Part of the Fall 2011 Stanley White Lecture Series, Dorothée Imbert, Chair of the Landscape Architecture program at Washington University in St. Louis, presented “The Swiss Landscape: Small, Beautiful, Sustainable.” Founded in 2009-10, the Master of Landscape Architecture program at the Sam Fox School of Design is UIUC Landscape Architecture Department’s newest regional academic neighbor. Prior to her arrival in St. Louis, Imbert taught at the Harvard Graduate School of Design (GSD) from 1999 to 2010. It was during this time that she began her research on the Swiss landscape, combining studies of modernist and contemporary landscape design, and study of the relationship of landscape to city in that small nation.
Imbert states, “It is almost impossible not to consider the landscape as part and parcel of the city... yet, it seems we remain indebted to the romantic or idealized notion of urban nature, one that has set the city and landscape in opposition.” In contrast, Imbert went on to explain, Switzerland is a country of “highly urbanized people with a strong connection to nature” due to their unique location nestled within the Alps. Much of Imbert’s lecture was dedicated to explaining the history of the Alps and their essential role in defining the unique urban nature of Switzerland.
In Switzerland, there is no clear distinction between city and countryside as in many other urban areas; rather, Switzerland presents a “collage of urban, suburban, and rural fragments.” Several types of communal spaces within the Swiss landscape contribute to this unique urban nature, including schools, public baths, and cemeteries. Imbert offered that these small, independent spaces can be seen as a way in which a multiplicity of small communal spaces may offer local identity, social resilience, and thus resistance to top-down federalist planning. Small interventions can actually complement large-scale planning, she said, adding, “These projects present an ecology of the small… and reinforce social patterns in a connection to the landscape with minimal design means.”
Coming to the United States with a degree in Architecture (1984), Imbert received a joint M.Arch/MLA (1989) from the University of California at Berkeley, and is currently beginning her PhD studies. Her books include Between Garden and City: Jean Canneel-Claes and Landscape Modernism (2009); Garrett Eckbo: Modern Landscapes for Living (2005); and The Modernist Garden in France (1993). Imbert’s current research interests include urban agriculture and productive landscapes. She is a Senior Fellow in Garden and Landscape Studies at Dumbarton Oaks (Washington D.C.), a research library of Harvard University. Imbert will be closely involved in a future symposium to focus on international productive landscapes from the early to mid-20th century. We look forward to hearing more about this work.