Archive for the ‘Gardens’ Category

I finally found Dubai’s cultural center

Thursday, March 1st, 2012

My colleague David Park joined me in Dubai last week. As David and I walked around the spice souk we smelled the spices and loved some of their textural qualities. As we left to catch the boat across the creek, we found a wonderful area called the Baskakija, near the Dubai Museum.

The Baskakija is filled with traditional buildings with narrow lanes of galleries and restauarants and a great trendy hotel that is filled with wonderful unexpected art that one could see in Santa Fe or Taos. The shadows are deep and the door textures have wonderful details. The hotel has a great lobby and two great courtyards. One presents the huge doll figures you’ll see in the pictures below. The tonal qualities of the openings are toned subtlety, almost like a charcoal or pencil drawing. The sculptures are very well done, but also eerie generally. It’s an interesting environment.


Tuesday, March 29th, 2011

Arcosonti is the desert encampment of Italian architect Paulo Soleri. Located about an hour outside of Phoenix, I have visited there just about every year for the past 2o years. Over that time, I’m sad to say I’ve seen very little progress on the vision that Soleri had for his self-sustaining community.

Like Talliesin West, Arcosonti is an architect’s vision of a live-in school that teaches architects about design. On this particular visit, there were 36 trailer homes that contained a school from Denmark touring the US via Route 66.

Arcosonti is most famous for its cast bronze bells designed by Soleri and featured in the gallery here and in Scottsdale. The bells were the linchpin of a major fundraising effort for the school over the years. I have a half dozen at my home and office clanging in the wind.

The buildings of Arcosonti sit on the edge of and face into a valley. The most dominant building is the casting kiln for the bells with its arc and unique shape on top.

The students own their own crane that has the word Arco Santi on the front bumper. Like Taliesin West, this has always been a site under construction, but, in this case, it will never be finished. The model shows a grand vision for this otherworldly place that looks like a space station on Mars from a science fiction movie from the 60s. Although we were not allowed to explore on our own, we snooped and enjoyed the climb onto a roof and through the living part of the campus.

I hope the school will live on as Taliesin since it is certain that the students learn well about the fluid nature of bronze, concrete, and steel.

(Buy some bells; they’re wonderful.)

A visit to Taliesin West

Monday, March 28th, 2011

Taliesin West is the Arizona branch of architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s school based in Spring Green, Wisconsin. Wright came to Arizona in 1937–while in his 60s–to establish this experiment in the desert to teach students about architecture.

Wright’s students built Taliesin West. He wanted them to live in the open air to learn about building architecture that reflected and complimented nature.

One of the things to know about desert architecture is that it is an icon. There is nothing like a forest or verdant landscape to distract from human creation. That said, he was very keen on using indigenous materials to integrate architecture and nature. (Taliesin itself means “shining brow” in Welsh, the language of Wright’s mother.)

The rock with Native American symbols was the inspiration for Wright’s personal logo, which you can see it in the symbol on the tower and on the gate to Taliesin West. He used it as a signature for his studio on his homes.

Wright was influenced by Japanese prints and design for many years after living in Japan while designing the Imperial Palace hotel. (Unfortunately, the hotel was demolished in the 1970s to make room for something benign and uninteresting. It had survived two earthquakes and would have made it through the most recent one, too.)

Wright worked with many artists and sculptors. The original sculptures on site are the work of Heloise Crista–now in her 70s–who studied architecture with Wright but became a sculptor. I love the spirit of her pieces and how they show the inner soul of the person. Some were influenced by art deco, and others were more organic. The Asian sculptures on display came from a sale that Wright found in San Francisco. I saw almost an identical dragon sculpture in Japan. The sculpture garden at Taliesin makes for a wonderful spot in the sun. Notice how wonderful the sun reflects the highlights.

National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden

Thursday, September 2nd, 2010

I must have missed this each time i have been to D.C. It reminded me of the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden at the Walker Art Center, in fact it features some of the same artists, making me wonder if someone transferred to D.C. and had an easy job to make this one.

It is a wonderful place for modern sculpture, anchored by Hector Guimard’s Metro station entrance and the restaurant building. The main focus is a huge fountain that shoots water, creating sound that allows one to escape the D.C. mall noise and tourists.

It is a place for respite.

The spider alien figures are similar to what I saw in Korea at The Leeum. I also recall seeing some of these pieces in Chicago’s Millennium Park a couple years ago.

The proverbial Claus Oldenberg upsize element is its main piece.

The landscape is a wonderful foil to the space, allowing each sculpture to have its own “organic shaped” room. This is a contrast to the carefully designed spaces of the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden.

Visit this place the next time that you are there–it is a national treasure.

The Leetum: three new museums in Seoul

Monday, August 2nd, 2010

When I visited Seoul last spring, I stopped by a series of three new museums, one containing traditional Korean art and sculpture, another with modern experimental work, and the third a museum that engages the community to build and create unique art themselves. The Lee family (of Samsung fame) renamed the place as the “Leetum.” Located in the middle of the Seoul neighborhood that is home to Samsung’s founding family, the series of museums are embedded into the hillside next to residences.

Architects Rem Koolhaas, Mario Botta, and Jean Nouvel each designed one museum, joined with a central reception building by Botta. It is beautifully crafted architecture. The Botta museum is a beautiful collection of traditional Korean art, both pottery and paintings. The casework is magnificent, and the collection is very sensitively curated with beautiful colors often unseen in Asian museums. The gift shop has products designed by the students at SADI (Samsung Art & Design Institute).

The exterior installation of the spiders is a great organic series of pieces contrasting with the crisp architecture. You feel like you’re encountering the human-exterminating Martian vessels from the War of the Worlds as you pass the spiders on the deck next to the entrance. From there you enter the lobby designed by Mario Botta.

The Rem Koolhaas building is very raw and open (as is his style), while the Nouvel building is colder than the other work of his I’ve seen. The art matches the building design.

Texture in Korea

Thursday, May 6th, 2010

I went to a great traditional Korean restaurant in Seoul a couple weeks ago. It was ultra yummy in addition to being very textural in its visuals.

From the entrance one sees the ground plane, the kimchee jars all over the front and the hidden wonderful restaurant beyond. The sign entering the space would be the only thing that I think cries out for new design since it’s just too commercial compared to the rest.

They make all of their food in house, including the pickled kimchee. The paving was made of mill stones and was a great contrast with the rather generic sidewalk on the street. One of the things I appreciate about the landscapes in Asia is the attention to the paving materials inside and out.

The lighting was great inside. The jars being all the same color brown is a good compliment. The limiting of colors in Korea and Japan allow you to appreciate the form of the jar and not concentrate on the graphics on it. The meal was amazingly presented and delicious.

An urban escape in Dallas

Thursday, September 24th, 2009


Sited on the edge of downtown Dallas, the Nasher Sculpture Center combines innovative architecture, open spaces, and sculpture in a single urban oasis.

The building is Renzo Piano’s experiment in lighting. It has a modular ceiling supported by rough marble pylons, which filter and direct sunlight. The ceiling appears to float magically, and reminds me of Piano’s lighting design for the new Modern Wing at the Art Institute of Chicago. The wonderful light quality, and excellent spacing of pieces contribute to an excellent interior presentation.


But the garden is also amazing. The rigor of the building pylons compliment the rigor of the landscaping. There is a wonderful Wolfgang Puck café at the far end of the building with an outdoor terrace where you can eat lunch overlooking Perter Walker’s enclosed sculpture garden. I come here whenever I visit Dallas and sit, looking at a Picasso concrete sculpture I’ve long admired. I used to think it was huge, but now I see what a wonderful human scale piece it really is. The perfect setting has a lot to do with my reassessment.

In the distance are Magdalena Abakanowicz‘s headless figures standing at attention. The back of the garden contains one of my favorite figurative pieces by Rodin, like the one used by Mies in the Barcelona Pavilion. The Richard Serra wall is like a walk through a canyon.


The parade of trees on the lawn is wonderful. Hedges span the length of the wall, providing some limited transparency into the city between the gaps. Fountains produce white noise, camouflaging the traffic, and  shallow ponds with lily pads line the back wall.

This is a beautiful and precious human-scale garden in the middle of a major city.

Every city needs a beautiful escape like this. Minneapolis has one–albeit much larger–where pieces by Klaus Oldenberg are in a park next to the art museum. I will try to feature this one later. You can enjoy the Nasher Sculpture Center all year round, while the wintertime experience in Minneapolis is sprinkled with snow. The garden in Chicago’s Millennium Park is comparable in ways as it’s also in the middle of the city, but the experience isn’t as individualized as at Nasher.

Every detail is important at Nasher: the roof, the vertical walls, the horizontal enclosing walls, the landscaping. It’s a beautiful confluence of art, architecture, and landscaping.

Don’t miss the Nasher Sculpture Center on your next visit to Dallas.

Cranbrook Academy hosts an evolving school of design thought

Thursday, September 3rd, 2009

Just outside Detroit in the wealthy suburb of Bloomfield Hills, Cranbrook Academy of Art endures as one of the best campuses in the world, if not the country. It is filled to the brim with great architecture, great spaces, and great art, and to this day, Cranbrook is one of the most highly regarded post-graduate programs for the arts.

DSC_0836Cranbrook was founded in 1926 by George Gough Booth and his wife Ellen Scripps Booth. Booth was the Detroit-based publisher of several newspapers and radio stations at the beginning of the 20th century. The Booths desired two major elements for their project: a coed elementary and high school, and an academy of art. Mr. Booth invited Eliel Saarinen to design the campus and most of its buildings after learning about Sarrinen’s work through his entry in the Tribune Tower competition. The design of the campus is a meeting of old collegiate gothic and modern. Some of the housing units are more modern, and some of the studio buildings reference the European industrial style.

Booth later asked Saarinen to recruit the faculty for the school. Saarinen’s wife taught fabric design–her designs are highly respected to this day. He also hired his longtime friend and collaborator Carl Milles, who would create most of the beautiful sculptural elements placed across campus. Milles’s sculptures engage the spaces, making them rich, open public areas. The sculptures feature horses, mermaids and beasts of burden.


Cranbrook’s influence is seen around the world. New graduates continue to influence the field of industrial design, graphic design, architecture and sculpture. You can recognize Cranbrook’s legacy in American design through the work of former students and faculty such as Charles and Ray Eames–of furniture and exhibit design fame–and Eero Saarinen. Eero was Eliel’s son who went on to design the St. Louis Arch, the JFK terminal in New York, the GM Technical Center, and the “Tulip Chair” featured on the sets of the original Star Trek series. Eero’s firm expanded Ceasar Pelli’s international architectural practice, which thrives to this day.

Walking through campus, you can see the evolution of its design, from Sarrinen the Elder’s classical Beaux-Arts to the organic modernism of Sarrinen the Younger (different from Meisian modernism, which is much more rigorous and controlled) to Cesar Pelli’s take on modernism (elegant, and embracing classical proportions of base-middle-top). The campus’s style evolves; it is dynamic.


Starting with a vision by Mr. Booth, Cranbrook attracted talent from across Europe to the Detroit suburbs. Booth and Saarinen convinced them to stay and form a school of thought, allowing it to evolve, thrive and maintain significance. This is different than the story of Talliesin, formed by the genius Frank Lloyd Wright, and which was based on a single man. Because of its lack of pluralism, Talliesin has not evolved like Cranbrook.

I have loved this campus since I first visited for SEGD meetings in the 1980s. For the past 6 years, I have helped to evolve a program in exhibit design that occurs every August. The light quality of the Michigan summer is wonderful, and reminds me of Saarinen’s native Finland, where this light level is typical going late into the night.

PepsiCo headquarters is the real thing

Friday, August 7th, 2009


The grounds of PepsiCo headquarters in Purchase, NY are an amazing marriage between art, architecture and the landscape. This particular cola company’s headquarters is very different from the one in my hometown of Atlanta, whose urban campus really doesn’t have much to offer in terms of environmental design. Pepsi’s campus is pastoral and accessible by the public who go there to see the extensive gardens and the scupture collection, which is one of the largest in the U.S.

The grounds were designed by a father and son team: Edward Durrell Stone and Edward Durrell Stone, Jr. The father was the architect, and you can immediately see he was inspired by modernism and Frank Lloyd Wright. I had the honor of meeting the son–who passed away last month–a couple of years ago while working on the Jumeirah Golf Estates in Dubai. Trained as a pilot in the Air Force, his design philosophy focused on natural beauty.


I’ve collaborated with his firm–EDSA–for over 21 years on projects in the U.S., Dubai, and Korea. As Edward Jr. got older, his disciples took over the firm and have carried on his fine legacy in desiging resorts around the world.

The Pepsi headquarters was the only project I’m aware of on which the father and son collaborated. The environment is amazing. The buildings are powerful yet unassuming amidst the landscape, where there’s some great experimental use of prairie grasses. They cluster around a center court with 3 different gardens, each of which has its own spacial personality. A road goes around the property, placing the buildings in the core and parking around the outside–no one sees cars, only see landscape. A French gardener comes in once a year to give the landscape a tune-up.


Most stunning is the internationally recognized Donald M. Kendall Sculpture Gardens, filled with pieces by Moore, Brancusi, Calder, and even Eskimo totems–a great mix of classical, modern, and folk art. Former PepsiCo chairman Don Kendall worked with the design team to create the gardens that still bear his name. I think he may even still have an office on-site.

pepsi_lilyThe variety of outdoor spaces on the site is amazing. There’s a rectangular lily pond recessed around a small yard with a Classical-type temple face at the far end. Some of the other areas contain more industrial-looking pieces, while still others appear more organic. Despite the large number of different pieces, none of the areas feels cluttered or cramped.

I highly recommend a visit.