Martha Schwartz talks to Arts and Gardens about gardens, global warming, excellence in landscape design, regeneration….and moving on from bagels.

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Beiqijia Technology Business District, Beijing, Martha Schwartz Partners

Where do you escape into wilderness?

Marconi Beach in Cape Cod.

Who are the people most transforming the way we see landscape today?

The scientists studying global warming. They are giving us a look into the future of what our landscape will be, if we don’t curb global warming very quickly.

Which cities are leading the way on art in town planning?

I believe the cities leading in excellence in landscape design are mostly in Europe, where people understand the importance of beauty and how the outdoor environment raises the quality of life.

Cities such as Barcelona, but also other cities around Europe such as Rotterdam, Amsterdam and Salzburg, as well as cities in the United States such as New York and San Francisco. Also, cities in Canada such as Vancouver and Toronto, as well as Singapore and Sydney.

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Fengming Mountain Park, Chongqing, Martha Schwartz Partners

What does regeneration mean in your line of work?

Regeneration is a very important part of our practice and it’s one of my favourite types of projects to be involved with, where you take a part of the city that was once vital but has lost its vitality and you bring vitality back to it.  It’s a matter of taking what was there, understanding its context and building upon that so it’s reintegrated into contemporary culture.  This of course takes understanding of balance between its historical foot print, how it once was used and understanding how a pattern of a place might be when it is re-designed and re-planned.

Is there an ideal ratio of soft to hard landscaping?

There is no ideal ratio of soft to hard landscaping because every site is site specific and comes with a surrounding context that needs to be served.

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City and Nature Master Garden, Xian, Martha Schwartz Partners

Bagels are a delicious, chewy act to follow. Which other breads might inspire you to create a garden?

I think after 30 or more years, I’ve moved on from thinking about bread and gardens.

What is the role of the garden festival?

Garden festivals are great opportunities for people to do temporary gardens and installations that will be up for a limited amount of time.  Because it doesn’t have to last long, there can be less emphasis on permanence, which allows people a great deal of more freedom in terms of the materials they can use and what they can express.  It’s a great avenue for experimentation and from these quick sketches and ideas, more exploration and freedom of thought and design can be generated.  They are like think tanks.

Three artists in three words.

Sol Lewitt; minimal, conceptual, mesmerizing

Tara Donovan; serial, minimal, tactile

Brancusi; reductive, sensual, minimal

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Hong Lou Meng Road, Beijing, Martha Schwartz Partners

Your favourite garden of the world.

Parc de Sceaux in Paris, by Andre le Notre.

I think this park is one of the most spatially thrilling gardens I’ve ever experienced.  It’s amazingly simple in its use of materials, yet the grandeur and the scale of the spaces is truly awesome to behold and to be in.  I love how this garden creates architectural spaces that go way beyond the scale possibilities of architecture by using plants.  It was this garden that made me realise that designing and building landscapes could be an incredibly exciting field and that it was also an artistic opportunity to be explored.

Your favourite garden plant.

Lombardy poplars.

The garden you visit most.

Over the last 10 years living in London, it’s been Hyde Park.  But the park I’d like to visit the most is Parc de Sceaux.

What are you most thinking about for 2017?

The lack of recognition, attention and urgency of global warming, including by our new president of the United States, by Congress and by the Senate.  I am thinking about what a terrible setback this will be for all of us around the world who will suffer the consequences of global warming if this is not addressed immediately by the USA.