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In the last half century, there’s been a marked shift in how we relate to the residential landscape, says lighting designer Linnaea Tillett, whose projects include a floating public pool in New York City’s East River and Manhattan’s Battery Bosque, both designed to support nighttime recreation. “When glass walls became the signature of Modernist design,” Tillett says, “that pushed landscape and lighting designers to reconsider the visual relationship between the outside and the inside.” She says no better example exists than Philip Johnson’s 1949 glass-walled house in New Canaan, Connecticut. Inhabitants had nearly uninterrupted views of the 47-acre property, as well as of the Rippowam River Valley. “Landscapes and gardens were treated as a kind of wallpaper,” Tillett explains, a way to extend the visual field of the house.
These days, Tillett’s residential clients aren’t as interested in such passive observation; they want to stroll through and entertain in their outdoor spaces. Either way, creativity is at play when it comes to lighting. “The thing to remember,” says Helen Diemer, president of the Lighting Practice in Philadelphia, “is that you have this opportunity to compose a scene with light. You’re not trying to re-create the same view that daylight offers, you want people to see the landscape in a way they haven’t seen it before.” That could mean highlighting a favorite tree or making the neighbor’s house disappear simply by inserting or withholding light. You’re also not trying to re-create daylight, points out landscape architect Eric Groft, a principal at Oehme, van Sweden & Associates. Occasionally he’ll remind clients with rural properties of that fact. “As I say, it’s the country—it’s supposed to be dark.”
Left: A bollard (foreground) is made of carved-out timber topped with stainless steel.