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 Marra is an architect and educator based in London. She has earned her PhD from the Architectural Association, a MArch degree from the Berlage Institute/TU Delft, and a Diploma in Architecture and Urbanism from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro. Her work focusses on the relationship of spatial enclosures with the formation of urban territories. Olivia currently directs an AA Visiting School and a Design Studio at the Leeds School of Art, having lectured at the Royal College of Art, Syracuse University London, and Yale University. She has collaborated with various offices in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and Paris, France.

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 flashy 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 defined distinct concepts of ownership, 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 becomes tangible and so gardening, a spatial praxis within yet ‘outside’ the city. In other words, the garden is an example of a collective space, with which given groups of people may construct and practice the way they want to live together 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.