In his early built works Rose advances the penetrating critique and radical (yet strikingly commonsense) design philosophy he had previously established in articles published in periodicals in the thirties and forties. Then, in an economically distressed “modern” America, he attacked contemporary landscape architecture for its continued reliance on “Beaux Arts formalism;” as well as modern architecture for its failure to understand the landscape as anything more than a pastoral setting for modern buildings.
After World War II and a brief employment with Antonin Raymond, Rose established his own practice in New York City where he had a large staff and worked on projects throughout the US and internationally. He very quickly became intolerant of the limitations of large-scale corporate practice and moved to New Jersey where he practiced a form of design-build on predominantly residential commissions. While he continued to write, Rose’s evolving ideas about contemporary landscape space now began to become manifest in remarkable projects expressing a distinctive spatial vocabulary, projects which can also be read as an indictment of modern America.
Built Critiques of American Suburbia
In sharp counterpoise to the emerging materialistic, patchwork American suburb of the fifties, these projects embody an alternative to the banality and environmental degradation of the emerging American suburb. Rose’s modular gardens, gardens without houses and space sculptures with shelters reveal a distinctive, unconventional and creative way of thinking about the landscape. These are well documented in his first book, Creative Gardens (1958). They are vacant of the suburban cliches spawned by archaic planning and zoning conventions Rose deplored. In these early works ubiquitous foundation plantings and useless front lawns are replaced by useful space for domestic living. Employing contemporary, experimental and common, everyday, even ugly materials, these projects challenged America to reconsider the meaning of the garden and landscape in the post World War II era.
“Space is the constant in all three-dimensional design,” Rose observed in 1938. Thus Rose was not limited by conventional professional categories and embarked on commissions that included house, garden, sculpture and furniture. Significantly Rose also built his own home in Ridgewood, New Jersey in 1953. The Ridgewood residence was published in Progressive Architecture in 1954, and cited for its spatial discipline, it would become his magnum opus—a work he continuously changed for almost forty years. As the laboratory in which he lived and from which he worked, and now as the James Rose Center for Landscape Architectural Research and Design, it provides us with a kind of moving picture of one of modern environment design’s most fertile and imaginative minds.