Spotlight on the collection: The Karl Langer Collection

In this post, Anne Latreille shares her experiences of researching the Karl Langer collection in preparation for her latest book...

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.

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.

Karl Langer is one of 19 garden and landscape designers/design firms profiled in 'Garden Voices', by Anne Latreille (Bloomings Books). These are historic and contemporary figures drawn from around Australia. Other Queenslanders are David Leech and John Sullivan, who practise in Far North Queensland.

Last updated:
27 June 2016