Completed Theses

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


First Supervisor: Pier Vittorio Aureli
Second Supervisor: Mark Campbell

Olivia Neves Marra is an architect based in London (United Kingdom), born in Rio (Brazil). She is a programme head of the AA Visiting School Rio de Janeiro, a lecturer at UCL Bartlett and an associate lecturer at UAL Central Saint Martins running design studios and teaching architecture histories and theories. Olivia is also a PhD examiner and regular guest critic of several UK institutions, including the University of Cambridge and the Royal College of Art, and she has lectured worldwide at Yale University (United States), Mendrisio Academy (Switzerland), and Yonsei (South Korea). She earned her doctoral degree from the AA in 2020 with a thesis on the relationship between ideological enclosures, ownership, and urban form. As a practising architect, Olivia has worked on urban design and public housing developments in Rio 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. Despite many variations on the subject, this object has become challenging to define in both literary and built forms.

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 land 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 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.