Completed Theses

Olivia Marra–The Garden as Political Form: From Archetype to Project

The interior of a typical tool shed at Ealing Dean Common Allotments, London, c. 1890. Drawing by the author.

First Supervisor: Pier Vittorio Aureli
Second Supervisor: Mark Campbell

Olivia Neves Marra is an architect and educator based in London. She holds a PhD degree from the Architectural Association (AA), MArch from the Berlage Institute (TU Delft), and DipArch from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (FAU UFRJ). Her work focusses on the relationship of spatial enclosures with the formation of urban territories. Olivia is currently a Guest Director of the AA Visiting School Tropicality. She also teaches at The University of Edinburgh School of Architecture and Landscape (ESALA) and has lectured at Yale University, Royal College of Art, Syracuse University, and collaborated with various offices in Rio de Janeiro and Paris.

Few forms of architecture have ever been so widely adored and discussed as that of the garden. It has served countless times as a significant paradigm of the human experience, for Eastern and Western cultures. Today most would say, it readily evokes an image of ‘innocence,’ somewhere for contemplation and ornamental cultivations. Despite many variations on the subject, in both literary and built forms, the term ‘garden’ has become ultimately challenging to define.

Moreover, with the advent of a mainstream focus on ‘green space,’ architectural commissions of various scales will most likely deploy gardens as a means to improve environmental quality while providing a vivid image of ‘eco-friendliness.’ One may discover, however, that gardens have been historically critical to the domestication of the natural environment, as their various iterations have given form to modern concepts of ownership, land use, household, and urban territory.

The thesis proposes an alternative theory of the Western garden as an archetype of ideological enclosures, where the idea of limit is made tangible. Gardening may become, in this sense, a fundamental spatial praxis for small groups of people to share resources, self-organise, and do things in common while re-imagining their ‘world’ in The world.

Under the guise of a PhD by Design, the dissertation showcases an extensive production of authorial drawings to discuss these propositions through a genealogy of historical chapters, intermediated by design methodologies.

The analyses of three singular events – the hortus conclusus (twelfth century), the suburban Roman villa (sixteenth century), and the English allotment (nineteenth century) – reveal how organisations, institutions, and political subjects have reinvented the garden archetype towards different projects of ownership and household. As each chapter illuminates a key passage in the history of a specific urban territory – Tehran, Rome, and London – they are followed up by a ‘projective’ counterpart, reinterpreting their case studies to challenge the status quo of private property in the present contexts of those cities.