Christopher Tunnard

Christopher Tunnard (1910, Victoria, British Columbia — 1979) was an Canadian-born landscape architect, garden designer, city-planner, and author of Gardens in the Modern Landscape (1938). He was the cousin of the British surrealist artist John Tunnard (1900–1971).



Born and educated in Canada, where his Lincolnshire-born father had moved as a young man, in 1929 Tunnard went to England and obtained a Diploma from the Royal Horticultural Society in 1930.

From 1932-1935 he worked as a garden designer for Percy Cane, an exponent of the Arts and Crafts movement. He then embarked on a European tour, becoming interested in avant-garde art and architecture. In 1936, he started his own practice for landscape architecture in London.

His noted landscape projects include his landscape architecture for Serge Chermayeff's house Bentley Wood at Halland, Sussex;[1] and for his modification of existing 18th century gardens at the circular Art Deco St Ann's Hill House in Chertsey designed by Raymond McGrath, where Tunnard lived for a short time with his then partner, the stockbroker GL Schlesinger.[2]

He wrote a series of articles for the Architectural Review, later re-published as a manifesto, Gardens in the Modern Landscape. In 1939, he designed the garden for the "All-Europe House" at the Ideal Home Exhibition, Earls Court.[3] In the same year he emigrated to America, at the invitation of Walter Gropius, to teach at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. From 1938 to 1943 Tunnard taught at Harvard.

He was drafted into the Royal Canadian Air Force in 1943 and after the war took a job teaching city planning at Yale. Enjoying the work, he did little further garden design, and reached the post of professor and chairman of the department of city planning. His publications in this area include articles such as America's super-cities[4] and a number of books on city design in the USA, his best-known probably being Man-made America - Chaos or Control? (1963) cowritten with Boris Pushkarev.[5] This won a National Book Award in 1964.[6]

In 1969 Yale disciplined him by demotion for sending out unauthorized admission letters to prospective students, following an unresolved departmental dispute.[5]

Tunnard's Works in Landscape Architecture and Garden Design

One of Tunnard’s main projects was Chermayeff’s Bentley Wood in Halland Sussex in 1928. This project was shown in Architectural Review and his book Gardens in the Modern Landscape. In describing the gardens surrounding the building, Tunnard refers to them as to being in perfect harmony. The thinning of the trees left shaded lawn that gradually led up to the house and left room for daffodils and evergreens.[7] It is not a formal garden. The trees are formed in relation to the house in groups or by themselves. This is a concept that Tunnard describes as “letting space flow by breaking down division between usable areas and incidentally increasing their usability.”[8]

Another of Tunnard’s projects was at Galby Leicestershire House, in collaboration with architect Raymond McGrath. The building materials for the house were chosen to fit in with the scenery. For example, some remnants of the former great estates of Beaudesert were used to build the new building. In addition, Tunnard wanted the garden to be interpreted as a link between the house and the open landscape, than merely as a formal garden.

Design philosophy

Tunnard came to England in a period when garden design was strongly influenced by the work of Edwin Lutyens, Gertrude Jekyll and Mackay Hugh Baillie Scott. The eclectic Arts and Crafts movement was drawing on this background to focus on garden features such as crazy paving, pergolas, sundials, sunken pools and statuary.[9]

Tunnard viewed this as "romantic trivialisation" of garden design and in reaction spearheaded a Modernist approach to landscape design, which he expressed in the polemical Gardens in the Modern Landscape. His approach avoided decoration, sentimentality and classical allusion in favour of functional minimalist designs. For instance, his acclaimed landscape for Chermayeff's Bentley Wood house, itself Modernist, simply thinned the surrounding woodland and replanted areas with drifts of daffodils. His writings influenced a further generation of designers such as Thomas Dolliver Church.[10]

Gardens in the Modern Landscape’s Influence

First published as a series of articles in Architectural Review from October 1937 to September 1938, Gardens in the Modern Landscape significantly challenged the then current views of landscape architecture.

Geoffrey Jellicoe reviewed Gardens in the Modern Landscape in the magazine Architecture Review and overall gave a great praise to Tunnard’s work. As it debunks previous and most accepted styles of landscape architecture, Tunnard meets with new nature, and questioning and breaking apart most widely accepted conventions, such as symmetry and the containment of the garden to a picture. He described the book as “if you can take the jolts you will be pleasantly introduced to the brave new world of landscape,” referring the jolts as this challenge to current conventions.[11] In sum, Jellicoe reviews the new landscape that Tunnard describes as having a response from readers as either “shocked from it altogether, or carried off their feet with enthusiasm.”[11]

Garrett Eckbo, Dan Kiley and James Rose, while together at the Graduate School of Design at Harvard during 1936 to 1938, cite reading Gardens in the Modern Landscape as inspiration against the strict rules of the curriculum of the GSD and a major influence for their work. Walker, Peter, and Melanie Simo.[12]

Lawrence Halprin cites Gardens in the Modern Landscape as a revelation for him and his future career. From the book, the most enduring idea for Halprin being “A garden is a work of art, and it remains a vision for guidance as one tries to extend the garden’s benefits of rest, recreation, and aesethic pleasure to a wider public, in the larger landscape.” Walker 150 Moreover, Halprin wanted to study under Tunnard. For his graduate studies, he went to the GSD at Harvard and under Tunnard and other influential men, Halprin studied landscape architecture. Later, with Tunnard, Halprin produced an issue of Task magazine. Walker, Peter, and Melanie Simo.[12]

Tunnard’s Views on the Garden - Functionalism

Functionalism derives from a doctrine of “fit for purpose.” Is the object made fit its purpose? From this arises a more simple and clear way of planning, and not embellished with materials or things not fit for the purpose. For Tunnad, the creation of modern houses lacked modern surroundings, which he wanted to create. Flowers are not created to just be created but to be enjoyed by children. Gardens are not necessarily symmetrical because there is no need outside of simply being symmetrical. Tunnard cites the Swedish Garden Architect’s Associations’ paper as describing this new garden as

“paths and walks are reduced to the minimum and often consist only of stepping stones between which grass or creeping plants are allowed to grow, thus conserving a homogeneity between the unites of the plan. Trees are not numerous in these gardens; most people prefer to have flowering shrubs.” “The styles, axial and symmetrical planning, ostentatious decoration- all this rhetoric has been discarded to make way for simple statement. That which is necessary is such a planning system automatically become that which is good and the need for space filling or accentuating decoration disappears. The designer thus confines decoration to the integers of the plan, whose functions will determine their forms.[13]

The functional garden avoids the extremes both of the sentimental expressionism of the wild garden and the intellectual classicism of the “formal” garden; it embodies rather a spirit of rationalism and through an aesthetic and practical ordering of its units provides a friendly and hospitable milieu for rest and recreation. It is, in effect, the social conception of the garden.” Tunnard, Christopher. Gardens in the Modern Landscape. 1948. Fletcher Steele, noted landscape architect, agrees with Tunnard’s views of modern building design, but pointed out that Tunnard’s views as being another style and not a possible universal conception.[14]

Tunnard’s Shift in Views and Careers

Tunnard’s latter years were spent away from landscape architecture. He taught at Yale University for city planning, became more focused on preserving historic buildings, and wrote many books on urban planning.[15]

Additionally, Eckbo comments that landscape architect lost a great man when Tunnard went into city planning.[16]

Tunnard’s Books

Gardens in the Modern Landscape 1938
The City of Man 1953
American Skyline 1955
Man-Made America: Chaos or Control? 1963
The Modern American City 1968
A World With a View 1978

See also

  • Landscape design history


David Jacques and Jan Woudstra: Landscape Modernism renounced. The career of Christopher Tunnard (1910-1979). Routledge. 2009.


Christopher Tunnard,

  1. ^ Modernism, History of Environmental Design course notes, University of Newcastle upon Tyne, School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape
  2. ^ Going Full Circle, Fay Sweet, Evening Standard, London, August 8, 2001
  3. ^ An All-Europe House: A Pocket Ideal Home, The Times, April 28, 1939
  4. ^ America's super-cities, Christopher Tunnard, Harper's Magazine, August 1958
  5. ^ a b Yale disciplines three of its staff, The Times, May 28, 1969
  6. ^ National Book Awards Are Presented to Six Authors; Prizes of $1,000 Given for the Best Works Published in '63, Harry Gilroy, The New York Times, March 11, 1964
  7. ^ “Modern Architecture in the Sussex Landscape.” Architectural Review, 85, (1939) p 61-78.
  8. ^ Tunnard, Christopher. “Modern Gardens for Modern Houses: Reflections on Current Trends in Landscape Design,” Landscape Architecture. (1942) p57-64.
  9. ^ A century in a nutshell, Tim Richardson, Daily Telegraph, London, November 5, 2005
  10. ^ Keep it sleek: Architects and garden design rarely make good bedfellows - with the exception of a new breed of Modernists, Tim Richardson, Daily Telegraph, London, April 23, 2005
  11. ^ a b Jellicoe, G. The Dynamic Garden: Gardens in the Modern Landscape. Architectural review, 85 (1939) pp. 151-152.
  12. ^ a b Invisible Gardens: The Search for Modernism in the American Landscape. Cambridge: The MIT.
  13. ^ Tunnard, Christopher. Gardens in the Modern Landscape. 1948.
  14. ^ Steele, Fletcher. “Comment on Modern Gardens for Modern Houses: Reflections on Current Trends in Landscape Design,” Landscape Architecture. (1942) p57-64.
  15. ^ "Tunnard, Christopher" A Dictionary of Architecture and Landscape Architecture. James Stevens Curl. Oxford University Press 2006. Oxford Reference Online. Oxford University Press. University of Virginia Library. 27 February 2009
  16. ^ Eckbo, Garrett. Garrett Eckbo to the Editor. Landscape Architecture. 1980, p. 29.

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