Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Landscape planning to revive sacred space

Landscape Design and Planning
As I was designing the landscape for my yard and wanting to include some sculptures in the backyard, to get inspired, I started to browse few works of notable Landscape architects including Laurie D. Olin from University of Pennsylvania, who also has written a book named "Placemaking". I landed on one of the projects in Romania involving landscaping Constantine Brancusi's Endless Column Complex. It not only provided me some insight into landscaping but left me thinking about life. Let me describe you briefly and I have to start with Brancusi.
Brancusi in his studio
Brancusi, in his Paris studio, surrounded by his models

Constantin Brâncuși is an internationally known modern sculptor. He is know for his simple, distinctive and pure sculptural forms : the 'eggs', 'fishes', 'heads' and 'columns'. These pieces are in stone and marble, result of direct carving and polishing. In making the forms, Brancusi's quest was to reflect the essence of things rather than showing symbolism or abstract ism. As a result, he made many pieces of the same theme and each time reducing the details and purifying a selected form until only the essence was left. See few photos.
Google celebrates the 135th birthday of Brancusi and few of his sculptures 

In words of a curator, What Brancusi did was 'to concentrate on very simple shapes, to keep his sculpture, as it were, one-cylinder, to refine and polish a single shape to a degree almost too precious.' This statement is also true for a large sculpture, "the Endless Column", which I am describing soon; in my opinion, it is not only precious but almost spiritual and sacred.

Here, in a monumental ensemble, Brancusi created three sculptures (1935-1938) as a memorial to the 8,500 Romanian soldiers who died defending the Jiu Valley from the advancing German army. The three sculptures, the Silence Table (Masa Tacerii), the Kiss Gate (Poarta Sarutului) and the Endless Column (Coloana Infinitului), are placed on mile-long (1.5 km) east-west axis that runs through the heart of the city and perpendicular to the River Jiu.  See the photo below.

The ensemble of the Silence Table and the Kiss Gate are made up of travertine. You can see the simple forms of table and stools. The Kiss Gate is the derivative from his famous sculpture the Kiss (you can see the motif). The Endless column measures 98 feet tall and stacks 17 rhomboidal modules of zinc and brass-clad, cast-iron modules threaded onto a steel spine. The column has a half-unit at the top expressing 'infinite'. It has been seen as a symbolic means of dead soldiers' souls rising into heavens. Since its construction in 1938, the run-down park surrounding these three sculptures and the deteriorating structure of the Endless column in dire need to replace or restore.

In 2000, with the funding from World Monuments Fund, the Romanian Ministry of culture  and the World Bank, 32 specialists from all over the world concluded to conserve -as opposed to replace and the column structure was clad with rust protective layer and  cast-iron modules of the Endless column were repaired and re plated with zinc, brass and clear protective coating.Extra lights and ventilation were added. The travertine Gate of the Kiss and the Table of Silence conservation projects took another 18 months. A project for restoring and conserving the park setting for these monuments was devised by Laurie  D. Olin of the Olin Studio, who I mentioned in the beginning. All these work was done between 2004 and 2006.

Based on the urban designer's plan and landscape designer's plan, plantings and shrubs covering the stools were removed and backgrounds were screened by planting shade -tolerant shrubs in three rows of increasing height. The species were chosen to provide subtly varying seasonal colors and textures. For the walking surface, the same crushed stone that was used around the table was extended along the walkway and edged with a matching colored curb. Within two parks, the same crushed stone were used from which the stools were made. The trees above the stools were carefully pruned to filter more light down to the stools.  For nighttime illumination, lights were placed high within the foliage of the trees suspended from discreet poles placed apart from the stools between the tree trunks.

The Olin's plan succeeded to make landscape and surrounding areas to feel the quaint and calmness of original rural settings in modern context. Also the landscape restoration made it possible for Brancusi's three sculptures feel the same power as it was originally installed and once again be experienced as the coherent, powerful, and spiritual ensemble the artist envisioned.

Now, I have to consider the location and scale of my future sculptures in the design of my backyard. I will also pay attention to sunlight and artificial lights for my usability of the area. Apart from these,
I got fascinated  by his approach and philosophy towards life. I will share few of his quotes.
1- Things are not difficult to make; what is difficult is putting ourselves in the state of mind to make them.
2- Create like a god, command like a king, work like a slave.
3-What is real is not the external form, but the essence of is impossible for anyone to express anything essentially real by imitating its exterior surface.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Site Specific Art Installation

View of Willow Tree
As I was looking out the bay window of my daughter's room, long drooping branches of a willow tree reminded me of the art installation I saw in March 2011. I tried looking for photos in my collection to write this post and was unable to find them. I was bummed out but decided to write about it anyway. So with the help of Google's satellite camera, I captured the photos of this temporary installation, as shown below. The enclosed sculpture is on the property of Palo Alto Art Center, in Palo Alto, California.

An Environmental Sculptor, Peter Dougherty constructed this site-specific, temporary sculpture with pliable branches of similar willow tree.

Dougherty spent three weeks designing and constructing this whimsical, play-like  structure with the help of local volunteers and staff of the Palo Alto Art Center. He strategically chose the scale and location near the road under tall green trees so that they could be seen by drivers in their cars.

Similar to an urban designer, Dougherty considers the site, scale of the surroundings and natural lights to create these installations. He names them "stickworks" and  uses simple, primitive building techniques. The Flexible willow tree saplings are gathered and cut without destroying the trees; the branches are divided by their sizes, bent, and weaved to create the walls and door/window-like openings. During the process of installation, Dougherty interacts with people and kids, explains them about the concept of building with sticks. Kids and visitors explore the enchanted forms by going in and looking out of the openings, enjoying the environment in a complete different way. These structures  are dynamic and change colors over a period of time as the branches dry out. They usually stay at the location for one to two years, depending on the local climatic conditions; once decayed, they become an integral part of the earth.
This is the photo of another site-specific sculpture
 created by Peter at Brooklyn Botanic Garden
For more info. about the installation process, visit
For more info. about Patrick Dougherty’s work, visit

Dougherty has created approximately 200 installations across the USA and a few in other countries.  All of his various installations use his signature material, linear drawing like appearance, and lyrical aesthetic quality. Visiting one of his installations will bring either a kid's spirit back into your heart or admiration of the craft along with respect of the environment.