Living Outside – Reviving the Australian Modernist Garden by Sharon Mackay and Diana Snape
Living Outside – Reviving the Australian Modernist Garden by Diana Snape and Sharon Mackay is a beautiful collection of contemporary residential gardens that exemplify mid-century modernist design ideals and a reflection on the important role such gardens have to play in contemporary Australia.
Sharon, a landscape architect, and Diana, trained in architecture and urban design policy, have worked together on numerous design, landscape architecture, and city-making projects, as well as shaping planning and design policy, curating exhibitions, and directing festivals. Driven by a desire to reimagine and extend how designers share their stories, they forayed into print with their first book, published by Thames and Hudson Australia.
Their previous design work together has been recognised both locally and internationally, but this illustrated book marks a more personal turn, where Sharon and Diana contemplate their own rural upbringings and their desire to share their deep appreciation for the ecosystems and communities uniting us all. A collection of 18 extraordinary projects from across Australia, each has been designed in response to their contexts, highlighting the singular intangible joy of interacting with nature in one’s own home. Importantly, the book challenges the idea that the relationship between home and nature ends at the garden.
A collection of 18 extraordinary projects from across Australia, each has been designed in response to their contexts, highlighting the singular intangible joy of interacting with nature in one’s own home.
Photographer Christopher Frederick Jones, in whom Sharon and Diana felt they had found the perfect collaborator for the project, “Christopher’s eye is attuned to seeing landscape rather than looking at gardens solely as a context for the building,” they write, provides emotive photographs of the gardens featured. Bringing the reader on a journey through the gardens, the photographs are key to the ambition of Living Outside – to highlight the enduring relevance of mid-century modernist design principles.
The authors focus on modernism not only because it has seen a recent revival but because it has consistently been a keystone period for urban design and landscape architecture in Australia. It marked the birth of the Australian cultural identity, distinct for the first time from Australia’s colonial origins and British influence. The authors quote George Sydney Jones: “the architecture of our city should, I repeat, be essentially Australian, and not slavishly copy the art of past dead centuries.” Much as Australia’s population, economy, and urban development boomed during this period, so did appreciation for our unique local environment, for the first time focusing on native species, both in the garden and in broader conservation.
The authors focus on modernism not only because it has seen a recent revival but because it has consistently been a keystone period for urban design and landscape architecture in Australia.
The effect of this turn in landscape design was dramatic. Where, previously, landscape design focused on taming the harsh Australian landscape enough to recreate a European sensibility, modernism instead embraced this landscape, as the authors describe: “what was once wild and vaguely threatening was being cultivated and its beauty celebrated.” This sentiment carries throughout the book – elucidating that what makes Australian gardens so formidable, their coastal cliffs, sunbaked grasslands, and tight urban neighbourhoods, is also what makes them so worthy of appreciation.
The projects in the book highlight a return to these modernist ideals, not just in the look and feel, but in the approach to gardens as a whole, an approach “driven partly by creative impulse and partly by a growing desire to protect our native environments.” From these ideas, which are as timeless as the ecosystems themselves, the authors show that these outdoor urban spaces are among the first line of defence against the impacts of climate change.
At its essence, Living Outside is as much a book of stories as it is a book of gardens. Sharon and Diana share their own stories of growing up surrounded by nature and the stories of the people at the heart of each of the projects. Most of all, the book is a story of Australia, told through gardens. It tells of Australia’s collective past, its present, and speculates on a future where everyone is more connected to the landscape.