This is the first English-language edition of a classic portfolio, first published in Italian in 1982 and long out-of-print. It’s a work of extraordinary beauty and erudition, and well worth the substantial investment for botanists, landscape architects, park superintendents and everyone who cares passionately about trees. In 550 pen-and-ink drawings, 212 species are depicted on a scale of 1:100. Deciduous trees are shown with and without their foliage, and a series of charts shows how this changes color through the seasons. It’s a magisterial collection, isolating each specimen in a way a photograph could not, and they are presented as living architecture.

It spoke eloquently to me. I’ve just returned from a week exploring English parks and rural landscapes where trees are allowed to realize their full potential, to a city where unskilled crews butcher municipal trees into grotesque caricatures of their true selves. US authorities have become risk-averse, terrified that any accident will provoke costly litigation. Careless drivers kill thousands every year but no-one would dare limit the rights of motorists or insist they be replaced by robots. But trees are hacked to their trunks for fear a falling branch might cause injury. The English happily picnic beneath their spreading oaks, unconcerned that they may be risking their lives, and rarely regret their indulgence.

I adore trees–as the skeletons of winter, sharp-etched against a pale sky, or the embracing shades of summer—but I have no expertise in naming them. So I regret that this edition compels the reader to search the index for familiar names. How many people in this illiterate age know that Aeculus hippocastanum is a horse chestnut, and Salix babylonica a weeping willow? A little help to those of us who failed Latin at school would be helpful if there is another edition.

The Architecture of Trees. Cesare Leonardi and Franca Stagi. Princeton Architectural Press, $125)

Michael Webb

Author: Michael Webb

Michael Webb Hon. AIA/LA has authored more than twenty books on architecture and design, most recently Moving Around: A Lifetime of Wandering, Architects’ Houses, and Building Community: New Apartment Architecture, while contributing essays to many more. He is also a regular contributor to leading journals in the United States and Europe. Growing up in London, he was an editor at The Times and Country Life, before moving to the US, where he directed film programs for the AFI and curated a Smithsonian exhibition on Hollywood.

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