May 18, 2013

The Engine of Design:

These are the words 14 landscape architects used to describe the current state of their practice 

Except, for Peter Wirtz.
 He begged to differ.

Wirtz was the only European to speak at the Civic Horticulture Conference in Philadadelphia, presented by The Cultural Landscape Foundation.  
He was a voice out of sync with the rest of the group.

In case you haven't noticed, there is a resurgence of the urban.  People used to have to live in the city; now people are choosing to live in city.  This may have been the raison d'etre for the this conference.  Divided into three sections:  The Street, The Productive Garden, Parks and Plazas, the speakers in each section illustrated how their projects engaged people in natural processes and used plants to express the functionality of landscape.

The question of the day:  Is horticulture humanizing the city?  Matthew Urbanski, of Michael VanValkenburgh Associates, Inc., traced the history of landscape architecture, from Jane Jacobs to William Whyte to Robert Smithson to Mary Miss to Betsy Barlow Rogers, who he credited with saving the horticultural richness of Central Park.  According to Urbanski this was the moment...the emancipation of landscape architecture.  Others, like Susan Weller of OLIN argued that "everything olde is nouveau again."

It was a great change to have landscape architects talk about trees and plants, instead of hardscape.  This renaissance of horticulture might be a secret or an unpopular notion.  The auditorium was half full.    It didn't matter to me.  Susan Weiler showed a project I did not know about and it surprised me.  The Sol LeWitt garden, Lines in Four Directions in Flowers conceived of 30 years and recently installed at the Philadelphia Museum is made up of 7,000 plantings arranged rows dictated by the pattern designed by the artist.
This is directive Sol LeWitt gave for his garden:
“Proposal: To plant flowers of four different colors (white, yellow, red & blue) in four equal rectangular areas, in rows of four directions (vertical, horizontal, diagonal right and left) framed by evergreen hedges of about 2’ height …. The type of plant, height, distance apart, and planting details would be under the direction of a botanist and the maintenance by a gardener.”

Would you want to be the one to follow this directive?  It's complicated.  I recently worked with Maria Loboda on a "color-coded" garden for the Freize Art Fair on Randall's Island.  It wasn't easy and it only lasted for 4 days.  I immediately sympathized with Susan Weiler.

Taking as inspiration the lush parkland of Randall’s Island, the artist will turn an area of the park into a color-coded garden, an exact replica of an illustration of a European interior design motif from the 19th century. Interested in the precision of color mapping, the artist will translate the two-dimensional image into a living landscape of plants, flowers and shrubs, highlighting not only the relationship between interior and exterior, but also between two and three-dimensinal landscapes."  Freize Art Fair website

 I felt bolstered by the day.  I work with plants and trees everyday.  Keith McPeters of Gustafson Gurthrie Nichol talked about how we return to the garden in a time of crisis.  I have never left it and it has never let me down.

David R. Brownlee
Harris M. Steinberg
Raymond Jungles,
Matthew Urbanski
Henry M. White, III
James F. Lima
Elena Brescia
Mia Lehrer
Thomas L. Woltz
Eric F. Kramer
Keith McPeters
Susan K. Weiler
Peter Wirtz


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