscape architects to move beyond the garden and into broader public space in the late 19th century. New ideas about landscape architecture began to filter through to New Zealand in the early 20th century.
Swiss-American landscape architect Fred Tschopp lived and worked in New Zealand between 1929 and 1932 and has been described as the country’s first modern landscape architect. He was more concerned with designing well-functioning urban spaces than attractive gardens.
Writing about the Auckland Domain in the New Zealand Herald in 1931, Tschopp argued that ‘something more comprehensive than “landscape gardening”’ was required – and that thing was, he said, landscape architecture. The phrase was not unheard of in New Zealand, but had not made the leap from concept to reality before Tschopp’s arrival.
Fred Tschopp scholarship
In 2002 Fred Tschopp’s family donated money to Auckland’s Unitech for a scholarship in the pioneering landscape architect’s name. Each year a scholarship is awarded for the best first year master of landscape architecture portfolio.
Tschopp was employed to design new public spaces in Auckland, Wellington and Rotorua. His first project was the development of the Mount Albert Borough Council reserves in Auckland. He was interested in the different ways outdoor spaces could be used, and his designs incorporated sport and recreational facilities such as bowling greens, playgrounds and pedestrian paths. The traditional flower beds were replaced with low-maintenance shrubs and trees, which were mainly native.
Tschopp’s preference for native plants was fairly unusual, and he pioneered their use in public spaces following the example of Leonard Cockayne, who established the native botanic garden at Ōtari-Wilton’s Bush in Wellington in 1926. Native plants were an important element of Parliament grounds, which he designed in 1930. Many of the large trees still standing in the 21st century were planted under Tschopp’s design, and his road and footpath layouts remain in place.
Tschopp’s largest project was designing reserves and streetscapes in Rotorua between 1930 and 1932. He covered what are now standard landscape architecture concerns: street layouts, transport, recreation, urban zoning and public art.
Odo Strewe arrived in New Zealand in 1938, after fleeing Nazi Germany. He did not have any landscape design training, although he had studied horticulture. He learned his craft during his period of internment as an enemy alien on Matiu (Somes Island) in Wellington Harbour between 1938 and 1945. He moved to Auckland in 1948.
Form before colour
In 1960 Odo Strewe wrote: ‘Auckland’s tropical climate allows us to grow [luscious] plants which do not necessarily create a riot of colour (there is too much in our gardens anyway) but make us appreciate the beauty of simple forms. The leaves of taro, the leaves of bamboo, paw paw or flax. We have time for a glance, and we comprehend, much easier and better than if our eye is distracted by a vulgar riot of colour in annual or perennial beds.’2
Strewe had worked in advertising in Germany and used his networking skills to good effect, establishing working relationships with modernist architects such as Bill Toomath and Bill Wilson. His first project was a joint entry with Toomath for a war memorial garden in Wellington in 1949. They won the competition but the garden was never built.
Domestic gardens comprised the bulk of Strewe’s work, but his gardens were radically different from the traditional New Zealand garden with its flower beds and ornamental specimens at the front of the house and the vegetable garden and fruit trees at the back. Strewe was a modernist, and was interested in botanical structure and texture rather than colour. He incorporated pergolas, patios, pools and sculptures in his gardens, and took plants indoors.
After Strewe travelled through the Pacific in 1958 he increasingly used tropical plants, recognising that Auckland’s near-subtropical climate could support species such as taro and the banana palm. His work with tropical plants was very influential and is credited with transforming Auckland’s gardens, particularly in the northern suburbs.
Mary Lysaght trained in horticulture at the Dunedin Botanic Garden during her employment there in the 1930s and 1940s and studied landscape architecture in London between 1948 and 1949. She worked as a landscape architect in Wellington in the 1950s. Anna Plischke, who was married to modernist architect Ernst Plischke, designed domestic gardens for homes designed by her husband. Edgar Taylor became the Christchurch City Council’s first landscape architect in 1945.
George Malcolm, who trained in horticulture, worked as a landscape overseer and officer for the Ministry of Works in the 1940s and 1950s. He successfully advocated for landscape design to be part of government development projects such as highways and hydroelectricity schemes in the 1960s and 1970s.