The Influence of the Italian Villa Landscape on Garden Design and Landscape Architecture in America

Washington, DC

This presentation by Charles A. Birnbaum, FASLA, FAAR, will explore America’s thirst for the Italian Villa landscape during the period from the 1890s until the late 1930s and the people who created the nation’s Italian influenced landscapes.

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The Italian Villa landscape has been celebrated in America since the turn of the last century. Beginning in 1894 with Charles Platt’s Italian Gardens, there was a succession of popular books aimed at America’s quest for beauty and antiquity. Although much has been written about many of the significant taste making books of this period, little attention has been paid to the early fellows at the American Academy in Rome and their influence on the American Villa landscape.

In particular, this presentation will explore the palimpsest of historic preservation and design decisions made at iconic Italian Villas and Gardens as recorded in drawings and plans by early American Academy in Rome Fellows in Landscape Architecture between 1914 and the onset of World War II. These resources and ideas all found an inviting canvas in America as reflected by the Country Place estates (e.g. Gwinn, Cleveland, OH); campuses (e.g. Cranbrook, Bloomfield Hills, MI), parks (Grant Park, Indianapolis, IN) and gardens (Reynolda House, Winston Salem, NC) built over this forty year period that not only reflected the design principles espoused by these Iconic Italian Villas, but also their stewardship and management ideologies.

This lecture is a prelude to What’s Out There Weekend Washington DC, hosted in the nation’s capital on Saturday and Sunday, May 19th and 20th.