Book List of the Week

Advice for Would-be Landscape Designers—“Major in Literature, of Any Kind”: Margie Ruddick’s Book List

By Steve Kroeter January 3, 2013

Margie Ruddick

Landscape designer Margie Ruddick: Margie Ruddick Landscape (Philadelphia)

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“Novels and poetry have more power than textbooks to convey landscape ideas,” asserts landscape designer Margie Ruddick, whose work includes New York’s Queens Plaza, which has won awards for promoting a new idea of nature in the city; and the Living Water Park in Chengdu, the first ecological park in China, which cleans polluted river water biologically. “If I had to give one piece of advice to a high school student wanting to become a landscape designer or landscape architect, I would say: ‘Major in literature, of any kind.’”

Literature stands out on the book list Ruddick sent to Designers & Books. Ruddick includes Wallace Stegner’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Angle of Repose, which she calls “one of the great novels of the American landscape”; and Walker Percy’s The Moviegoer, set in New Orleans, which “brought to life a city and landscape I had never been in.” One of the novels she read as a child, perhaps "several hundred times," is Palmer Brown’s fanciful Beyond the Pawpaw Trees: “a pure escape from, and then restoration to, urban life; a mix of love and loss and landscape.” Elizabeth Bishop’s collection Geography III occupies another place on Ruddick's book list and, according to Ruddick, is “one of the great books of poems of the North American landscape.”

Margie Ruddick, The Urban Garden Room, One Bryant Park, New York, 2009

She also cites histories like Frederick Turner’s Beyond Geography and Roderick Nash’s Wilderness and the American Mind, “which work because they are great stories.” Among her other book selections is Vandana Shiva’s Staying Alive. First published in the late 1980s, it questions the West’s paradigm of “development,” and how women around the world offer alternative visions of progress. For Ruddick, the book “turned on its ear everything I thought I knew about the human role in the landscape, resetting my focus on invisible economies within the forest.” All these books and more on her list “have some relation to landscape . . . because landscape is everything.”

In addition to being a reader, Margie Ruddick has her own book in the works encompassing the many ideas she has brought to her landscape projects. Its title? Wild by Design.

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