Wonderlandscape – Switzerland and the European Landscape Tradition
In Europe – differently from China –, landscapeis a relatively recent invention. Originally, landscape meant exclusively (from the 15th to the 18th century) landscape painting. The European landscape begins somewhere around 1350, with a very important work, Ambrogio Lorenzetti’s Good Government fresco in Siena, Italy.
This complex painting shows already that landscape is both an invention of the city (of urban intelligence) and controlled by it (landscape is that outside the city walls, extramuros). Technically the Siena wall painting is not exactly a landscape, but the sum of topographical elements. Only from the 15th century on can we speak of landscape in the full sense that is a piece of land represented as given from a precise point of view. Whether this happens first in Italy or in the Netherlands is still the object of controversy.
More important to our subject is the fact that quite early mountains become a part of the new genre of landscape. We find them in fact Leonardo da Vinci (his early drawing, 1473; the Alps drawings, etc.) and in Joachim Patinir’s works. We approach already Swiss territory (today’s Swiss territory) with the very first recognizable landscape painting: Konrad Witz’s The miraculous drought of the fishes. It shows a precise landscape in Switzerland, that is the city of Geneva, lake Geneva and the mountains (le Mole) in its immediate vicinity.
我们今天讲座主题中最重要的一点是：古老山脉如何成为风景新定义中的一个组成。我们可以在莱昂纳多·达·芬奇创作于1473年的早期阿尔卑斯山区绘画、以及Joachim Patinir的画作中发现这一点。我们早已在Konrad Witz的画作《捕鱼神迹》中见过典型的瑞士地貌，而画中展现的悬崖恰坐落于瑞士日内瓦湖与摩尔山附近。
Again, before the 18th century, in Europe the term “landscape” is restricted to painting. The ‘real’ experience of landscapes, the possibility to enjoy the landscapes we encounter when we walk in certain places, begins only late. It took a long time for people to learn how to interpret and access nature, and only once they had the mental categories enabling them to frame nature did they actually create landscapes.
The process took such a long time for a fundamental reason: nature needed to be interpreted in a positive way in order not to raise fear and to be enjoyed as an aesthetic phenomenon. Such an access was impossible as long as nature was seen as something, globally, negative.
Negative, because for the Christian culture Nature altogether is stigmatized by (human) sin: Adam and Eve left paradise and had to live in an imperfect, cruel and sometimes gruesome nature; mankind after the Deluge started in a hostile environment – in a “naturalapsa” (Nature marked by the fall).
Everything linked to the senses, but even to life and sexuality – that is Nature – was considered for more then a millennium as a source of danger: observing Nature, curiosity for it, was a capital sin. Consequently the Christian imagination thought that wild Nature was full of diabolic forces: dragons, devils, and other fantastic animals embodying the Devil.
As long as people trembled in front of nature (which they did not know) and as long as they thought that it was the realm of negativity, the access to it as something beautiful was impossible. The Swiss Alps (almost), which everybody admires today where until the 18th century the territory of Evil (logically they did not interest anyone, except few scientists or businessmen).
The change in the attitude towards nature – and the possibility of landscape – is normally linked with the physico-theological movement of the Cambridge Platonists during the 17th century. In reality, there exists, here too, an important Swiss prehistory: the so called Zurich Humanists of the 16th century, first of all the famous scholar and physician Conrad Gesner admitted already around 1540 their “admiration of the wild mountains”. Having a first hand knowledge of the Alps (he would, as a practitioner, look for Alpine plants to use in medicine) and having, as a Renaissance man, read important Greek and Roman sources, Gesner could interpret Nature – and especially the pristine Nature of his native country, Switzerland – in a new and free way.
The necessary and fundamental element in accessing nature, and thus ‘creating’ landscapes, that is framing certain places and enjoying looking at them, is culture. Culture creates Nature, both in Europe and elsewhere. I like to say sometimes to our students that there is nothing more artificial or manmade as Nature. The desire or love for Nature is not natural or given: it is the result of very complex and long cultural processes.
The most relevant figures in accessing nature – wild, savage Nature, not domesticated Nature, where this problem does not exist – were artists and poets. They were particularly important in the context of the aesthetics of the sublime. Caspar Wolf, a famous Swiss painter for instance, made several trips into the mountains because someone asked him to do so for commercial reasons. It was not his curiosity, but a certain discourse interested in “sublime” objects that made it possible to paint waterfalls, mountain lakes, precipices, etc. – subjects that few decades earlier would not have interested anyone.
Two central intellectual figures of the 18th century were not only Swiss (by birth), but directly linked to the ‘landscaping’ of Switzerland: Albrecht von Haller and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Haller was the first European author (in reality he was a very important and famous scientists with over 30000 publications on his account!) who tried to invent a language in order to describe poetically Nature. For him Nature did not mean any more something only physical or ontological (in the Greek sense: asking for the essence of Nature), but an observable reality (he experienced it during an excursion in 1728). Rousseau – influenced by Haller – identifies in his famous novel La nouvelle Héloïse(an European bestseller, 1761) the Alpine valleys as outstanding places, where exceptional people were living (exceptional because they were free compared to the ‘decadent’ inhabitants of Europe elsewhere). Both Haller and Rousseau were essential for the transformation of Switzerland in the conscience of travellers throughout the 18th century: people actually started to visit places in Switzerland not because they were a priori beautiful or worthwhile to look at, but because the two writers had spoken with enthusiasm about them.
18世纪的两位广受追捧的智者Albrecht von Haller与Jean-Jacques Rousseau不仅是土生土长的瑞士人，更对瑞士的“风景化”有着直接影响。Haller是一位欧洲作家（事实上他也是一名非常著名的科学家，著有逾三万部出版物！），他试图发明一种语言只为诗意地描述自然。对他而言，自然不仅是物理或本体存在（ontological在希腊语中意为：追求自然的本质），更是可被观察的现实（他在1728年的一次远足中对此深有体会）。Rousseau则受Haller的影响，在其著名小说《新埃洛伊兹》（1761，欧洲畅销小说）中，将阿尔卑斯的山谷描述为世外桃源，生活在那里的人与世无争，比欧洲其他地区“颓废”的居民们自由多了。Haller与Rousseau对改变瑞士在18世纪旅行者心目中的地位起到了不可或缺的作用：人们开始前往瑞士旅行，不仅因为美景或值得一看，更因为这两位作家对瑞士风景的溢美之词。
There is still another tradition to mention in order to understand how Switzerland became Switzerland, both for the Swiss and for the people who came to visit the country. Tourism as a cultural form is directly linked to Switzerland, because at the same time when the Grand Tour (the aristocratic voyages of the happy few oriented towards Italy and the Classical culture) became tourism (it changed both in quantitative and qualitative terms: it became tourism for the masses and something organized) the Swiss Alps became the center of attention.
This happens by the way in exactly the same period when some young Englishmen started to discover the high alpine valleys giving rise to alpinism. (The discovery of the Mont Blanc and the interest to climb it starts in Geneva!)
However, throughout the 18th century, Switzerland becomes an international fashion: everyone wants to see the beauties of the country at the heart of Europe. At that time Switzerland is a sort of real or life-size “album”: to visit it, means to discover specific waterfalls, torrents, peaks, vista points, precipices, glaciers, chalets, etc. Especially in the second half of the 18th century Switzerland functions as a catalogue of the most beautiful, picturesque and sublime places on earth.
The fact of focusing on this particular country and its mountains – they become only now a ‘myth’ – has essential consequences for the history of gardens and landscape architecture in Europe (and even outside of Europe). The topoi described, drawn, painted, admired and visited on site – the Lauterbrunnen waterfalls, the view from the Rigi – and generally speaking the “natural” (that is, “the wild”, the typical chaotic assemblage of elements in the alpine landscape) become all the model to be imitated in the new English (or picturesque, irregular, landscape) gardens.
Switzerland has wonderful waterfalls, perfect: we can imitate them and build miniature waterfalls in the garden; it has peaks, well, we can build faux mountains; it has chalets, well, nothing easier than that: let’s build one; it has sinuous rivers and wild paths, this too can be translated into the form of the new parks of the 18th century. (In this sense the landscape of Europe and of other parts of the world has partly been Swissified during the 18th and 19th century.)
Switzerland has thus functioned as the main experimental terrain of the sublime and the picturesque. Wild nature meant first of all the wildness of the Swiss Alps (its sublimity), while the picturesque meant Swiss chalets, mountain bridges, old roads, etc. Let’s not forget that even the English (essential for all these changes in European history) discovered their interest in their own country only after having intensively traveled and analyzed the picturesque and sublime ‘treasures’ of Switzerland. (It is only almost a century after having known the Alps and how to enjoy them that the British start to discover the Lake District or the Scottish mountains. And it is only after having translated Cox’s book on the Alps that the French writer Ramond de Carbonnière ‘discovers’ the Pyrenees.)
瑞士就这样成为了崇高与优美的代名词。一说野性自然，人们头一个想到的就是瑞士阿尔卑斯山的崇高；提起如诗如画，人们就联想到瑞士的山间别墅、长桥索道、通幽曲径。更别提欧洲历史上述改变的始作俑者——英国人只有在前往风景如画的至圣宝地瑞士多番旅行走访后才开始挖掘他们祖国的美景。（差不多是在知道了阿尔卑斯后的一个世纪，英国人才开始探索本土的湖泊区与苏格兰的群山。也直到Cox关于阿尔卑斯的著作被翻译，法国作家Ramond de Carbonnière才“发现”了比利纽斯山。）
I would like to add two brief comments before going on. First of all, one aspect which we should not underestimate (it is very relevant today too) is what Walter Benjamin termed the “technical reproducibility”. What I mean by this is that Switzerland became so important not only thanks to people actually discovering it first hand, but thanks to an entire ‘mountain’ of images circulating everywhere and making ‘propaganda’ for its peculiarity. Illustrated guide books, etchings, descriptions and other sources disseminated the exceptional quality of Swiss landscapes throughout the world.
Secondly, the fact that Switzerland became at a certain moment a ‘wonderland’ in terms of landscape – the country where you can admire natural ‘wonders’ – does not imply a sort of natural superiority, on the contrary. (If not, it would always have been regarded as such.) Even the moment of the historical triumph of Swiss landscapes should not been understood in the sense of a ‘Switzerland überalles’ attitude. If Switzerland counted so much and that it was revered in an almost cultic manner, it is so because there was a demand for a country with the purest nature possible, with the highest and wildest peaks, etc. The raise of the Swiss Landscape (and of Switzerland) is in other words a result of ideological processes of the 18th century, of projections and “Erwartungshaltungen”. Switzerland and its pristine Nature have been invented, because this fitted with a specific discourse (a political discourse, linked to the concept of liberty, with the ‘Alpine man’ as freedom incarnated; an aesthetic discourse, linked to the then new concepts of the sublime and picturesque).
Around 1800, the sublime and the picturesque went already to fatigue. The tourists repeat ever and ever again the same circuits. They are part of a powerful economical machine, where even the surprises are programmed in advance. They visit comparable sites and know all too well what they will discover on place. The images promise a lot, something perfect and timeless, and often the reality found on the spot is deceiving. Entire groups of traveling writers work on a global intertext.
At the same time, the new invention of the panorama privileges the artificial image of the world. This way Switzerland is again immensely popularized and visually disseminated thanks to the very popular panoramic iconography. Everyone can ‘experience’ the Swiss Landscape and share the pleasures previously restricted to those who could actually make the travel.
At the end of the 19th century, Switzerland appears both as a fascinating assemblage of real postcard landscapes and as a false idyll. The idyll has vanished too because of another reality: when we look to Nature in Switzerland, and primarily to the mountains, from 1850 on, we have to get aware that by now everything is manmade. Several important manmade actions on a very large scale transformed radically the landscape, not only the valleys, but the mountains too: the regulation of rivers, deforestation, the train, and, last but not least, the national hdyro-electrical adventure.
Between 1750 and 1850, at the height of European Swissomania, both the travelers and the people who made the marketing for the Swiss Landscape looked still so to speak at God’s landscape. From 1850 on, it is the engineer’s landscape that becomes the Swiss Landscape, which is a landscape marked by new roads, amazing bridges, tunnels, canals, large basins and dams.
The rhetoric of the hydro-electrical industry did a formidable job in marrying the new technological landscape with the old, agricultural and picturesque landscape. With time, people started even to accept almost all the manmade elements as ‘natural’. No one would dare asking today to remove the train from the shore of Lake Geneva or to deconstruct the Jungfraubahn, and not only for economical reasons: these signs of modernity became an integral part of the national landscape. And no one would ask for the demolition of the Grande Dixence, the extraordinary wall dam in the Valais, on the contrary: thousands of people make the pilgrimage up to the dam and enjoy to look down on what mankind has constructed in the heart of the Alps.
It is very interesting to observe that at the exact moment when the traditional landscape of the past is exposed to the massive pressures of modernity, imagination and ideology will reinvent a mythic Switzerland that no more exists. I refer here naturally to the famous figure of Heidi, the young girl growing up with her Grandfather in a wonderful valley of the Grisons. The innocence of the goat milk drinking girl, the effect of the fresh air on her friend Klara, the sense of pride, independence and liberty of her grandfather (a sort of incarnation of the good ‘wild man’ of the Alps) – all this works, becomes an international success story and a national myth at a time when the Nature is definitively controlled by technology, economics and the power of the urban civilization. (The author, Johanna Spyri – she adapted an earlier novel by a German writer, Adelaid: the girl from the Alps, 1830 – writes her novel in Zurich.)
Most of the people who visit Switzerland these days don’t realize to what extent everything here is manmade. They are still excited by a “primeval” nature, which is, in reality, a very complex construction. The Alps are an immense artifact, not only on their surface or skin, but inside too. Take the Matterhorn or Cervin, the most famous mountain of Switzerland (it actually belongs to Switzerland and Italy). It became the quintessential image of Alpine beauty only very late, after 1860. Before that date, it was interpreted as bare and ugly. Ruskin had a central role in identifying it as the quintessential mountain and many others followed.
Today, the Matterhorn is not only a mountain, but a brand image (Toblerone…), and, thanks to Disneyland, itself and the copy at the same time. It is symbolic too for landscape in a postmodern perspective. The Swiss sociologists Bernard Crettaz spoke in relation with the Alps of the tendency of “disneylandization”. The Alps altogether become more and more the same; they look, especially if we look to alpine architecture, everywhere alike, the diversity of the mountain range being thus sacrificed for one mountain model. Switzerland and the Swiss landscape are therefore not only in Switzerland, but outside of the national borders too.
What I want to state in conclusion is that ‘the Swiss landscape’ does not exist. What exists, is a cultural process, a complicated development with ups and downs, a non-linear process with manifold aspects. This metamorphosis of the Swiss landscape (or, of landscape in Switzerland) is regulated by political, economical, aesthetic and religious discourse. But the Überbau, the dominant superstructure (in order to cite Marx), is itself dialectically linked to the development of infrastructures. The Swiss Landscape is, at least from 1850 onwards, a landscape of roads, canals, power plants, bridges, and so on.
The link between infrastructure and landscape is fundamental and essential, in Switzerland and elsewhere. And that is, alas, normally overlooked. Arguably, the most powerful landscapes of our time – and this have been true in Switzerland for more than a century – are infrastructural landscapes. Landscape has been the terrain where infrastructure rose, but no one cared. Landscape architecture has to deal with infrastructure, and not (only) with small, decorative, alibi like realities. The scope of landscape architecture is no more the garden and the gardening of the world, but the design of everything surrounding our infrastructures. Switzerland is again a fertile terrain in order to understand how this works.
There is, for example, a formidable tradition of Swiss bridge-building, where the engineer does not at calculating audacious forms, but really designs them and tries to integrate them in the natural surrounding. During the 20th century, the landscaping of Switzerland had thus Robert Maillart and Christian Menn as its protagonists, and today there is Jürg Conzett.
If we were to ask, where Swiss landscape architecture stands today, I would begin with this tradition, that of the civil engineer, the intelligent compromise between technology and Nature.
比如，瑞士桥梁建造的一项牢不可破的传统：工程师通常不追求形式上的创新，而是致力于务实的设计并试图将桥梁尽可能融入到周遭的自然环境中。20世纪瑞士的美化工程有两位功臣Robert Maillart and Christian Menn，今日的主角则是Jürg Conzett。
I think that in Switzerland, a very tiny country by its sheer size, there is an extraordinary quality of landscape architecture, and that this quality is related in many ways to what I have tried to sum up before.
I would like to use 3 concepts in order to characterize it: a sense of discipline, rigor and simplicity; good design or form; and ecological awareness. Swiss Landscape architecture is reduced to the essential, and it takes often its force from the essentiality of materials. The stone, used over and over in the works of the Swiss landscape architects, is a metonymy of the mountain, the element surrounding (from far or from near) all these projects. Swiss Landscape architecture privileges the good form, elegant design, obtained by reduction and the search for simplicity. The mineral world – the only richness of the country, except water – is a model for such reduction and an ideal. Finally even the most design oriented approaches of Swiss landscape architects appear ecological, that is aware of the greater context and of the life processes at home in this context. Here, again, Alpine Nature worked both as an experimental terrain and as a model.
I am certain that this is an insufficient and much too rapid survey. But this was my intention too: to raise your curiosity and to invite you to get to know more concerning both Swiss Landscape and the richness and variety of Swiss Landscape Architecture.
Many thanks for your attention.