Karl Langer: garden designer

In this guest blog post, writer and journalist Anne Latreille discusses one aspect of Karl Langer's career - his work as a landscape architect.

Researching Karl Langer's life and ideas for Garden Voices taught me so much!

First, to keep my mind open. This is what he would imply to his wife, Gertrude, as he took time out at the end of a busy working day to operate the slide projector at her art history lectures. 'I like to do this,' he observed. 'I always learn something new.'

Second, not to be afraid of detail. I won't forget sitting, amazed, in the elegant Fryer Library as several trolley-loads of Langer archival material were wheeled in. I thought I had ordered just a few files!

Third, to view the environment as a whole. Langer wrote in his seminal Sub-tropical housing (1944), that the house starts at the garden fence while the landscape begins at its doorstep. Even though there are architects, and landscape architects, who talk this way today, seven decades ago this idea was different.

Fourth, that the designed garden should integrate nature, culture and beauty. The garden is a piece of art, Langer observed. Through it, man lives in harmony with nature.

Black and white photograph of Karl and Gertrude Langer sitting in a garden overlooking a pond.

Karl Langer

This was his mantra through his working life - practising as an architect in Vienna, travelling in Japan (and marvelling at 'the finest garden art the world has known'), sketching in Greece where the sharp light matched that which he encountered when he settled in Australia, flying above the dazzling Queensland coastline in search of places where tourist developments could be nestled in without harming the landscape.

He spent four decades in Brisbane where his input in the fields of architecture, town planning and landscape/garden design still resonates. No job was too large, or too small. He derived as much pleasure from designing special private houses with adjoining courtyard gardens or inserting a fishpond into the slanting front window of an urban furniture emporium, as he did from creating the Gold Coast's first canal estate, helping set up (in Queensland) Australia's first formal landscape architecture course, and submitting plans - which initially were ridiculed - for a pedestrian mall in Queen Street, Brisbane.

Langer saw Queensland as the most beautiful, the richest and most promising state of Australia. It was a place of opportunity and he wanted to throw in his lot with it. There were offers to move elsewhere - even back to Europe - but he didn't take them up. He was a gentle man who painted a compelling picture, and it's certainly fitting that 45 years after his passing, a university scholarship in his name lives on.

Gertrude Langer standing partially on a stepping stone in a garden pond.

About Anne Latreille

Anne Latreille is a writer and journalist who has worked for The Age newspaper and as a board member at the Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne. Karl Langer is one of nineteen garden and landscape designers/design firms profiled in her book Garden Voices, published by Bloomings Books in 2013. Other Queenslanders profiled in the book include David Leech and John Sullivan, who practise in Far North Queensland.

Last updated:
9 February 2021