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 currently based in London, having also practised at prestigious firms in Paris and Rio. She has a PhD from the Architectural Association, a Master’s degree from the Berlage Institute, Rotterdam, and a Diploma in Architecture and Urbanism from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro. Olivia currently co-directs a Visiting School at the AA while teaching at the University of Edinburgh ESALA and Leeds School of Architecture. She has also lectured at Yale, Royal College of Art, Syracuse London, and other universities across the UK. Recently, Olivia has started to conduct an independent research on CLTs in partnership with Leeds Beckett University.

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. Despite many variations on the subject, in both literary and built forms, this object has become 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 landownership, 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 within those urban contexts.