Jan 20, 2011

"The way I work
is the way I cook."
Michael Van Valkenburgh

Plant Collage a la Michael Van Valkenburgh by Phyllis Odessey

Michael Van Valkenburgh
New York Botanical Garden
Annual Winter Lecture Series
January 20, 2011

 "I am going to reveal the inner plant geek
that lives in and has been part of my life."
Michael Van Valkenburgh
I sat up and took notice.  Van Valkenburgh began by describing his childhood growing up on a diary farm in Upstate New York.  The importance of childhood memories no one can deny, but dividing the insiders from the outsiders was something new.  "What vibrates in my memory is the world outside." 
Van Valkenburgh started with Teardrop Park as a way of introducing his ideas about change and disturbance.  The client wanted to evoke the wild landscape of New York State within 2 acres of dark urban space.  The rock tunnel, a signature element in the park, was based on the arches designed by Olmsted in Central Park.  You actually have to go to Teardrop Park (if you can find it) to experience the different landscapes that are packed into this small space.
 "I once walked around Teardrop Park with my shrink,
he said the park looked exactly like the inside of my head." 

What I really enjoyed about Van Valenburgh's talk was his discussion of his working methods.  "The way I work is the way I cook.  A recipe is someone else's structure.   I put out a bunch of stuff, look at it and start combining ingredients based on what I feel works well together. "  

Bark Collage by Phyllis Odessey
The first photo in this blog, I created to give the reader an idea of kind of collages Van Valkenburgh showed us.  And it was through these collages that I gained an understanding of how the guy thinks.  In my own work, I often move plant images around on my computer to make combinations.   In a funny way, digitally we can mimic the changes of nature.

Putting together texture or growth patterns, creating a diagram of tree foliage by season, are a way of not sticking to the formula.  As Van Valkenburgh said they create a scaffolding for plant design.
"I love irregularity. 
I love a complicated landscape."

As an example, Van Valkenburgh, briefly mentioned The Highline, adored by all.  He remembered, what some of us can still recall, what the Highline was like before it was re-imagined.  The drain plugs brought birds; the birds dropped seeds;  native orchids and pitcher plants grew = an entire micro-ecology.  It was magic.  And magic is what Van Valkenburgh has.