Marjorie Louisa Sewell Cautley
Marjorie Sewell Cautley, born near San Francisco, CA, in 1891, was educated at Cornell University, where she graduated with a degree in landscape design in 1917. She worked with architects Warren Manning and Julia Morgan before opening her own office in Paterson, NJ, in 1920. She worked on a variety of public landscape projects throughout her long career, focusing on the needs of families, children, and the lower- and middle-income classes.
Cautley’s first major project was the Roosevelt Common in Tenafly, NJ, from 1921 to 1930. The thirty-acre design, including its park and playground, revealed much about Cautley’s strong interest in creating public spaces that encouraged community participation from a variety of users. The Common was home to athletic fields, a skating rink, areas for Boy and Girl Scouts activities, school gardens, and wide pathways that followed the natural rolling topography of the site. Cautley also collaborated with sculptor Trygve Hammer to incorporate a stone monument honoring Theodore Roosevelt’s conservation efforts in the design. Today, the Roosevelt Common is only a 10-acre park, but remains an active recreational space in the community of Tenafly.
The Roosevelt Common design and other early park projects helped to establish Cautley with other landscape architects and designers. She quickly became known for her social concerns, writing that public spaces should “provide wholesome recreation…to furnish relaxation areas for apartment or tenement house dwellers right in their own neighborhoods.”1 She was also interested in housing issues and how landscape could be incorporated into the daily lives of women and children.
Her best-known work in housing was in collaboration with architects Clarence Stein and Henry Wright on the design for four garden city projects in the New York Metropolitan area: Sunnyside Gardens, the Phipps Garden Apartments, Hillside Housing and Radburn. Stein, Wright, and developer Alexander M. Bing formed the City Housing Corporation (CHC) in 1924 to construct model neighborhoods and towns based on the Garden City Movement, which aimed to create environments that balanced the manmade with nature and supported vibrant communities. Cautley was hired as a landscape architect for the CHC’s early garden city projects. Sunnyside Gardens (1924-1928) in Queens, NY, the CHC’s first undertaking, consists of single- and two-family houses and apartment buildings clustered in groups. Cautley designed inner courtyards, shared by each group, surrounded by small private gardens. The design also features a common laundry area and other overlapping public spaces to encourage interactions between residents. Sunnyside Gardens was the first planned garden city in the United States and is considered a test case in housing for the working class that promotes cooperation and cohesiveness through shared gardens.
The success of Sunnyside Gardens led to the development of Radburn, NJ, in 1928, also spearheaded by the CHC. Radburn’s plans focused on five central themes: the superblock; houses with two entrances (one to an interior park, another to an alley or street); a system of dedicated streets and lanes; the separation of pedestrian and vehicular traffic; and a continuous park that ran throughout the community. Cautley designed the parks and open spaces for Radburn, working with the existing landscape and preserving native plants. Her designs emphasized open space that was both aesthetically pleasing and functional, with designated play areas that could be easily surveyed by watchful mothers and communal laundry yards and herb gardens. The distinction between private and public space was deliberately made visually ambiguous, thus encouraging community growth, especially for women and children.
In addition to her work in landscape design, Cautley was a well-established writer and speaker. She published numerous articles and photographic essays for popular magazines including Landscape Architecture Magazine, the Planners’ Journal, and Architecture, and was a guest lecturer for the landscape architecture programs at MIT and Columbia. She also published a book, Garden Design, focusing on the principles of design and landscape composition. After her work with the CHC, she designed and supervised the construction of ten state parks for the New Hampshire State Park Department.
1. Marjorie Sewell, “Small City Parks for Community Use: How Neighborhood Parks Meet Public Needs,” American City 59 (May 1944): 63.
Read more: https://www.architecture.com/HowWeBuiltBritain/HistoricalPeriods/TwentiethCentury/GardenCityMovement/Introduction.aspx#.U06jKK1dWe8
Way, Thaisa. Unbounded Practice: Women and Landscape Architecture in the Early Twentieth Century. Charlottesville and London, University of Virginia Press: 2009.