Design vs. A Sense of Place

I’m not an architecture critic.  I am someone who loves great architecture both contemporary and historic. In my work as a landscape designer part of my focus is to create landscapes and gardens that surround the attendant architecture in such a way that the design partnership between them is timeless and seamless.  As a designer this may seem counter intuitive, but I believe that the best design has a sense of place and that my hand in that should be less, rather than more, visible.

Last week I visited Frank Gehry’s new building for the Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris.  It is a tour de force of glass and structure.

Gehry's Fondation Louis Vuitton from streetFondation Louis Vuitton Paris

It stands alone in the Bois de Boulogne. Its sail-like architectural exoskelleton is remarkable, but it is a single design statement that has little or no relationship to its surroundings. I have seen his buildings and structures in New York, Los Angeles, Miami, Chicago, and now Paris, and in each and every case they dominate rather than caress.

In an urban environment with competing architectural statements like the Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles or the IAC building viewed from the High Line in New York (both below), this isn’t so obvious. But in the Parisien forest park, the building is very beautiful, but it is not of the place it’s in and that bothers me.

Gehry Disney Concert Hall LA copyGehry IAC building in NYC

I admire the imagination and innovation in Gehry’s work. The buildings themselves are structures of great beauty. I enjoy the intellectual challenges that his architecture presents me with, but what I now don’t like is how they don’t sit on the land with ease.  Even through the viewing prism of Lurie Park in Chicago the Pritzker Pavillion sits above it, alone and lofty as a single statement.

Gehry Pritzker Pavillion Chicago

I believe it is our responsibility as designers and architects to embrace and celebrate our surroundings, and so, while I admire Gehry’s vision and virtuosity, as well as the power his buildings have to draw admiring crowds and challenge the status quo I wish they would also honor the land they are on.

Garden Travel: Architectural Swoon in Miami Beach

It’s no secret that I’ve been exploring Art Deco forms as inspiration for garden designs. I’ve always been drawn to the geometry and order, even when I started my career as a jewelry designer. Many of the preeminent decorative styles of the early 20th century have this type of order – Bauhaus, DeStijl, Viennese Secessionist (Josef Hoffman’s work is another swoon), Art Moderne and Art Deco and they still draw me in. When the opportunity to visit Miami Beach after the APLD Landscape Design Conference in Orlando last week I jumped at the chance.  There was much more than this going on, including visits to several Raymond Jungle’s projects and Vizcaya, which I’ll write about in the coming weeks, but oh, those buildings in Miami brought me joy.

Each morning, before my companions were up I set out at dawn to take pictures–many of the buildings are on the beach and face east–I wanted the morning light.  Here are just a few of hundreds of these gems.  I think about taking the graphic quality of these facades, laying them down flat and using them in plan view as a starting point for planting beds and paths–I don’t think literally.

Miami Art Deco Jefferson Road McAlpin Ocean Drive the Carlton The Crescent The Kent

Villa Paradiso

The LeslieThe Shepley

The Congress The Tudor

Phillip Johnson's Glass House

Field Trip: The Glass House

Last week, I went to New Canaan, Connecticut to visit the most iconic modernist residential building in America–Phillip Johnson’s Glass House.  Since I first saw an image of it in a survey of American architecture, I’ve wanted to see it firsthand.

Phillip Johnson's Glass House

What surprised me was how much more was there than just the house.  Johnson experimented with buildings, follies, and land forms on 47 acres from 1945 until his death in 2005.  Some, like the Glass House (1945) transcend time and space; others like the Library/Study (1980) and the Lake Pavilion (1962) appear rooted in their time; while still another, the Painting Gallery (1965) foretells the future and conjures up the past.  He borrowed ideas from his travels, history, art and other architects and played with them on his own property.

Philllip Johnson New Canaan property

That is not to say that this is not serious architecture, it is, but without anyone but himself to please, these structures are less ponderous and weighty than much of Johnson’s other work.  Sometimes, as in the case of the Lake Pavilion (top image below) whose arches echo those on the Beck House (1964) (bottom image below) which I visited with APLD in Dallas, they are life size scale models of ideas in action.

The Lake Pavillion Phillilp Johnson

Phillip Johnson's Beck House

It was thrilling to see the juxtaposition of these experiments with existing farm walls, art and pathways.  It gave me insight into Johnson’s creative patterns and ideas.  Close to the original structure, proportions and geometric shapes repeat and reflect themselves, further away they are less relational but no less geometric.

Throughout his life, Johnson collected art and two buildings are galleries for his sculpture and painting collections. Each offer a distinct experience.  The Painting Gallery is a bunker like structure housed under a grass covered mound.  Inside the gallery itself has a series of circular rotating tracks that allow the six pieces of his 42 piece collection to be viewed at a time.

Painting Gallery Philllip Johnson

 The Sculpture Gallery (1970) is a tour de force of light and shadow that eclipses the art inside.  I was mesmerized by it and the way the patterns shifted and changed as the clouds overhead filtered the available light or not.  It gave the building a living, breathing feeling.

Sculpture Gallery Phillip Johnson

The property when viewed as a whole life statement is a masterful celebration of textural interplay, light and shadow, and mass and void that I’ve seen few other places.

Bridge detail The Glass House

Phillip Johnson had a profound respect for the land he built on and few of the buildings/follies feel forced.  The land he built on is honored as are the existing field walls that came before him.  Nowhere was this more evident than at the view from a site specific Donald Judd sculpture over a farm wall to the glass house.

Donald Judd at Phillip Johnson's Glass House

His lifelong experiments sit easily on the land even though they are the antithesis of natural.  More than half a century later they still belong.

All images taken and shared by the Susan Cohan, please credit appropriately.

Tuesday’s Find…a Gehry gazebo

No I’m not kidding.  No I don’t like it and I’m I hardcore Frank Gehry fan.  I love the corrugated furniture produced for Vitra in the 70s.  The Bilbao and other buildings are incredible and inspiring in so many ways. But this, nope.  No love here, but I thought I’d share it anyway. For a mere $250,000 it can be yours from Modern One in Los Angeles.

Frank Gehry's gazebo???

 

Back view

To be fair, it wasn’t originally designed for outside, but…just because someone is a great designer/architect doesn’t make everything they do great.