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Site-specific landscape revealed in an inventive exhibition at SFMoMA.

While architectural exhibitions featuring drawings and models can give a precise concept of structure and even materials, they say nothing about ambience, which only becomes clear with opportunities to see buildings in situ. Landscape architecture (often mistakenly considered the handmaiden of architecture) is all ambience and therefore little understood in the confines of a museum, Curator Aaron Betsky made a smart move then in organizing an exhibition of five landscape projects en plein air, and not even in some artificially created zone. Instead, he spread them out to marginal urban sites in the San Francisco Bay Area, so that travelling over bridges and along freeways to view them became a kind of treasure hunt, and not an easy one at that.

The museum supplied maps with descriptions, directions and brief biographies of the landscape architects plus a warning about remote places. A good pair of walking shoes helped. Since the only client here was the curator along with guest curator Leah Levy, the landscape architects were left to their own devices in fulfilling the brief to be mindful both of the cultural implications of formed land and of environmental concerns, reflecting issues in current practice. The installations that succeeded combined landscape design with land art and were revelatory in the way they allowed the viewer to see conventional places with fresh eyes.

In this California freeway culture, nothing could appear more mundane than the gigantic, unseen concrete pylons supporting overpasses above. These attracted landscape architect George Hargreaves who compares the freeway system to ancient rivers like the Guadalupe River in San Jose that once nurtured the Costanoan Indians but now is controlled in a series of parks designed by Hargreaves in this capital of high-tech industry. By painting double rows of pylons under parallel roadways in San Jose with silvery aluminium paint, he united earth and technology and created a shimmering classical colonnade that diminishes into the distance. Walking between the pylons in one direction, one reads single words stencilled on each column that connote the life of the former tribal group like 'path', 'wind', 'mountain' and 'earth'. Facing in the opposite direction, the words are repeated in Karuk, the local Native American language once spoken in this now desolate place. The piece called Markings makes a powerful statement i n its stunning simplicity.

In West Oakland, Walter Hood's Landscape in Blue-Entropy in the Landscape pays tribute to an old neighbourhood, once famous for its jazz and blues scene, which was destroyed by the advent of an elevated rapid transport system and a new post office distribution centre. At the site of a former church on the corner of Peralta and 7th Streets, Hood set up rows of blue benches like church pews that bear witness to this disappearance. These are no ordinary benches though, for each one is either constructed of local elements like car seats, fences, windows and pipes, or displays a collage of the area's history, trombone music and all. You need only glimpse the picturesque houses on nearby back streets to understand how he collapsed the entire culture of a time and place into this community of benches under plane trees.

Tom Leader's Coastlines in Berkeley dealt directly with such natural and manmade linear elements as coastline, railway tracks and freeways by setting up miles of double screens of black vinyl netting along these places and trapping between them the alleged detritus appropriate to each site -- shells, seeds, paper and grass -- that would continually shift in cross currents of wind. Symbolically, there was supposedly more to this than meets the eye that has to do with geological faults and corrugated topography, though the installation did not make this evident.

Wind was also the major element in Kathryn Gustafson's Wind, Sound, and Movement, a project that truly engaged the natural California landscape, which turns to dry yellow grass by late spring. Her site was the terraced hillside at Candlestick Point, a spit of windswept land that juts into the bay just north of the airport. The arduous climb is worth it to experience her poetic imagination unburdened by any considerations except for aural and visual pleasure. The faint sound of wind chimes on the way up heralds the view across a plateau of hundreds of spinning iridescent Mylar strips posted on 6ft rods set in waves of pampas grass, She provides three thrones of corrugated metal pipe to shield the viewer from freeway sounds below. For a quiet moment, the field appears transformed into a tropical aviary with a flurry of colourful birds twirling in the air. This is landscape architecture elevated to theatre.
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Title Annotation:landscape architecture in the San Francisco Bay Area, CA
Publication:The Architectural Review
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1U9CA
Date:Oct 1, 2001
Previous Article:TALL ORDER.
Next Article:Outrage.

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