Prof. em Christophe Girot | Landscape Architecture

Designing Nature. About the work of Swiss Landscape Architect Dieter Kienast (1945-1998)

The dissertation presents the first comprehensive critique of the work of Dieter Kienast and covers the period from the 1970’s to the 1990’s. It intends to show to what extent Kienast developed a new aesthetics for designing with nature in the city through his investigation in methods of plant sociology and his research on spontaneous vegetation in the city that he started at the Gesamthochschule in Kassel. It is further shown how he was able to go from a study and interpretation of urban spontaneous vegetation to making his work legible through an emblematic and symbolic use of plants.

Upon returning to Switzerland from Kassel, Kienast confronted and opposed the wildlife gardening movement that influenced Swiss garden and landscape architecture with his concepts based on form. The question of the suitability for daily use of his increasingly form-driven open spaces, which culminated in the 1990’s and is always mentioned by his critics, is put in a new perspective when one reflects on his roots in Kassel. In the dissertation I argue that Kienast consummated a modification of the emancipatory design paradigm of the Kassel School in his later works – from practical to contemplative use, from daily life to aesthetic experience – while the subject-related focus remained constant.

Kienast’s position in a cultural historical context is therefore ambivalent: Regardless of the extent to which he clearly uses sometimes strikingly postmodern techniques, he remains committed to the Modern, in his absolute and occasionally utopian vision of the potential effectiveness of open spaces that he acquired in Kassel. Hence, he is difficult to stereotype. On the contrary, he undertook a kind of ‘self-branding’, which personified the unique style of his plans, texts, exhibitions, photography and video. In so doing, the landscape architect shows himself both form conscious as well as mindful of the relativity of form, its effectiveness and the individuality of perception.

Furthermore, the research project delivers a database, in which the documents from the Kienast estate have been registered in over 2000 data records, and a geographically-organized catalogue including approximately 330 projects, as well as a comprehensive bibliography.


Completed research project by Dr. Anette Freytag


Prof. Christophe Girot


Prof. em. Arthur Rüegg
Prof. Dr. Philip Ursprung