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At the Gates of the Desert
André Breton


One last scanned image from Diana Ketcham's Le Désert de Retz to post here, if for no other reason than it's simply a terrific photo.

It's of André Breton and his Surrealist group, posing for photograph after “[breaking] in through the crumbling wall,” as proto-(sub)urban adventurers “enchanted by the Désert as a symbol of the death of man's intelligence by forces that are primitive, elemental, and irrational.” It would be interesting to hear what they did inside: did they enact a Surrealist play; read poetry to each other; have a picnic in honor of Manet and Seurat; play hide and seek; have sex; reenact Marie Antoinette reenacting a day in the life of a shepherdess; posed for more photos, smiling or making faces behind their death masks? Unfortunately, Ketcham doesn't give a single anecdote.

Nevertheless, it's interesting to speculate what new meanings people today in the twenty-first century will exert into the garden.

Will people again see it as “a triumph of artifice” and an “ingenious integration of the civilizing arts, as works that incorporated the techniques of painting, sculpture, architecture, horticulture, and engineering with the content of literature” in much the same way as M. de Monville's contemporaries had seen it? Will today's installation and performance artists seek new forms of expressions having realized that their methods have not only been done before but also been done magnificently?

Or will it be taken up again as a symbol of gross opulence and immorality, the same way M. de Monville's prosecutors regarded it as during the Reign of Terror? Or would people find it rather poignant and precious that it had survived largely intact, against incredible odds?

And what would M. de Monville actually think of the fact that a third of his property is now part of a golf course, which is conceptually not too dissimilar from his pastoral garden?

And what about those who had found it “a frightening place, where one ventured seeking the thrills of terror” among “its monstrous trees, its shadows, its air of isolation” — how might they now think of the politics surrounding its “rediscovery” in the 60s, the calls for its renovation, and the lawsuits that have delayed its restoration? Where before one had hoped to be enveloped entirely by the wilderness in the hopes of gaining some metaphysical insight, one now detects the mundane machinations of a bureaucracy.


The Broken Column House
A Pyramid For Serving Glaciers
Prunings XXXVII
Seascape Study with Raid Cloud


1) On Claude Cormier Architectes Paysagistes. A landscape architecture firm based in Montréal, Canada.

2) On fluid mechanics. Some fantastic visualizations of vortices and flows.

3) On the Olympics and how they destroy cities.

4) On pharmaceutical farming. See also Pharmland™.

5) On 3rd World Farming, a game.

6) On the House of the Century, a project designed and built by Richard Jost and Ant Farm, completed in 1972 near Angleton, Texas.
A Pyramid For Serving Glaciers
The Pyramid / The Désert de Retz


When Thomas Jefferson visited the Désert de Retz, Diana Ketcham imagined him having “tea in the Chinese House, served from [M. de Monville's] collection of antique porcelain. If the day was hot, a servant may have rushed over from the Pyramid bearing ice for their drinks.”

In what could only have been done by a grand master of wit, this classic form, usually associated with hot and arid landscapes, was turned into a working icehouse, “packed every winter with ice carried down from the Alps by wagon.” Eminently decorative and functional, it was an Egyptian fantasy for serving glaciers.


Flickr: Le Désert de Retz
The Broken Column House
The Column House / The Désert de Retz


The Broken Column House is so named because it takes the form of a ruined classical column: truncated, jagged and riven with fissures. It was built by the aristocrat François Nicolas Henri Racine de Monville who used it as his main residence during the years immediately before the French Revolution. Nestled within the confines of Monville's private pleasure garden, called the Désert de Retz, it “stands like a solitary beacon, signaling the visitor to prepare for an encounter with the bizarre.”

And what bizarre encounters!

The Column House / The Désert de Retz


Visitors to the Désert would have encountered not just the Broken Column but also the Chinese House and the Tartar tent, which was made not out of fabric but tin metal, “gay with painted stripes” and erected on an artificial island in an artificial lake. Like many large gardens, it had a grotto, through which one would have entered the property (in other words, before Paradise, one must first journey down to the Abyss). There was also a peasant-chic thatched-roof cottage and the false ruins of a Gothic church. You could say, then, that the Désert was an outdoor museum of crypto-architectural history. Indeed, Diana Ketcham, in her slim but copiously illustrated book, describes it as “one of the glories of the architecture of fantasy.”

The garden itself was rather eccentric. Set within a natural-looking park were a model farm, a working dairy and an orangerie. Since Monville had no need to earn income from agriculture, these were more for leisure than production. Indeed, one shouldn't be surprised if one learns that some of Monville's guests, many of whom were members of the aristocracy, may have role-played as farmers or milkmaids for an afternoon.

Perhaps stranger things may have happened inside the walls of a garden presided over by a monied gentleman, an inveterate socialite who was said to have been “built like a model,” had “superb legs,” and bedded a different woman every night, either in the house or in any one of his fantastical follies.

One might think that Monville was psychologically unstable, the Ludwig of the Ancien Régime, and that his gardens were but the whims of one with too much money on his hands. But the Désert was a robust testing grounds for new forms and theories of landscape and architecture. Perhaps not unlike the Nevada Test Site and other military training facilities, it was an experimental terrain within which alternative systems to, say, Le Nôtre and Vitruvius, were dreamt up, cultivated and then promoted.

The Column House / The Désert de Retz


To a more modern visitor, meanwhile, fed with a steady diet of science fiction movies and literature, the Broken Column may evoke a distant Age of Titans, when giants roamed the land and built massive temples and homes, and the epic conflagration that ushered in the era's end, and then in the post-apocalyptic wasteland, the Lilliputian survivors made shelters out of the ruins and waited for Nature to return and erase the evidence of the disaster.

As absurd as that may sound, it is the sort of reaction Monville and other contemporary designers and patrons of irregular gardens in the English style intended to elicit. With their carefully composed views, such gardens were meant as the “stage sets for the enactment of fantasies of a pastoral or mythic character” — or “the stage for terror.”

Ketcham elaborates: “The sight of the [column] fragment generates a [...] superhuman dimension in the mind of the viewer. A corollary response is the realization that giants are at hand. Coming upon the Column, a human visitor feels the fear of the fairy tale hero stumbling up against the giant's boot.”

For the viewer who identifies with the giants, on the other hand, or with the old Testament God who struck down the Tower of Babel, the conceit of the colosal temple is exhilarating. In our unbelieving age, it is easier to respond to the purely spatial implications of the imaginary real. According to the Doric formula, height equals eight times the diameter, the full-scale column would stand at 384 feet. The architectural footprint of such a temple would extend beyond the borders of the garden.


Scale, then, becomes a technique with which Monville could create “a mood of altered reality.”

Ketcham again: “In the conventional picturesque garden, the presence of follies enhances the viewers' sense of physical and intellectual power, placing them in a controlling relation to the architecture of all times and all places, which has been scaled down to the comfortable proportions of the rural everyday landscape.” But here at the Désert, “it is the viewer who is reduced, rendered small and bewildered before the mysterious bulk of the Broken Column.”

The Column House / The Désert de Retz


Comparable contemporary architecture — the ones that you might expect to see in Las Vegas and RoadsideAmerica.com — may be ridden with gaudily clad tourists unknowingly suffering from post-modernist angst or architecture students, with copies of Baudrillard stuffed in their backpacks and gallons of ennui, seeking self-consciously ironic experiences.

The Désert, on the other hand, welcomed guests of a different sort. For instance, Thomas Jefferson, while serving as a minister to France, paid a visit to the Désert and “used elements of the floor plan of the the Broken Column in his design for the University of Virginia rotunda. Other illustrious persons who made it a favored retreat included Madame du Barry, the mistress of Louis XV; the Duc d'Orléans; and Queen Marie Antoinette, who found inspiration there for her English gardens at Versailles.

The Column House / The Désert de Retz


There are so many interesting things to be said about the Broken Column House and the Désert de Retz, but we'll limit them to two here.

Firstly, the Désert is the only folly garden of France's eighteenth century that still exists close to its original state. Some of the grandest were leveled after the Revolution while others now exist heavily renovated or in fragments, leaving little sense of the original schemes.

But “decades of neglect saved the Désert de Retz from this common fate. Forgotten or ignored by a series of absentee owners, the park and its architectural contents were permitted to decay undisturbed and were taken up only in the 1980s as the object of restoration.”

The result is that what the eighteenth century devised as an artificial ruin became in the twentieth century a literal one, an irony whose poignancy has moved all of those who have pushed through the underbrush to enter into this forgotten place.


The Column House / The Désert de Retz


Secondly, as mentioned above, a program of restoration was carried out in the 1980s and one that still continues today. And therein lies some very interesting questions.

How does one return an artificial ruin, which became a true ruin, back to its original artificiality, a condition which aspired to be what it had become?

How does one restore decay from a state of real decay?

Here one imagines the restorers waking up in the middle of the night, screaming and drenched with sweat, unwilling to return to sleep for fear of dreaming recursively the horrors of authenticity. “Is this a fake crack? A real crack? Fake? Real? Fake? Real?"

Such is the terror of the Picturesque garden.


By Diana Ketcham, 1997.
By Michael Kenna, 1990.


The Broken Column on Google Maps


A Pyramid For Serving Glaciers
At the Gates of the Desert
A Proposal for a UN Playground
Isamu Noguchi

Andrew Raimist, of Architectural Ruminations, has uploaded some terrific images of Isamu Noguchi's unbuilt UN playground to his Flickr account here.

On the unrealized project, Raimist writes: “Noguchi designed this playground for a portion of the United Nations complex on the East River in New York. The project was to be privately funded and located on property given a special international diplomatic designation. Nevertheless, Robert Moses (the authoritarian director of public works for the City of New York) was able to get the project canceled. Moses was Noguchi's arch-nemisis in NYC having ridiculed his design for Play Mountain back in 1933. He continued to thwart any public park of Noguchi's design from ever being constructed in New York. I believe Moses criticized this design as 'dangerous' and little more than a 'rabbit warren'.”

A UN playground is anything but for children and innocent play, it would seem.

Isamu Noguchi

And Raimist has also uploaded a photo showing models of Giacomettian playground equipments, again designed by Noguchi. Devoid of any humans, it looks like a surrealist tableau, as desolate and unnerving as a de Chirico landscape.

Isamu Noguchi

One wonders, then, if Noguchi intended his playgrounds to be the perfect environment to rear sophisticated aesthetes and connoisseurs of world culture.

Or did he secretly scheme to turn the children of UN diplomats into psychopaths? Is the UN playground a “rabbit warren” for budding dictators? “Post-war Modernist landscapes turned me into a despot,” they would say during trials at the International Criminal Court.

Meanwhile, there are also images of another unbuilt project, the Memorial to the Dead of Hiroshima, which Raimist discusses in three excellent posts. Go see.

Isamu Noguchi

For these and other projects, it's best to buy Isamu Noguchi: A Study of Space by Ana Maria Torres.
Attack of the Parabolic Façade?
Parabolic Façade


We return again to the surface of the sun, whose radiant energy has been parabolically concentrated onto a patch of turf somewhere in California.

From what we can gather, the photo above blazed through a sizeable portion of the interweb last month. And in all the blogs and forums where it was posted, there was one common point of departure for all of the discussions: that the photo depicts the constant and often catastrophic confrontation between Landscape and Architecture, with the former clearly loosing to its “foe.”

Obviously, we will digress.

The overriding narrative here isn't “architecture gone wrong” or “landscaping gone wrong”, and it's definitely not “building architecture vs. landscape architecture”. And certainly no one is reenacting psychotically disturbed periods of their childhood, involving ants and a magnifying glass. No one, too, is attempting to infuse in the workplace a sense of domesticity, collegiality, community and patriotism by infrastructurally facilitating American-style barbecue picnics.

In actuality, both architect and landscape architect are paying homage to Ancien Régime garden design. Specifically, with their purposefully programmed failures — Landscape as a water-guzzling lawn in hydrologically-challenged California; Architecture positioned in a gas-guzzling solar orientation — the two have conspired to create dazzling arabesque parterres.

Blackened curlicues. Charcoaled guillochés. The nearly dead and the really dead resolving into patterns of rosettes and sunbursts. Grassless geometries, muddied or parched and cracking. The Tuileries gardens etched in full scale by Apollo.

Jacques Boyceau de la Baraudière


Of course, we cannot really talk about parabolic façades without briefly mentioning The Temple at the University of Illinois Urbana/Champaign. Housed inside this campus building are the various studios, faculty offices and main offices of the Departments of Architecture, Landscape Architecture and Urban Planning. And for three excruciating and glorious years, it was our de facto home.

Temple Buell Hall


Temple Buell Hall


Of interest here is its west side. Although not that apparent in the photos above, in person, it's noticeably parabolic. And not only is it curved, but it's curved to a more southwestern orientation. In other words, during the steamy Midwestern summer months, that part of the building—a whole side made entirely of glass—faces the sun during the hottest part of the day.

Call it a greenhouse with AC, and we won't object.

Meanwhile, we're not sure if “sustainability” had made its way into department curricula when it was built over ten years ago, but now that it has, the building must now seem to the faculty as the worst building to teach “green practices” in. Or maybe it is, since here is a perfect example to use to illustrate solar orientation and climate design, key concepts in old school regionalism, which if properly considered and taken advantage of, you can probably save a lot on heating and coolings bills before you even think about wind turbines and green roofs.
Dan Brown's Campidoglio
E8


What this image is, we don't know. That is, we know what the labels say, that it is a graphical map of E8, “one of the largest and most complicated structures in mathematics,” but our minds instantaneously turn into primordial ooze trying to comprehended even a single aspect of it.

Nevertheless, it's perfect as a paving pattern, perhaps the centerpiece of a new urban plaza. Some will be lulled by its supremely logical order and resolved geometry, serenity in complexity.

Just as likely will many be empathetically pulled in and then violently ejected by its swirling patterns, while those unfortunate enough to reach the center will be gravitationally pulled down, like James Stewart taking a Hitchcockian plunge into the cinematic canvas. Or like Michelangelo's Campidoglio in its determination to affect the movement and experience of the user.

Everyone will try to make sense of it, even consult Wikipedia; but realizing that it is of absolutely no help, they will inevitably stop trying to understand it.

And then a future Dan Brown will come along. Possessed by madness and in hermeneutics overdrive, he will decipher this bit of the built environment. In his mediocre but megablockbuster book, he'll explain to everyone that it was designed by a rogue sect of Opus Dei, illustrating the supradimensional family tree of Jesus and his demi-god offsprings. It's the all-seeing-eye of the Divine.
Programming (In)Security
Programming (In)Security by Bret C. Wieseler


Winners of the ASLA 2007 Student Awards have been announced. Filtered through the jumble of thematic threads on Pruned, one remains.

It's the entry by Bret C. Wieseler, from the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis. He writes: “(In)Security explores a new design vocabulary in direct response to the climate of fear and paranoia that currently drives the program and aesthetic of much contemporary urban design. The project addresses the current and future state of security in and around the Wall Street financial district, creating viable security alternatives while simultaneously questioning our nation’s current philosophy that security = freedom.”

Programming (In)Security by Bret C. Wieseler


“Four security barricades were conceived. By creating thresholds into and throughout the district, (In)Security sets the tone for the experiences within this walled city. During the design process, archaic and contemporary methods of fortification were researched. Forms were explored as a result of the hybridization of the two. Each barricade is an investigation of both fortification and subversion; designing for the defense of each checkpoint, while simultaneously attempting to undermine it’s perceived raison d'être through a means of confrontation, provocation, or absurdism.”

Programming (In)Security by Bret C. Wieseler


There are other projects that are equally great and worth mentioning here, but for those, you'll have to visit the ASLA website.


Anxious Terrains
Prunings XXXVI
Caves in Mars


1) On The Void. There's an “enormous hole in the Universe, nearly a billion light-years across, empty of both normal matter such as stars, galaxies, and gas, and the mysterious, unseen 'dark matter.'”

2) On the universe, again, or at least half of it. It's the landscape architecture of the cosmos in stunningly huge and beautiful images.

3) On crowd quakes.

4) On dark tourism. On sale: The Rough Guide to the Slave Trade, Fodor's Auschwitz and The Lonely Planet Guide to Trench Warfare.

5) On college campuses, side-by-side cartographic comparisons.

6) On obelisks. There are “21 ancient obelisks still standing” and only 4 are located in Egypt. So where are the others?

Grasscrete®
Grasscrete©

These are some of the reasons why we like Grasscrete®.

1) Grasscrete® can make for a fantastic alternative to traditional municipal stormwater management.

In urban areas, stormwater management system usually involves collecting and disposing stormwater as efficiently and quickly as possible. Once “run-off” is generated by sidewalks, streets and parking lots, it is immediately conveyed to storm sewers and then to discharge points. When there is a major storm event, large volumes of water get funneled out in a relatively short amount of time.

In non-urbanized areas such as woodlands and farmlands, however, there are three ways for the water to drain off the land: (a) by simply flowing out on the surface; (b) by infiltrating the soil and seeping into the groundwater; and (c) through evapotranspiration. During a similar major storm event, what doesn't get sucked in and evapotranspirated by the vegetation takes its sweet good time leaving.

To simplify things a bit here, let's take an empty flowerpot. It's our metaphorical city--all hardscapes, all impervious surfaces. Pour a bottle of water into it, and the water drains in a torrent in seconds flat, making a watery mess on your table and floor. If the table and floor are metaphorically your downstream neighbors, then they would all have drowned.

Pour the same amount into a pot with soil and plants, and the water will trickle out over a longer period of time. There might still be a watery mess, but that will be manageable.

What makes Grasscrete® a fantastic alternative, then, is that it mimics the condition of the second scenario. It decreases the amount of surface area taken up by hard paving as well as the area of land served by storm sewers.

But most importantly, it can mitigate the destructive force of floods.


2) Grasscrete® can save lives.

See the last sentence in #1.


3) Grasscrete® can save you money.

See the last sentence in #1.


4) Grasscrete® can save you lots and lots and lots of money.

Most new developments require extending sewer lines beyond their current limit. This obviously costs money. And maintaining it again costs money. But by allowing stormwater to seep into the ground, Grasscrete® may preclude the need for new drains and detentions. If sewers are built nonetheless, Grasscrete® can theoretically divert all the rainwater away from the sewers, thus reducing wear and tear and minimizing maintenance cost.

Moreover, with less severe floods, levees and other flood protection may no longer be needed while existing ones would require less repairs.

In some major metropolitan areas, such as Chicago, billions and billions (and billions) of dollars have been spent to construct huge underground tunnels to temporarily store stormwater. There are still neighborhoods in Chicago that flood, even after mild thunderstorms. Perhaps a less monumental, less costly system should have been considered.


5) Grasscrete® can reduce pollution and improve water quality.

Roofs and streets are full of shit, literally. Rainwater that may or may not already be corrosively acidic will surely turn toxic the minute it hits pavement.

And where does the water end up? In our rivers, lakes and drinking water.

Since Grasscrete® has a vegetated void that can be planted with hardy phytoremediating grasses rather than the standards, it may filter out some of the pollutants.

Of course, for these phytoremediating grasses to clean the run-off, the water needs to sit still for a bit, something that you don't want on the streets. In which case, super-phytoremediating transgenic grasses will be used instead.


6) Grasscrete® can improve the quality of life.

See #1-#5.

Additionally, not only is it aesthetically beautiful, or at least less of a strain on the eyes than huge swats of Wal-Mart asphalt, the reintroduction of vegetation into former concrete jungles should counteract the urban heat island effect.


7) Grasscrete® looks utterly vampiric. Landscape on a rampage, sucking the concrete out of buildings, highways and dams. It's the anti-Architecture kudzu reigning supreme in the Edenic Apocalypse.

Grasscrete©

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Biopaver by Joseph Hagerman
Other Disaster Labs
Two more disaster machines, which were also featured in this New Scientist pay-per-view article along with the shake table and the portable hurricane.

ATF Fire Research Laboratory


First, from the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives comes the Fire Research Laboratory, the “first facility dedicated to aiding criminal fire investigations.”

The lab is so huge, New Scientist tells us, that it can fit “a three-room apartment or even a two storey office building, all beneath the world's largest stainless calorimetry hood for measuring the heat output of fires.” There, “engineers study ignition methods, the causes of electrical fires, the speed at which items burn and the way flammable liquids affect a fire's spread.”

With 3675 Americans killed in 2005, “more than all natural disasters combined,” everyone strives for precision and accuracy. “When recreating a fire, the engineers and craftsman are faithful to the original right down to the furnishings. The total amount of combustible material is crucial. If a room had bundles of laundry tossed on the floor, it is carefully replicated.”

Tsunami Wave Basin


Next is the Tsunami Wave Basin, housed in a “hangar-size building” at Oregon State University in Corvallis.

It is “seriously big: 49 metres long by 26.5 wide by 2.1 deep. It is the largest and most sophisticated wave tank in the world, and the first dedicated to tsunamis.”

A major question is exactly what impact tsunamis can have on coastal structures and sediment. So in July, researchers built miniature model of a coastal town along a sloping “beach” at the edge of the basin. They are now setting up experiments to measure the resulting forces as the water hits the shore, and to test whether buildings of certain shapes, such as cylinders, might be better than others for withstanding a tsunami.


One wonders if Architecture for Humanity has signed up for some wave time to better improve their anti-tsunami projects.

Meanwhile, since we obviously can't help ourselves, we'd like to see these disaster machines strapped onto The Jardinator©.

Jardinator


You then let it loose. And fortunately for all Japanese cities, it will not topple down skyscrapers and stomp on Hello Kitty; this monstrous stillborn love child of Godzilla and ThyssenKrup will actually help your home and cities avert major disasters. It will improve the quality of your life.

If you see it surfacing offshore and rumbling onto the beach, soon aftewards you will fear no more hurricanes and tsunamis. Children will come running down the streets to greet it as if it were the ice cream truck, because they know that they will no longer be in danger of getting burnt alive in the middle of the night. Everyone will deem it of monumental importance that virgins will be sacrificed along its path.

But then it becomes self-aware. Uh oh.


The 17th St Canal Physical Model
The Retreating Village
The Retreating Village


Is your seaside town in danger of succumbing to the waves, soon to be underwater in the next decade, if not next year?

Is your quaint vacation beach cottage getting swept away by migrating sand dunes?

Has the government finally realized that funneling billions of dollars to build sea defenses is truly a waste and that the good money of good tax payers everywhere can be better spent somewhere else?

Are you going to become a climate change refugee?

If so, and yet you still want to preserve both your house and seaside community, Mark Smout and Laura Allen, or Smout Allen bibliographically, have the solution. Specifically, there is their proposal for a retreating village, as described in their utterly marvelous contribution to the Pamphlet Architecture series, titled Augmented Landscape.

The Retreating Village


“The coastal village of Happisburgh in North Norfolk is falling into the sea,” the authors tell us. It's a victim of rising sea levels, climate change and government inaction.

While other villages would simply pack everything up and leave, never to return, the duo imagines a condition between flight and colonization, between temporary settlement and permanent retreat, all the while inhabiting a perpetually shifting edge.

“Our proposal for a retreating village of small houses and streets is deployed in the disintegrating territory between the sea and the land. The village reacts to predicted rates of retreat, as much as five meters per year, by sliding and shifting to safer land. To achieve this the scheme employs a mechanical landscape of winches, pulleys, rails, and counterweights, mimicking techniques for hauling boats from the waves. It also adopts [from a millennia's worth of garden and landscape design?] an architectural language of impermanence, of permeable screens, loose-fit structures, and cheap materials that complement and contribute to the nature of the restless landscape.”

The Retreating Village


The Retreating Village


In this migrant village, houses are “mounted on steel and concrete skits that allow each house to be dragged” using “pulleys that are anchored in the landscape and attached to the frame.”

Additionally, each one will be accompanied in their slow, nomadic journey with “three-dimensionally woven geotextile bags” that not only reinforce the surrounding soil but will also be used as “allotments for prize-winning vegetables” or “a personal space for sunbathing.”

The Retreating Village


The Retreating Village


Immediately one wonders what it would be like to live in a village with a “twitchy attitude,” one that's constantly repositioning and reconfiguring, literally exposed to topography, geography and climate without the stability traditionally afforded by the home.

No solid ground but the unceasing performance of slow disaster. Though you'll still have your house and the sublime view of the sea.


Galveston on Stilts
The Army Corps of Engineers: The Game
Climate Ghettos
Gorgeous Montana
Montana

A state famously regarded as desolate but made seemingly dense and outrageously interesting in this cartoon by Roz Chast, scanned from the April 22, 1996 issue of The New Yorker. Still awesome 11 years later. But has the mosaic changed much since its publication?
Burying the Villa Savoye
Park of the Lost Object


Jacky Bowring, of Passages, recently won the much-deserved 1st Prize in the Auckland Architecture Association's 2007 Urban Gaze Competition for her Park of the Lost Object.

What does one find there in the park? “All that is apparent upon the surface,” writes Bowring, “is an enigmatic formation of small circular holes of unknown depth. Their configuration appears significant, as is the nature of the open cavity below. At night, light shines up from inside this curious cavern, emitting an unearthly glow from within the earth. The constellation of points is even more apparent at this time, an inflected grid, whose very presence appears to announce an absence.”

Park of the Lost Object

Bowring again: “The cavern below the pattern of oculi is revealed to be the negative form of a building. The whole negative structure has been cast from an iconic architectural object, Le Corbusier's Villa Savoye, and this cast then inverted and placed into the ground. The holes are the negative space of the pilotis, meeting the ground, from beneath rather than from above. The lost object is suppressed as a subterranean subconscious, the landscape of sadness of the Park of the Lost Object.”

Park of the Lost Object

The project is fantastic, beautifully conceived and rendered, thought-provoking. It fails to convince us, however, that the landscape would necessarily be “plunged into grief, for the loss of the object” and would have “no wish to regain happiness” and that the site of absence is an “open wound”, a “melancholy place of loneliness,” as if its continued happiness is dependent upon artifacts. Furthermore, there are others who would consider Architecture justly subsumed by Landscape a cause for a celebratory bacchanalia at the Palms Casino, after which, all will awaken in the full blast of the afternoon sun many, many hours later—groggy, migrained but joyous—to a paradigm shift.

What we can be entirely convinced of is that a Villa Savoye entombed is a truly and supremely hysterical scenario.

Crandall Canyon Mine


But hilarity can immediately revert back to “melancholy weightiness” if one mentions the Crandall Canyon Mine, the site of the most recent major mine disaster in the U.S.

As most American viewers are well aware, six workers were trapped at the Utah mine after a coal mine bump. During the rescue operations, holes were drilled from the surface into chambers where the miners may have sought refuge. Atmospheric sensors, microphones and cameras were then lowered to check for signs of the men, but unfortunately, none were detected. Except for the relentless drip of hydrology and phantom sounds of speculated conversations, not much was heard.

All that was recorded and shown during live news conferences was the negative cast of a generic architecture--walls, ceilings, floors, space, anti-gravity supports--embedded in geology, disintegrating, metamorphosing into its own burial chamber and, as was increasingly feared then and very much likely now, into the subterranean tombs of the miners.

And to quote one official from the mine: “There was zero void.”

Crandall Canyon Mine


Also shown during the televised news conferences were maps of the mine, showing its passageways, compartments, entryways and exits. And marked on the pages are the locations of the seven boreholes.

If you were to tell us that the maps might just as well be the architectural plans of the Villa Savoye or the combined plans of every pharaonic tombs in the Valleys of the Kings and Queens, you would be correct. Because they are.

And if you were to tell us that the marked boreholes remind you of Bowring's oculi, the surface presence of untraceable “subterranean subconscious” folding back into the earth, that's because Bowring is a genius and she intended it.

The Crandall Canyon Mine as Park of the Lost Object v2.0.

Crandall Canyon Mine


Crandall Canyon Mine


One wonders if Bowring is an avid spelunker, scheming to embedded, say, St. Peter's or Guggenheim Bilbao, upside down and counter-axial, inside New Zealand's Southern Alps, where she'll rappel until she can't rappel no more.


Negative Manhattan


The ¼ Garden
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