Book Review: Landscapes:  Canvas of Civilization

Book Review: Landscapes: Canvas of Civilization

Résumé en français

Tunji Adejumo, Landscapes: Canvas of Civilization

Tunji Adejumo’s extraordinary book,Landscape: Canvas of Civilization, makes the case for the landscape architect's central role in addressing global crises such as climate change. As Adejumo writes in the introduction, “This book views landscape architects and other physical planners as local solution providers to the diverse global environmental crisis.” (p. 3)

What makes this book so special, is that it balances western scientific knowledge with so-called indigenous knowledge.

Adejumo recognises the importance of traditional knowledge not just for the understanding of landscapes but for their design and construction too. As such,this book gives an all-encompassing view of landscape architecture demonstrating its complexity and wide reach. The fundamental premise that I took away from it—the necessity to work with different epistemologies—is central to the book’s argument, and what makes it so distinctive.

Book cover

There are few books specifically on African landscape architecture. Adejumo’s Landscape: Canvas of Civilization, published by the University of Lagos Press in 2019, is one of the few. It follows John Beardsley’s Cultural Landscape Heritage in Sub-Saharan Africa,[i] and Hennie Stoffberg, Clinton Hindes, and Liana Müller’s two-volumes on South African Landscape Architecture.[ii] Anthropologists,scientists, and historians have arguably published much more about African landscapes than landscape architects have.[iii] Meanwhile, African landscapes are suffering disproportionately from the effects of climate change. Mary Robinson’s Climate Justice: A Man-Made Problem with a Feminist Solution (Bloomsbury, 2019), describes several women-led landscape projects that successfully tackle climate change in Africa in particular. Edgar Pieterse and Tau Tavengwa from the African Centre for Cities (ACC) at the University of Cape Town point out that of the 9,500 science and social science published journals, only 35 are based in Africa. Cityscapes, a journal published through the ACC aim’s to “expand the definition of what the city is, and to interrogate who is ‘qualified’ to speak on its behalf.” Tunji Adejumo’s book, Landscapes: Canvas of Civilization, has similar ambitions for landscape architecture. 

Tunji Adejumo is a landscape architect and natural resources planner with over forty years of professional experience. A former president of the African Region of the International Federation of Landscape Architects, Adejumo is also a former president of the Society of Landscape Architects of Nigeria. He researches cultural and ecological systems and theorises indigenous planning and design and their agency on imagining a public realm as a place where culture and nature work together. Adejumo is also an Associate Professor in the Department of Architecture, University of Lagos where he heads the landscape architecture program. 

The book’s seventeen chapters are arranged in two sections. The seven chapters of Section One focus on “Biosphere and the Concept of Landscape,” and set out to make the case for landscape in relation to the biosphere, nature, and cities. It addresses environmental degradation, global initiatives, and the history of landscape architecture in Nigeria. The first part ends with the call for a national landscape charter for Nigeria. Section Two on “Landscape Planning, Design, and Restoration” addresses the material and physical elements of landscape in ten chapters, ranging from landforms, to soil, climate, hydrology, vegetation, coastal planning, landscape design processes, landscape restoration, and environmental impact assessments.

 An important question for any book is who is its audience?

At first glance, Adejumo’s book may seem to be primarily written for landscape architecture students in Nigeria but in fact it has a much wider reach.

The book does contain an overview of the profession in Nigeria, including its origins and future directions, and this country-specific focus introduces the peculiarities of landscape architecture in a Nigerian context. Adejumo’s book reads a little like a lecture course and would be a great resource as an introductory textbook in landscape architecture. Each of these chapters could be assigned as readings for their respective topics. The book’s chapters are filled with thought-provoking, and sometimes surprising quotes placed in the margins from an eclectic mix of individuals including Richard Buckminster Fuller, Rachel Carson, Pope Francis, Kofi Annan, E.O. Wilson, and Haile Selassie. The quotations are an inspiring addition and might have had more impact had we had more quotes from Nigerians, perhaps with insights to indigenous knowledge. Regrettably, many of the diagrams are difficult to read due to the printing quality of the book. 

For some reason, Adejumo’s book is difficult to purchase. But if you are lucky enough to get a hold of it, enjoy it, and use it in your teaching. It’s a great addition to courses in landscape architecture theory and practices. I have used it in a proseminar on landscape architecture. Students read from this book alongside texts from other prominent landscape architects and scholars. Several students insisted that Tunji Adejumo’s chapter was their favourite reading of the semester. One student, Justin Hailey, wrote that Adejumo’s book “really makes space for people to feel more committed emotionally, culturally, and spiritually to African landscape architecture.”[v]What a wonderful accolade, and congratulations to Dr. Adejumo for generating such enthusiasm.

Tunji Adejumo, Landscapes: Canvas of Civilization (Lagos: University of Lagos Press, 2019). ISBN: 978-978-56596-6-5. 287 pages.


[i] John Beardsley, ed. Cultural Landscape Heritage in Sub-Saharan Africa (Washington, D.C.:Dumbarton Oaks, 2016).

[ii] Hennie Stoffberg, Clinton Hindes, and Liana Müller, South African Landscape Architecture (Pretoria: Unisa Press, 2012).

[iii] For example,David William Cohen, Cohen, E. S. Atieno Odhiambo. Siaya, The Historical Anthropology of an African Landscape (London: Athens: J. Currey; Ohio University Press, 1989); Michael Bollig and Olaf Bubenzer’s, African Landscapes: Interdisciplinary Approaches (New York, NY: Springer, 2009); James Fairhead and Melissa Leach, eds. Misreading the African Landscape: Society and Ecology in a Forest-Savanna Mosaic (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996).

[iv] Edgar Pieterse and Tau Tavengwa, “Designing against the grain,” Rogue Urbanism: Emergent African Cities (Jacana Media and African Centre for Cities, 2013) 455–468.

[v] Justin Hailey, “Review of Tunji’s book.” Email, 2022.