Book Review: Ann Sutton Landscape Architect

Book Review: Ann Sutton Landscape Architect

Résumé en français

As an avid reader and lover of books of all sorts and sizes I am aware of the dictum ’Never judge a book by its cover.’ I admit I do and was delighted when I was handed the Biography of Ann Sutton, the beautiful, detailed hand drawing spoke to me of care and consideration that comes with knowledge and knowing, this before I sat down and read this tribute to Anne.

For all landscape architects this compilation is revealing and valuable in documenting and communicating through Ann’s life and life’s work, an era in the development of Landscape Architecture in South Africa, when the term Landscape Architect was almost unknown and there was no means to formally study landscape architecture within South Africa.  Ann was the founder of the First Landscape Architecture Department in South Africa and active participant in ILASA and IFLA, which demonstrates her resilience and foresight.

Ann’s formal education in landscape architecture was rooted in Europe. Born in South Africa and trained in England as a landscape architect, during a period when the attributes and accessibility of indigenous South African plants was not normative practice, Ann’s bold use of South African flora will certainly inspire. Trained in a landscape tradition of ’the borrowed landscape’, Ann beautifully and artfully integrated her designed landscapes into the surrounding majestic natural landscapes, these are poetically and photographically illustrated.

The book’s structure, with Ann’s voice and conviction conveyed through her lecture to St Vincents School for the Deaf in 1980, as the introduction, sets the tone for a personal and professional journey driven by a belief in herself and a striving for knowledge and perfection. This is reinforced by Claire Burgess’s telling of her relationship with Anne through their working together. Conveying a powerful image of resilience ‘This gift of not being able to hear anything, gave Ann the space to explore her own thoughts and ideas and creatively reproduce them in her incredibly detailed hand -drawn sketches’.

It was gratifying to learn that through UCT’s HUMANITEC Special Collections programme David Gibbs and Thozama Mputha, were able to create a digital archive of Anns work, ensuring that her work is accessible as a teaching and learning resource.  

The balance of the book is dedicated to projects, demonstrating not only Ann’s skill but also the range of projects landscape architects engage with at a variety of scales and within different contexts.

I enjoyed the descriptions that contextualised the projects, with the drawings and photographs revealing the rich layering of textures, spatial compositions, and diverse and artful use of plant material.

The depiction of the carefully crafted drawings drew me into Ann’s world of stillness, conveying her absolute absorption in the world of colour, texture, light and shadow. From the expansive landscapes of the Witwatersrand Botanical Garden contours and slope analysis to the drawings of the Vineyard Hotel and of House Gawith, it is possible to enter her thought process through the carefully coded lines, notes and sketches.

On reflection it is easy to take Ann's use of indigenous plant material, planting of Vachellia xanthophloea in Cape Town, and custom-made exposed aggregate furniture for granted. Contemporary landscape architects understand these materials as part of our materials palette. What was astounding was the realisation that Ann’s foresight contributed to the reason, we can.

This compilation can be read not only as a beautiful illustration of Ann’s incredible resilience and talent in the making of sustainable environments, but also as a reflection on how the particularity of both personal and spatial contexts inform designed landscapes.

Thank you to all who made this publication possible and for your invaluable contribution to the South African Landscape Architectural library and Ann Suttons legacy.

Full Title: Ann Sutton Landscape Architect: The Life and Work of an Amazing Woman

Authors: Clare Burgess, Marike Franklin, David Gibbs and Liana Jansen

Publisher: Kastaniotis Editions

Year: First Addition, Athens May 2023

Reviewer: Tarna Klitzner