Garden Futures: Designing With Nature

Vitra Design Museum
Until October 3

Gardens reflect identities, dreams, and visions; they are deeply rooted in our culture. Recent years have seen a resurgence of interest in the garden—not only as a romantic idyll, but as a field of experimentation for concepts related to social justice, climate change, biodiversity, and a sustainable future. Gardens have become places of the avant-garde. Designed by the Italian studio Formafantasma, the exhibition “Garden Futures” at the Vitra Design Museum will be the first to explore the history and future of the modern garden. Which movements and theories have influenced our contemporary garden ideals? How can horticulture contribute to a more sustainable future and a good life for everyone? The exhibition addresses these and similar questions using examples from design, everyday culture, and landscape architecture—from contemporary community gardens to green façades and vertical urban farms, from deckchairs to gardens created by designers and artists.

Gardens are full of hope and promise. Wherever people stake out a piece of nature to create a garden, its layout and design reveal much about how they relate to nature, be it as individuals or as a society. This is illustrated by the works of such diverse artists and architects. They show the garden as an idealized space that pervades our daily lives as well as our imaginations—a place in which immediate practical function and profound symbolic, philosophical, or even religious significance are readily compatible.

Even the most private garden is more than a personal retreat. Every garden bears the marks of social and historical developments, political and commercial interests, and cultural value systems. This is addressed in the second part of the exhibition, which shows that many plants forming a basic component of Western gardens have deep roots in colonial history. 

The third part of the exhibition introduces nine ground-breaking garden makers from the 20th and 21st centuries, including Brazilian Roberto Burle Marx, Dutch Piet Oudolf, American Jamaica Kincaid, British Derek Jarman, Malaysian Ng Sek San, and Chinese Zheng Gougu. The exhibition’s final section examines contemporary projects addressing the future of gardens. In an age of climate crisis, social injustice, biodiversity under threat, and social isolation, the garden offers a place in which to reimagine the future and develop solutions—a place of healing, spirituality, and learning.