The Garden as a Listed Monument

A conversation with Éva Szikra about Researching Historic Gardens

Dr. Éva Szikra is a leading landscape architect, an expert on monument protection and garden history and a winner of the Imre Ormos and Gyula Forster Prizes. She gained her degree as a horticultural engineer at the Faculty of Landscape and Horticultural Architecture of the University of Horticulture in 1973. She was a leading landscape architect at the National Monument Protection Inspectorate from 1973 to 1992. Then she was employed by the National Monument Restoration Centre, where from 2002 she headed the Landscape Architecture Department. From 2008 she worked as a specialist of horticultural history at the Office for Cultural Heritage Protection, retiring from there in 2012. She is currently president of the ICOMOS Hungarian National Committee’s Special Section on Horticultural History.

Éva Szikra notes that a garden is constantly forming and especially volatile. Its composition can be modified by natural phenomena, economic and social changes, the development of botanical and technical science, as well as the style and thinking of the time. Landscape architecture represents conscious human intervention, even when the garden designer, in order to achieve an enhanced natural effect, keeps parts of the original vegetation. Initially gardens and parks were the scenes of splendour, spectacle and entertainment. Yet aspects of relaxation also played a role, concerning, for example, the layout of promenades or how sunny and shaded sections would alternate. In the 19th century public parks and parks surrounding hospitals, psychiatric clinics, sanatoria, baths and schools already served recreational needs. Town planners in Budapest thought along similar lines when designing large districts. They urged the establishment of public parks for the recreation of those living in tenement blocks. The People’s Park was established in the second half of the 19th century, while the City Park was shaped even earlier, in the first decades of that century. Margaret Island also served recreation and rest, although the concept was not used at the time.

The special field has been officially called landscape architecture following a western European model only since the 1990s. Earlier it had rather been referred to as horticultural architecture. In education it was regarded as something ‘in-between’. In Hungary, Béla Rerrich, architect, horticultural architect and designer of Dóm Square in Szeged, was the first to teach horticultural architecture in the early decades of the 20th century. That was when it was taken more seriously as a field that had its own rules. Éva Szikra’s diploma included specialisation in horticultural and landscape architecture. Hers was the first year when those words were used.

From the 1970s green areas have been consciously designed in urban spaces. Éva Szikra chose a different direction – she very quickly got involved in monument protection.