Monday, August 27, 2007

Bradner Gardens, Seattle

I am still wading through Washington pictures.

Today studio class drove up to Perkins, Oklahoma to take photos for a photo essay. It is going to be an in house photo essay that we will use while working on a comprehensive plan. I am working with the planning department this semester in studio as part of OU's Landscape Architecture curriculum. I was asked what do you want to do with your landscape architecture degree when you graduate?

Bradner Gardens is a space of cooperation. Architect students, volunteers, the City of Seattle and Landscape Architects came together to design a space that makes many in the neighborhood happy. It is easy to spot a garden that is loved. They don't lie! It was blazing hot the day I visited and there were still children playing in the shade of the gazebo. They said their parents were close by working in the gardens, I believed them because they were so young. It is not the lack of weeds in a garden that speaks of love. It is the attention to detail, and the layering of detail. Especially in a volunteer garden.

After a lengthy explanation that rambled on about the environment, people and outdoor public space we moved on. It was when I was describing what I felt was a successful design that I realized a better way to describe what I want to do. I do not care to design glitzy projects. It is not important for me to be in the forefront of landscape architecture theory. I find satisfaction in a design that has many limiting parameters and numerous program requirements. Then add my own person responsibilities to the environment and address the social issues of the site. In the end, if the design is aesthetically pleasing, environmentally responsible and exceeds the needs of many, I have a successful project.

Bradner Gardens has layers issues that benefit the community. The simple design of the structures is pleasant and personal. It does not have a crafty-low-budget feel. It is tastefully designed with the budget in mind. There are components of the gardens that I would expect from such a team of designers and volunteers, like the water catchment device and storage, wetland preservation and water runoff control. It is the basketball court that I find genius. What better way to bring in another social dimension to the garden?

I really think Bradner Gardens is a successful little garden and park. It is aesthetically pleasing. It doesn't just nod to the environment, it actually has teaching components. It reaches out to multiple and diverse groups of people. Sometimes a budget can be the most limiting factor in a design. I think that if it was in this design, which I suspect it was, the design teams did outstanding.

Alfred Caldwell Project

This is a studio project I finished last semester. We were to identify a Landscape Architect that we wanted to learn more about and we were to copy some of their work onto a board. It was an exercise to become more familiar with the Landscape Architect and his/her design theory. The second part of the project was to re-design the Brick Town Canal system in Oklahoma City as we felt the Landscape Architect would. I am really interested in regional architecture. I chose Alfred Caldwell because I wanted to see how a contemporary of Jens Jensen was designing. I have read much on Jens Jensen and Wilhelm Miller and the prairie style. I was a little disappointed in Caldwell's lack of written theory behind what he was doing. It seemed that he followed directly in the footsteps of Jensen and F.L. Wright, and that was where much of my research ended up coming from. Caldwell was a practicing architect and landscape architect and did some beautiful work like the Lily Pond at Lincoln Park. He was also a professor with Mies Van der Rohe at IIT.

This was a valuable project for several reasons. One, it really allowed me the time to dig deep into the theory of Prairie Landscape Architecture. It also allowed me to step away from myself and let the writings of Caldwell and Jensen dictate the design. Obviously I did influence the design, but hopefully in a manner that represents an interpretation of Caldwell. I really worked on graphics in this design, not because of Caldwell but because of my deficiencies in that area. The whole project really allowed me to explore theory and graphics at a pace I could really learn. This project will have made me a better designer, and I see naturalscapes and the city differently than at the start of the project.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Cal Anderson Park

First of all, hats off to the Berger Partnership and the redesign of Cal Anderson Park. I did a little bit of web surfing trying to find significant parks of Seattle I should visit and Cal Anderson continually popped up. Cal Anderson park is rich in history. It was design by the Olmsted Bros. in 1904. It is that word palimpsest that comes to mind when describing Cal Anderson. A very modern or new-looking playground and ballfields are part of a historic water reservoir and traditional Olmstedian park, open un-programmed spaces with formal elements. The park is layered with previous design and yet it has a modern, vigorous infusion of art and architecture. The dominant feature of the park is Douglas Hollis's Water Works. It is delightful and has its own gravitational pull that is hard to deny. The fountain is big enough for many to enjoy. The sound of it masks the presence of the surrounding park-goers. I was drawn to the quiet end of the pool first. I walked around the antique water building and smiled and nodded to those sitting on its stone wall. As I was drawn towards the volcanic like structure with its tumbling water I couldn't help but notice the do-not-get-in-the-water sign that was clearly being ignored. One dad had a group of kids and was "filming a movie" of his kids enjoying the water as if it was a water park, and in short order I find Kerri with her pants rolled up following the kids up the cascading stream. Users?!

It is in Seattle that I start to believe that art is a critical component of public landscape. It is not that good Landscape Architecture can't stand on its own or is not art itself. It is that art adds another layer of meaning. Good landscape architecture should engage the user. It should jolt the user out of their typically passive experience of landscape to a level of active engagement. Art can spark active engagement. Art is bold, italics, underlines or quotes in the landscape. It stands out on the page and is not easy to ignore.

Art is a component of culture. Peirce F. Lewis writes in "Axioms for Reading the Landscape" The basic principle is this: that all human landscape has cultural meaning, no matter how ordinary that landscape may be. " Oklahoma City has been building a new park along the Oklahoma River. From the highway, the place Oklahoma has been designed to be viewed from, immense expanses of mowed lawn dwarf a paved running path. The lawn is at the scale of a freeway. I wonder what this new park reads? Culture? History? Cal Anderson speaks of a people that value art, culture and community. It invites the community to enter, to stroll, to sit, to play, to meditate. It engages with the user even when the user is lying down reading a book.

It is not possible to enjoy Cal Anderson park with out touching your level of cultural awareness. Water Works ask the park-user to participate in a dialog. And that starts with "What am I?", "What do I mean?", and "Am I valuable?". Cal Anderson reads "History is important." and "Culture is important." History and art are directly linked with Water Works.