James Rose, landscape theorist, author, and practitioner

Along with Garrett Eckbo and Dan Kiley, James C. Rose was one of the leaders of the modern movement in American landscape architecture. Rose was only five years old when his father died and, with his mother and older sister, moved to New York City from rural Pennsylvania. He never graduated from high school (because he refused to take music and mechanical drafting) but nevertheless managed to enroll in architecture courses at Cornell University. A few years later he transferred, as a special student, to Harvard University to study landscape architecture. He was soon expelled from Harvard in 1937 for refusing to design landscapes in the Beaux Arts manner.

The design experiments for which he was expelled served as a basis for a series of provocative articles expounding modernism in landscape design, published in 1938 and 1939 in Pencil Points magazine (now Progressive Architecture). Subsequently Rose authored many other articles, including a series with Eckbo and Kiley, as well as four books which advance both the theory and practice of landscape architecture in the twentieth century. See Bibliography for an annotated list of published work.

Rose was employed briefly in New York City in 1941 as a landscape architect by Tuttle, Seelye, Place and Raymond where he worked on the design of a staging area to house thirty thousand men at Camp Kilmer, New Jersey. For a short time, Rose had a sizeable practice of his own in New York City, but he quickly decided that large-scale public and corporate work would impose too many restrictions on his creative freedom, and devoted most of his post WWII career to the design of private gardens.

Fusion of indoor and outdoor space

In 1953 he began building one of his most significant designs, the Rose residence in Ridgewood, New Jersey. Rose conceived of the design in 1943. He made the first model from scraps found in construction battalion headquarters. After construction, the design was published in the December 1954 issue of Progressive Architecture, juxtaposed to the design for a traditional Japanese house built in the garden of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City; the article cites Rose’s design for its spatial discipline. The design clearly expresses Rose’s idea of fusion between indoor and outdoor space as well as his notion that modern environmental design must be flexible to allow for changes in the environment, as well as in the lives of its users.

Practice based on improvisation

From 1953 until his death, Rose based an active professional practice in his home. Like Thomas Church and many others, Rose practiced a form of design/build because it gave him control over the finished work and allowed him to spontaneously improvise with the sites of his gardens. As a result of this, most of Rose’s work is concentrated near his home in northern New Jersey and New York, although significant examples also exist in Connecticut, Florida, Maryland, California, and abroad.

Establishment of a landscape research and design study center

James C. Rose was one of the most colorful figures in twentieth century landscape design. While skeptical of most institutions, during his lifetime he served as guest lecturer and visiting critic at numerous landscape architecture and architecture schools. Before he died he set in motion an idea which had been in his mind for forty years; the establishment of a landscape research and design study center; and created a foundation to support the transformation of his Ridgewood residence for this purpose. Rose died in his home in 1991 of cancer.

James Rose Residence
James Rose - Author